Separating pitch chroma and pitch height in the human brain

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2003 Aug 19;100(17):10038-42. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1730682100. Epub 2003 Aug 8.


Musicians recognize pitch as having two dimensions. On the keyboard, these are illustrated by the octave and the cycle of notes within the octave. In perception, these dimensions are referred to as pitch height and pitch chroma, respectively. Pitch chroma provides a basis for presenting acoustic patterns (melodies) that do not depend on the particular sound source. In contrast, pitch height provides a basis for segregation of notes into streams to separate sound sources. This paper reports a functional magnetic resonance experiment designed to search for distinct mappings of these two types of pitch change in the human brain. The results show that chroma change is specifically represented anterior to primary auditory cortex, whereas height change is specifically represented posterior to primary auditory cortex. We propose that tracking of acoustic information streams occurs in anterior auditory areas, whereas the segregation of sound objects (a crucial aspect of auditory scene analysis) depends on posterior areas.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adult
  • Auditory Cortex / anatomy & histology
  • Auditory Cortex / physiology
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Pitch Perception / physiology*