Harmonic fusion and pitch affinity: Is there a direct link?

Hear Res. 2016 Mar:333:247-254. doi: 10.1016/j.heares.2015.08.015. Epub 2015 Sep 1.


Simultaneous pure tones approximately one octave apart tend to be fused perceptually and to evoke a single pitch sensation. Besides, sequentially presented pure tones show a subjective "affinity" or similarity in pitch when their frequency ratio is close to one octave. The aim of the study reported here was to determine if these two perceptual phenomena are directly related. Each stimulus was a triplet of simultaneous or successive pure tones forming frequency ratios varying across stimuli between 0.96 and 1.04 octaves. The tones were presented at a low sensation level (15 dB) within broadband threshold-equalizing noise, in order to prevent them from interacting in the cochlea when they were simultaneous. A large set of stimulus comparisons made by 18 listeners indicated that: (1) when the tones were simultaneous, maximal fusion was obtained for a mean frequency ratio deviating by less than 0.2% from one octave, and fusion decreased less rapidly above this frequency ratio than below it; (2) when the tones were presented successively, maximal pitch affinity was obtained for a mean frequency ratio significantly larger than one octave, and pitch affinity decreased more rapidly above this frequency ratio than below it. The differences between the results obtained for simultaneous and successive tones suggest that harmonic fusion and pitch affinity are unrelated phenomena.

Keywords: Frequency ratio; Fusion; Harmonicity; Musical interval; Octave; Pitch.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adult
  • Audiometry, Pure-Tone
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Music*
  • Pitch Perception*
  • Psychoacoustics
  • Signal Detection, Psychological*
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult