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J Acoust Soc Am. 2006 Oct;120(4):2158-76.

Perception of acoustic scale and size in musical instrument sounds.

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Centre for the Neural Basis of Hearing, Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EG UK.


There is size information in natural sounds. For example, as humans grow in height, their vocal tracts increase in length, producing a predictable decrease in the formant frequencies of speech sounds. Recent studies have shown that listeners can make fine discriminations about which of two speakers has the longer vocal tract, supporting the view that the auditory system discriminates changes on the acoustic-scale dimension. Listeners can also recognize vowels scaled well beyond the range of vocal tracts normally experienced, indicating that perception is robust to changes in acoustic scale. This paper reports two perceptual experiments designed to extend research on acoustic scale and size perception to the domain of musical sounds: The first study shows that listeners can discriminate the scale of musical instrument sounds reliably, although not quite as well as for voices. The second experiment shows that listeners can recognize the family of an instrument sound which has been modified in pitch and scale beyond the range of normal experience. We conclude that processing of acoustic scale in music perception is very similar to processing of acoustic scale in speech perception.

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