Perception & Psychophysics

, Volume 64, Issue 2, pp 198–207

Influence of tonal context and timbral variation on perception of pitch


DOI: 10.3758/BF03195786

Cite this article as:
Warrier, C.M. & Zatorre, R.J. Perception & Psychophysics (2002) 64: 198. 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.

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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.McGill University and Montreal Neurological InstituteMontrealCanada
  2. 2.Communication Sciences and DisordersNorthwestern UniversityEvanston

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