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Journal Article

Pitch perception in music: Do scoops matter?


Larrouy-Maestri,  Pauline
Department of Neuroscience, Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics, Max Planck Society;
Department of Psychology, University at Buffalo;

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Larrouy-Maestri, P., & Pfordresher, P. Q. (2018). Pitch perception in music: Do scoops matter? Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 44(10), 1523-1541. doi:10.1037/xhp0000550.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0002-6975-5
Studies of musical pitch perception typically treat pitches as if they are stable within a tone. Although pitches are represented this way in notation, performed tones are rarely stable, particularly in singing, which is arguably the most common form of melody production. This paper examines how brief dynamic changes at the beginnings and endings of sung pitches, a.k.a. "scoops," influence intonation perception. Across three experiments, 110 participants evaluated the intonation of four-tone melodies in which the third tone's tuning could vary within the central steady-state (the asymptote), or by virtue of scoops at the beginning and/or end of the tone. As expected, listeners were sensitive to mistuning. Importantly, our results also point to unique contributions of scoops. As in the language domain, dynamic changes in a small time window are perceptually significant in music. More specifically, this study revealed the coexistence of two distinct mechanisms: sensitivity to the average pitch across the duration of the tone (assimilating the scoop), and processing the relationship of the scoop to the surrounding context. In addition to clarifying intonation perception in music, the identification of these mechanisms paves the way to cross-domain comparisons and, more generally, to the better understanding of auditory sequences processing.