The Conversation Continues: The Effect of Lyrics and Music Complexity of Background Music on Spoken-Word Recognition

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Background music in social interaction settings can hinder conversation. Yet, little is known of how specific properties of music impact speech processing. This paper addresses this knowledge gap by investigating the effect of the 1) complexity of the background music, and 2) the presence versus absence of sung lyrics on spoken-word recognition in background music. To answer these questions, a word identification experiment was run in which Dutch participants listened to Dutch CVC words embedded in stretches of background music in four conditions: low/high complexity and with lyrics/music-only, and at three SNRs. Music stretches with and without lyrics were sampled from the same song in order to control for factors beyond the complexity of the music and the presence of lyrics. The results showed a clear negative impact of more complex music and the presence of lyrics in background music on spoken-word recognition. The results open a path for future work, and suggest that social spaces (e.g., restaurants, cafés and bars) should make careful choices of music to promote conversation.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of Interspeech 2018
EditorsB. Yegnanarayana
PublisherInternational Speech Communication Association
Number of pages5
Publication statusPublished - 2018
EventInterspeech 2018 - Hyderabad, India
Duration: 2 Sep 20186 Sep 2018


ConferenceInterspeech 2018


  • Background music
  • Social settings
  • Spoken-word recognition


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