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Front Psychol. 2017 Apr 13;8:587. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00587. eCollection 2017.

Perceptually Salient Regions of the Modulation Power Spectrum for Musical Instrument Identification.

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Schulich School of Music, McGill UniversityMontreal, QC, Canada.


The ability of a listener to recognize sound sources, and in particular musical instruments from the sounds they produce, raises the question of determining the acoustical information used to achieve such a task. It is now well known that the shapes of the temporal and spectral envelopes are crucial to the recognition of a musical instrument. More recently, Modulation Power Spectra (MPS) have been shown to be a representation that potentially explains the perception of musical instrument sounds. Nevertheless, the question of which specific regions of this representation characterize a musical instrument is still open. An identification task was applied to two subsets of musical instruments: tuba, trombone, cello, saxophone, and clarinet on the one hand, and marimba, vibraphone, guitar, harp, and viola pizzicato on the other. The sounds were processed with filtered spectrotemporal modulations with 2D Gaussian windows. The most relevant regions of this representation for instrument identification were determined for each instrument and reveal the regions essential for their identification. The method used here is based on a "molecular approach," the so-called bubbles method. Globally, the instruments were correctly identified and the lower values of spectrotemporal modulations are the most important regions of the MPS for recognizing instruments. Interestingly, instruments that were confused with each other led to non-overlapping regions and were confused when they were filtered in the most salient region of the other instrument. These results suggest that musical instrument timbres are characterized by specific spectrotemporal modulations, information which could contribute to music information retrieval tasks such as automatic source recognition.


Bubble method; Instrument identification; Modulation power spectrum; musical timbre; spectrotemporal modulation

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