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Concept: Scientific pitch notation


In the past years, a few methods have been developed to translate human EEG to music. In 2009, PloS One 4 e5915, we developed a method to generate scale-free brainwave music where the amplitude of EEG was translated to music pitch according to the power law followed by both of them, the period of an EEG waveform is translated directly to the duration of a note, and the logarithm of the average power change of EEG is translated to music intensity according to the Fechner’s law. In this work, we proposed to adopt simultaneously-recorded fMRI signal to control the intensity of the EEG music, thus an EEG-fMRI music is generated by combining two different and simultaneous brain signals. And most importantly, this approach further realized power law for music intensity as fMRI signal follows it. Thus the EEG-fMRI music makes a step ahead in reflecting the physiological process of the scale-free brain.

Concepts: Cognitive science, Electroencephalography, Medical tests, Sound, Functional magnetic resonance imaging, Pitch, Weber–Fechner law, Scientific pitch notation


Absolute pitch (AP) is typically defined as the ability to label an isolated tone as a musical note in the absence of a reference tone. At first glance the acquisition of AP note categories seems like a perceptual learning task, since individuals must assign a category label to a stimulus based on a single perceptual dimension (pitch) while ignoring other perceptual dimensions (e.g., loudness, octave, instrument). AP, however, is rarely discussed in terms of domain-general perceptual learning mechanisms. This is because AP is typically assumed to depend on a critical period of development, in which early exposure to pitches and musical labels is thought to be necessary for the development of AP precluding the possibility of adult acquisition of AP. Despite this view of AP, several previous studies have found evidence that absolute pitch category learning is, to an extent, trainable in a post-critical period adult population, even if the performance typically achieved by this population is below the performance of a “true” AP possessor. The current studies attempt to understand the individual differences in learning to categorize notes using absolute pitch cues by testing a specific prediction regarding cognitive capacity related to categorization - to what extent does an individual’s general auditory working memory capacity (WMC) predict the success of absolute pitch category acquisition. Since WMC has been shown to predict performance on a wide variety of other perceptual and category learning tasks, we predict that individuals with higher WMC should be better at learning absolute pitch note categories than individuals with lower WMC. Across two studies, we demonstrate that auditory WMC predicts the efficacy of learning absolute pitch note categories. These results suggest that a higher general auditory WMC might underlie the formation of absolute pitch categories for post-critical period adults. Implications for understanding the mechanisms that underlie the phenomenon of AP are also discussed.

Concepts: Psychology, Frequency, Hertz, Categorization, Sound, Scientific pitch notation, Octave, Note


Most people cannot name the musical note that corresponds to a particular pitch without being provided a reference note, but those people with absolute pitch (AP) can do this accurately. Early experience during a developmental period is often thought to convey identity and stability of the note categories in people with AP, but the plasticity of these categories has not been investigated. Here we provide the first evidence that the note categories of adults with AP can change with listening experience. Participants with AP showed shifts in perception in direct accord with prior exposure to music detuned by a fraction of a semitone. This suggests that the apparent stability of AP categories is conferred not by early experience but rather by the cultural norms adopted for tuning music.

Concepts: Frequency, Hertz, Sound, Pitch, Music, Scientific pitch notation, Musical notation, Octave


People intuitively match basic tastes to sounds of different pitches, and the matches that they make tend to be consistent across individuals. It is, though, not altogether clear what governs such crossmodal mappings between taste and auditory pitch. Here, we assess whether variations in taste intensity influence the matching of taste to pitch as well as the role of emotion in mediating such crossmodal correspondences. Participants were presented with 5 basic tastants at 3 concentrations. In Experiment 1, the participants rated the tastants in terms of their emotional arousal and valence/pleasantness, and selected a musical note (from 19 possible pitches ranging from C2 to C8) and loudness that best matched each tastant. In Experiment 2, the participants made emotion ratings and note matches in separate blocks of trials, then made emotion ratings for all 19 notes. Overall, the results of the 2 experiments revealed that both taste quality and concentration exerted a significant effect on participants' loudness selection, taste intensity rating, and valence and arousal ratings. Taste quality, not concentration levels, had a significant effect on participants' choice of pitch, but a significant positive correlation was observed between individual perceived taste intensity and pitch choice. A significant and strong correlation was also demonstrated between participants' valence assessments of tastants and their valence assessments of the best-matching musical notes. These results therefore provide evidence that: 1) pitch-taste correspondences are primarily influenced by taste quality, and to a lesser extent, by perceived intensity; and 2) such correspondences may be mediated by valence/pleasantness.

