Human listeners prefer consonant over dissonant musical intervals and the perceived contrast between these classes is reduced with cochlear hearing loss. Population-level activity of normal and impaired model auditory-nerve (AN) fibers was examined to determine (1) if peripheral auditory neurons exhibit correlates of consonance and dissonance and (2) if the reduced perceptual difference between these qualities observed for hearing-impaired listeners can be explained by impaired AN responses. In addition, acoustical correlates of consonance-dissonance were also explored including periodicity and roughness. Among the chromatic pitch combinations of music, consonant intervals/chords yielded more robust neural pitch-salience magnitudes (determined by harmonicity/periodicity) than dissonant intervals/chords. In addition, AN pitch-salience magnitudes correctly predicted the ordering of hierarchical pitch and chordal sonorities described by Western music theory. Cochlear hearing impairment compressed pitch salience estimates between consonant and dissonant pitch relationships. The reduction in contrast of neural responses following cochlear hearing loss may explain the inability of hearing-impaired listeners to distinguish musical qualia as clearly as normal-hearing individuals. Of the neural and acoustic correlates explored, AN pitch salience was the best predictor of behavioral data. Results ultimately show that basic pitch relationships governing music are already present in initial stages of neural processing at the AN level.

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