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J Speech Lang Hear Res. 2018 Mar 15;61(3):496-509. doi: 10.1044/2017_JSLHR-S-17-0207.

Pitch and Time Processing in Speech and Tones: The Effects of Musical Training and Attention.

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International Laboratory for Brain Music and Sound (BRAMS), McGill University, Québec, Canada.
International Laboratory for Brain Music and Sound (BRAMS), University of Montréal, Québec, Canada.
Department of Psychology, Rutgers University, NJ.



Musical training is often linked to enhanced auditory discrimination, but the relative roles of pitch and time in music and speech are unclear. Moreover, it is unclear whether pitch and time processing are correlated across individuals and how they may be affected by attention. This study aimed to examine pitch and time processing in speech and tone sequences, taking musical training and attention into account.


Musicians (16) and nonmusicians (16) were asked to detect pitch or timing changes in speech and tone sequences and make a binary response. In some conditions, the participants were focused on 1 aspect of the stimulus (directed attention), and in others, they had to pay attention to all aspects at once (divided attention).


As expected, musicians performed better overall. Performance scores on pitch and time tasks were correlated, as were performance scores for speech and tonal stimuli, but most markedly in musicians. All participants performed better on the directed versus divided attention task, but again, musicians performed better than nonmusicians.


In general, this experiment shows that individuals with a better sense of pitch discrimination also have a better sense of timing discrimination in the auditory domain. In addition, although musicians perform better overall, these results do not support the idea that musicians have an added advantage for divided attention tasks. These findings serve to better understand how musical training and attention affect pitch and time processing in the context of speech and tones and may have applications in special populations.

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