Article

Pitch-interval discrimination and musical expertise: is the semitone a perceptual boundary?

Department of Psychology, New York University, 6 Washington Place, New York, New York 10003, USA.
The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America (Impact Factor: 1.65). 08/2012; 132(2):984-93. DOI: 10.1121/1.4733535
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT The ability to discriminate pitch changes (or intervals) is foundational for speech and music. In an auditory psychophysical experiment, musicians and non-musicians were tested with fixed- and roving-pitch discrimination tasks to investigate the effects of musical expertise on interval discrimination. The tasks were administered parametrically to assess performance across varying pitch distances between intervals. Both groups showed improvements in fixed-pitch interval discrimination as a function of increasing interval difference. Only musicians showed better roving-pitch interval discrimination as interval differences increased, suggesting that this task was too demanding for non-musicians. Musicians had better interval discrimination than non-musicians across most interval differences in both tasks. Interestingly, musicians exhibited improved interval discrimination starting at interval differences of 100 cents (a semitone in Western music), whereas non-musicians showed enhanced discrimination at interval differences exceeding 125 cents. Although exposure to Western music and speech may help establish a basic interval-discrimination threshold between 100 and 200 cents (intervals that occur often in Western languages and music), musical training presumably enhances auditory processing and reduces this threshold to a semitone. As musical expertise does not decrease this threshold beyond 100 cents, the semitone may represent a musical training-induced intervallic limit to acoustic processing.

0 Bookmarks
 · 
82 Views
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Adults tend to perceive speech sounds from their native language as members of distinct and stable categories; however, they fail to perceive differences between many non-native speech sounds without a great deal of training. The present study investigates the effects of categorization training on adults' ability to discriminate non-native phonetic contrasts. It was hypothesized that only individuals who successfully learned the appropriate categories would show selective improvements in discriminating between-category contrasts. Participants were trained to categorize progressively narrow phonetic contrasts across one of two non-native boundaries, with discrimination pre- and post-tests completed to measure the effects of training on participants' perceptual sensitivity. Results suggest that changes in adults' ability to discriminate a non-native contrast depend on their successful learning of the relevant category structure. Furthermore, post-training identification functions show that changes in perceptual categories specifically correspond to their relative placement of the category boundary. Taken together, these results indicate that learning to assign category labels to a non-native speech continuum is sufficient to induce discontinuous perception of between- versus within-category contrasts.
    Second language Research 10/2013; 29(4):391-411. · 1.22 Impact Factor
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Performing musicians invest thousands of hours becoming experts in a range of perceptual, attentional, and cognitive skills. The duration and intensity of musicians’ training – far greater than that of most educational or rehabilitation programs – provides a useful model to test the extent to which skills acquired in one particular context (music) generalize to different domains. Here, we asked whether the instrument-specific and more instrument-general skills acquired during professional violinists’ and pianists’ training would generalize to superior performance on a wide range of analogous (largely non-musical) skills, when compared to closely matched non-musicians. Violinists and pianists outperformed non-musicians on fine-grained auditory psychophysical measures, but surprisingly did not differ from each other, despite the different demands of their instruments. Musician groups did differ on a tuning system perception task: violinists showed clearest biases towards the tuning system specific to their instrument, suggesting that long-term experience leads to selective perceptual benefits given a training-relevant context. However, we found only weak evidence of group differences in non-musical skills, with musicians differing marginally in one measure of sustained auditory attention, but not significantly on auditory scene analysis or multi-modal sequencing measures. Further, regression analyses showed that this sustained auditory attention metric predicted more variance in one auditory psychophysical measure than did musical expertise. Our findings suggest that specific musical expertise may yield distinct perceptual outcomes within contexts close to the area of training. Generalization of expertise to relevant cognitive domains may be less clear, particularly where the task context is non-musical.
    Cognition 04/2015; 137. · 3.63 Impact Factor
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: The perception of melodic intervals (sequential pitch differences) is essential to music perception. This study tested melodic interval perception in normal-hearing (NH) listeners and cochlear implant (CI) users. Melodic interval ranking was tested using an adaptive procedure. CI users had slightly higher interval ranking thresholds than NH listeners. Both groups' interval ranking thresholds, although not affected by root note, significantly increased with standard interval size and were higher for descending intervals than for ascending intervals. The pitch direction effect may be due to a procedural artifact or a difference in central processing. In another test, familiar melodies were played with all the intervals scaled by a single factor. Subjects rated how in tune the melodies were and adjusted the scaling factor until the melodies sounded the most in tune. CI users had lower final interval ratings and less change in interval rating as a function of scaling factor than NH listeners. For CI users, the root-mean-square error of the final scaling factors and the width of the interval rating function were significantly correlated with the average ranking threshold for ascending rather than descending intervals, suggesting that CI users may have focused on ascending intervals when rating and adjusting the melodies.
    The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 10/2014; 136(4):1831. · 1.65 Impact Factor