Intonation in unaccompanied singing: accuracy, drift, and a model of reference pitch memory

J Acoust Soc Am. 2014 Jul;136(1):401-11. doi: 10.1121/1.4881915.


This paper presents a study on intonation and intonation drift in unaccompanied singing, and proposes a simple model of reference pitch memory that accounts for many of the effects observed. Singing experiments were conducted with 24 singers of varying ability under three conditions (Normal, Masked, Imagined). Over the duration of a recording, ∼50 s, a median absolute intonation drift of 11 cents was observed. While smaller than the median note error (19 cents), drift was significant in 22% of recordings. Drift magnitude did not correlate with other measures of singing accuracy, singing experience, or the presence of conditions tested. Furthermore, it is shown that neither a static intonation memory model nor a memoryless interval-based intonation model can account for the accuracy and drift behavior observed. The proposed causal model provides a better explanation as it treats the reference pitch as a changing latent variable.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustics
  • Humans
  • Memory*
  • Noise / adverse effects
  • Perceptual Masking
  • Pitch Perception*
  • Signal Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Singing*
  • Time Factors
  • Voice Quality*