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The Effects of Timbral Cues on Pitch Perception

Baehr, Rebecca

The current study examined the effects of novel timbres on the accuracy of pitch identification in experienced flutists to improve upon studies by Miyazaki (1989) and Brammer (1951). Flutists with Absolute Pitch and Relative Pitch were presented with two pitch identification tests comprised of five distinct timbre blocks that were deemed to be unfamiliar to them: sinewave, synthesized piano, natural violin, natural clarinet, and mixture of all experimental timbres. In between the two pitch identification tests, a listening session took place to give participants more exposure to the novel timbres in a musical context, with the expectation that increased exposure could affect pitch perception accuracy. Results showed higher accuracy for the synthesized piano timbre as compared to the mixed timbre across participants, an interaction between timbre block type and pitch identification ability, and higher accuracy on the post-listening session test for only the sinewave timbre block as compared to the pre-listening session test. Results indicate that musicians do not rely on musical timbre as a primary cue for pitch perception, but that familiarity with certain aspects of timbre provides an advantage to accurate pitch identifications. Results highlight a learning process musicians undergo in order to become more familiar with unknown timbres. Finally, results also confirm Miyazaki’s original claim that Absolute Pitch and Relative Pitch possessors utilize separate mechanisms in order to identify unknown pitch frequencies, regardless of musical timbre.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Psychology (Barnard College)
Thesis Advisors
Levine, Michelle F.
B.A., Barnard College
Published Here
June 11, 2013