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Category:Now See Hear!

Roy Patterson , Etienne Gaudrain, Tom Walters


The text and figures that appear on this page were subsequently published in:

Patterson RD, Gaudrain E, Walters TC (2010) The Perception of Family and Register in Musical Tones. In: Jones MR, Fay RR, Popper AN (eds), Music Perception. Springer-Verlag, New York, pp.13-50.

6. Conclusions

Recent research on the role of acoustic scale in the perception of sound suggests that the frequency information observed in the magnitude spectrum of a sound is segregated by the auditory system into three parts: the spectral envelope shape, the acoustic scale of the source, Ss, and the acoustic scale of the filter, Sf. The spectral envelope shape determines the basic timbre category of a sound, which in music is the instrument family, and in the singing voice expands to produce the different vowel types. These timbre categories are largely independent of the acoustic scale variables, Ss and Sf. In speech, these two acoustic scale variables jointly determine much of the static voice quality of the speaker, and thus our perception of a speaker’s sex and size (e.g., Smith and Patterson 2005). This suggests that it would be useful to distinguish between the ‘what’ and ‘who’ of timbre in speech, that is, what is being said, and who is saying it. With regard to the timbre of musical tones, the distinction between envelope shape and the acoustic scale variables provides an explanation for the distinction between family timbre (envelope shape) and register timbre (Ss and Sf). In both speech and music, Ss exhibits a limited degree of independence from timbre inasmuch as (a) variation of GPR to produce prosodic distinctions does not change the perception of who is speaking, and (b) variation of the pulse rate in musical instruments to produce a melody does not change the perception of the instrument that is playing. There are, however, limits to the independence; large changes in pulse rate produce changes in the perception of who is speaking or which member of an instrument family is playing.


The authors were supported by the UK Medical Research Council (G0500221; G9900369) during the preparation of this chapter. They would like to acknowledge useful discussions with Jim Woodhouse on the production of notes by the violin, and on acoustic scaling in the string family.


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