The Effect of Instrumental Timbre on Interval Discrimination

Jean Mary Zarate, Caroline R. Ritson, David Poeppel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

We tested non-musicians and musicians in an auditory psychophysical experiment to assess the effects of timbre manipulation on pitch-interval discrimination. Both groups were asked to indicate the larger of two presented intervals, comprised of four sequentially presented pitches; the second or fourth stimulus within a trial was either a sinusoidal (or "pure"), flute, piano, or synthetic voice tone, while the remaining three stimuli were all pure tones. The interval-discrimination tasks were administered parametrically to assess performance across varying pitch distances between intervals ("interval-differences"). Irrespective of timbre, musicians displayed a steady improvement across interval-differences, while non-musicians only demonstrated enhanced interval discrimination at an interval-difference of 100 cents (one semitone in Western music). Surprisingly, the best discrimination performance across both groups was observed with pure-tone intervals, followed by intervals containing a piano tone. More specifically, we observed that: 1) timbre changes within a trial affect interval discrimination; and 2) the broad spectral characteristics of an instrumental timbre may influence perceived pitch or interval magnitude and make interval discrimination more difficult.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere75410
JournalPloS one
Volume8
Issue number9
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 16 2013

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ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General

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