Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics

, Volume 76, Issue 8, pp 2522–2530 | Cite as

Singing ability is rooted in vocal-motor control of pitch

  • Sean HutchinsEmail author
  • Pauline Larrouy-Maestri
  • Isabelle Peretz


The inability to vocally match a pitch can be caused by poor pitch perception or by poor vocal-motor control. Although previous studies have tried to examine the relationship between pitch perception and vocal production, they have failed to control for the timbre of the target to be matched. In the present study, we compare pitch-matching accuracy with an unfamiliar instrument (the slider) and with the voice, designed such that the slider plays back recordings of the participant’s own voice. We also measured pitch accuracy in singing a familiar melody (“Happy Birthday”) to assess the relationship between single-pitch-matching tasks and melodic singing. Our results showed that participants (all nonmusicians) were significantly better at matching recordings of their own voices with the slider than with their voice, indicating that vocal-motor control is an important limiting factor on singing ability. We also found significant correlations between the ability to sing a melody in tune and vocal pitch matching, but not pitch matching on the slider. Better melodic singers also tended to have higher quality voices (as measured by acoustic variables). These results provide important evidence about the role of vocal-motor control in poor singing ability and demonstrate that single-pitch-matching tasks can be useful in measuring general singing abilities.


Perception Production Singing Pitch matching Timbre 



This work was carried out at the International Laboratory for Brain, Music, and Sound Research (BRAMS) at the Université de Montréal and was supported by grants from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and a Canada Research Chair in neurocognition of music to I. P. and a travel grant from the French Community of Belgium to P.L.-M. We would also like to thank Dominique Morsomme, who kindly supported the work of P.L.-M. on this paper, and Sylvain Moreno for his support, as well as the insightful comments of two anonymous reviewers of an earlier version of this paper, which substantially improved the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sean Hutchins
    • 1
    • 4
    Email author
  • Pauline Larrouy-Maestri
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
  • Isabelle Peretz
    • 4
  1. 1.The Royal Conservatory of MusicTorontoCanada
  2. 2.Department of Psychology: Cognition and BehaviourUniversity of LiègeLiègeBelgium
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity at Buffalo, State University of New YorkOswegoUSA
  4. 4.International Laboratory for Brain, Music and Sound Research (BRAMS) and Center for Research on Brain, Language and Music (CRBLM), Université de MontréalMontréalCanada

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