Influence of tonal context and timbral variation on perception of pitch

Percept Psychophys. 2002 Feb;64(2):198-207. doi: 10.3758/bf03195786.


In this study, spectral timbre's effect on pitch perception is examined in varying contexts. In two experiments, subjects detected pitch deviations of tones differing in brightness in an isolated context in which they compared two tones, in a tone-series context in which they judged whether the last tone of a simple sequence was in or out of tune, and in a melodic context in which they determined whether the last note of familiar melodies was in or out of tune. Timbre influenced pitch judgments in all the conditions, but increasing tonal context allowed the subjects to extract pitch information more accurately. This appears to be due to two factors: (1) The presence of extra tones creates a stronger reference point from which to judge pitch, and (2) the melodies' tonal structure gives more cues that facilitate pitch extraction, even in the face of conflicting spectral information.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention*
  • Humans
  • Music*
  • Pitch Discrimination*
  • Psychoacoustics