The Perceptual Onset of Musical Tones

  • Joos Vos
  • Rudolf Rasch


The perceptual onset of an acoustic stimulus such as a musical tone or a speech syllable can be defined as the moment in time at which the stimulus is first perceived. The physical onset, however, can be defined as the moment at which the generation of the stimulus has started. Generally the perceptual onset is delayed in relation to the physical onset. The time difference between physical and perceptual onset is caused, among other factors, by the fact that most music and speech stimuli are not immediately at their maximum level, but begin with a gradually increasing amplitude. At the very beginning of the physical stimulus its level is too low to attract the conscious attention of the listener. Only after the amplitude has increased to a certain level does the listener become aware of the presence of the stimulus. This first portion of an acoustic stimulus is called the rise portion. It is temporally defined either as a time interval between the physical onset and the moment that the maximum level is reached (this definition is used for percussive sounds) or as the time interval between the physical onset and the moment that a level of 3 dB below maximum level is reached (this definition is used for non-percussive sounds). The durations of rise portions are within the range of 5 to 100 msec in most cases and depend on the kind of instrument, on the frequency of the tone played, and on the way the player is starting the tone (Luce and Clark, 1963; Melka, 1970).


Rise Time Sound Pressure Level Sensation Level Tone Sequence Relative Threshold 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Efron, R.J 1970a, The relationship between the duration of a stimulus and the duration of a perception, Neuropsychologia, 8:37–55.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Efron, R., 1970b, The minimum duration of a perception, Neuropsychologia, 8:37–63.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Efron, R., 1970c, Effect of stimulus duration on perceptual onset and offset latencies, Per-c. and Psychophys., 8(4):231–234.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Fowler, C.A., 1979, ‘Perceptual centers’ in speech production and perception, Perc. and Psychophys., 23(5):375–388.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Freedman, M.D., 1967, Analysis of musical instrument tones, J. Acoust. Soc. 41(4):793–806.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Gabrielsson, A., 1974, Performance of rhythm patterns, Scand. J. Psychol., 15:63–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Grey, J. M., and Moorer, J. A., 1977, Perceptual evaluations of synthesized musical instrument tones, J. Acoust. Soc. Am., 62(2):454–462.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Kirk, R.E., 1968, “Experimental Design: Procedures for the Behavioral Sciences,” Belmont, Calf.Google Scholar
  9. Luce, D., and Clark, M., 1965, Durations of attack transients of non-percussive orchestral instruments, J. Audio Eng Soc., 13:194–199.Google Scholar
  10. Marcus, S.M., 1976, “Perceptual centres,” Unpubl. fellowship dissertation. King’s College, Cambridge, Eng.Google Scholar
  11. Melka, A., 1970, Messungen der Klangeinsatzdauer bei Musikinstrumenten, Acoustica, 23:108–117.Google Scholar
  12. Michon, J.A., 1967, “Timing in temporal tracking,” Diss., Inst, for Perception TNO, Soesterberg, Neth.Google Scholar
  13. Morton, J., Marcus, S., and Frankish, C., 1976, Perceptual Centers, Psychol. Rev., 83(5):405–408.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Povel, D., 1977, Temporal structure of performed music, some preliminary observations, Acta Psychologica, 41:309–320.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Rasch, R.A., 1979, Synchronization in performed ensemble music, Acoustica, 43(2):121–131.Google Scholar
  16. Schuette, H., 1977, “Bestimmung der subjektiven Ereigniszeitpunkte aufeinanderfolgender Schallimpulse durch Psychoakustische Messungen.,” Diss., Technical University, Munich.Google Scholar
  17. Schuette, H., 1978a, Ein Funktionsschema für die Wahrnehmung eines gleichmässigen Rhythmus in Schallimpulsfolgen. Biol. Cybern. 29:49–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Schuette, H., 1978b, Subjektiv gleichmässiger Rhythmus: Ein Beitrag zur zeitlichen ahrnehmung von Schallereignissen. Acoustica 41(3):197–206.Google Scholar
  19. Stott, L.H., 1935, Time order errors in the discrimination of short tonal durations, J. Exp. Psychol. 18:741–766.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Strong, W., and Clark, M., 1967, Synthesis of wind-instrument tones, J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 41(l):39–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Sundberg, J., and Verrillo, V., 1977, On the anatomy of the retard, a study of timing in music. Speech Transmission Laboratory, Stockholm. Qart. Prog, and Status Rep. 2–3:44–57.Google Scholar
  22. Vos, J., and Rasch, R.A., 1981, The perceptual onset of musical tones, Perc. and Psychophys. (in press).Google Scholar
  23. Vos, P.G.M.M., 1973, “Waarneming van Metrische Toonreeksen,” Thesis, University of Nijmegen, Neth.Google Scholar
  24. Vos, P.G.M.M., 1979, “Critical duration ratios in tone sequences for the perception of rhythmic accent and grouping,” Internal rep. 79 ON 10, University of Nijmegen, Neth.Google Scholar
  25. Woodrow, H., 1935, The temporal indifference interval determined by the method of mean error, J. Exp. Psychol, 17:167–188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Woodrow, H., 1933, The effect of practice upon time-order errors in the comparison of temporal intervals, Psychol. Rev. 42:127–152.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Wundt, W., 1903, “Grundzüge der physiologischen Psychologie,” Vol. 3, (3th Ed.), W. Bertelmann, Leipzig.Google Scholar
  28. Zwicker, E., 1970, Subjektive und objektive Dauer von Schallimpulsen und Schallpausen, Acoustica, 22:214–218.Google Scholar
  29. Zwislocki, J.J., 1978, Masking: experimental and theoretical aspects of simultaneous, forward, backward and central masking, in: “Handbook of Perception,” Vol. E. Carterette and M. Friedman, eds.. Academic Press, New York.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1982

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joos Vos
    • 1
  • Rudolf Rasch
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute of PerceptionSoesterbergNetherlands
  2. 2.Institute of MusicologyUniversity of UtrechtUtrechtNetherlands

Personalised recommendations