Concepts: Frequency, Hertz, Sound, Match, Scientific pitch notation, Musical notation, Note, Helmholtz pitch notation


The arcuate fasciculus (AF) is a neural fiber tract that is critical to speech and music development. Although the predominant role of the left AF in speech development is relatively clear, how the AF engages in music development is not understood. Congenital amusia is a special neurodevelopmental condition, which not only affects musical pitch but also speech tone processing. Using diffusion tensor tractography, we aimed at understanding the role of AF in music and speech processing by examining the neural connectivity characteristics of the bilateral AF among thirty Mandarin amusics. Compared to age- and intelligence quotient (IQ)-matched controls, amusics demonstrated increased connectivity as reflected by the increased fractional anisotropy in the right posterior AF but decreased connectivity as reflected by the decreased volume in the right anterior AF. Moreover, greater fractional anisotropy in the left direct AF was correlated with worse performance in speech tone perception among amusics. This study is the first to examine the neural connectivity of AF in the neurodevelopmental condition of amusia as a result of disrupted music pitch and speech tone processing. We found abnormal white matter structural connectivity in the right AF for the amusic individuals. Moreover, we demonstrated that the white matter microstructural properties of the left direct AF is modulated by lexical tone deficits among the amusic individuals. These data support the notion of distinctive pitch processing systems between music and speech.

Concepts: Tone, Sound, Pitch, Scientific pitch notation, Timbre, Musical tuning, Pitch accent


Most individuals have reliable long-term memories for the pitch of familiar music recordings. This pitch memory (1) appears to be normally distributed in the population, (2) does not depend on explicit musical training, and (3) only seems to be weakly related to differences in listening frequency estimates. The present experiment was designed to assess whether individual differences in auditory working memory could explain variance in long-term pitch memory for music recordings. In Experiment 1, participants first completed a musical note adjustment task that has been previously used to assess working memory of musical pitch. Afterwards, participants were asked to judge the pitch of well-known music recordings, which either had or had not been shifted in pitch. We found that performance on the pitch working memory task was significantly related to performance in the pitch memory task using well-known recordings, even when controlling for overall musical experience and familiarity with each recording. In Experiment 2, we replicated these findings in a separate group of participants while additionally controlling for fluid intelligence and non-pitch based components of auditory working memory. In Experiment 3, we demonstrated that participants could not accurately judge the pitch of unfamiliar recordings, suggesting that our method of pitch shifting did not result in unwanted acoustic cues that could have aided participants in Experiments 1 and 2. These results, taken together, suggest that the ability to maintain pitch information in working memory might lead to more accurate long-term pitch memory.

Concepts: Cognitive psychology, Frequency, Hertz, Sound, Long-term memory, Scientific pitch notation, Musical notation, Helmholtz pitch notation


Many individuals are able to perceive when the tuning of familiar stimuli, such as popular music recordings, has been altered. This suggests a kind of ubiquitous pitch memory, though it is unclear how this ability differs across individuals with and without absolute pitch (AP) and whether it plays any role in AP. In the present study, we take advantage of a salient single frequency - the 1000Hz sine tone used to censor taboo words in broadcast media - to assess the nature of this kind of pitch memory across individuals with and without AP. We show that non-AP participants are accurate at selecting the correct version of the censor tone among incorrect versions shifted by either one or two semitones, though their accuracy was still below that of an AP population (Experiment 1). This suggests a benefit for AP listeners that could be due to the use of explicit note categories or greater amounts of musical training. However, AP possessors still outperformed all non-AP participants when incorrect versions of the censor tone were shifted within a note category, even when controlling for musical experience (Experiment 2). Experiment 3 demonstrated that AP listeners did not appear to possess a category label for the censor tone that could have helped them differentiate the censor tones used in Experiment 2. