Do harmonic overtones aid pitch recognition and discrimination? - diyAudio
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Old 27th March 2010, 09:17 PM   #1
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Default Do harmonic overtones aid pitch recognition and discrimination?

I read about the study that owls reproduce a missing fundamental from a square wave which inspired me for my undergraduate dissertation to do an experiment investigating whether the harmonic overtone series influences the accuracy of a listeners judgement when comparing two tones, melody or cadence.
I reckon compositions using fundamental tones with only even-order harmonic overtones will be easiest to discriminate between as the harmonic spectrum will act as extra information to base the judgement on (extra 'beating' frequencies?). I haven't researched in to the psychoacoustic effects of odd-order harmonics (though I recall reading somewhere that some odd-harmonics have masking properties I just haven't found data to back this up). I'm having problems finding research in these areas at the moment (using Ebsco, PsychInfo, PsycArticles, Medline, Ovid) though I'm sure something must be about somewhere on the same topics!
To go about this I'd use a laboratory-room to restrict extraneous noise, either using headphones or monitors (probably headphones to minimise room acoustics) to play the material, and set E-Prime or some similar software so the participant can move at their own pace. Participants would be required to fill out a questionnaire on demographic data detailing:

- age (upper hearing frequency is generally inversely proportional to age so less upper-harmonics can be heard)
- sex (women have better hearing than men)
- number of languages spoken and what they are (cultures with poly-tonal language have higher incidence of perfect pitch; people who speak more languages have better pitch recognition?)
- number of instruments played and what they are (people who play more instruments have better pitch recognition? Players of instruments with polyphonic capacity and a large harmonic spectrum, e.g. guitar or piano, will be more accurate than players of monophonic and small harmonic spectrum instruments e.g. flute)
- length of total music activities and gap between ceasing of activities, if any (people who have been playing music longer will be more accurate, might be interaction between length of music activities and length of time from ceasing activities)
- capacity of musical activities, e.g. amateur - home/alone practice, band membership, semi-pro, pro/touring, session musician

After collecting all the data I'll analyse it all using multiple regression to look for correlations and interactions. I think I should control for hearing ability though if I get the participant to set the volume themselves from a reference tone would that be enough? I just need all the research to back this up (or refute it)! Any research in this area already existing about?
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Old 27th March 2010, 09:29 PM   #2
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Ask a piano tuner. They train themselves to match overtones, not fundamentals. It's all a matter of what you do. You can learn to discriminate with very little information but you can't do it right away.

As a musician and engineer, I constantly try to reconcile the two fields. It makes me better at both.

So are you interested in untrained or trained ears? The difference is great, and even greater when you are dealing with talented individuals.

This might be good fodder for a dissertation but I fail to see what practical purpose it might offer.
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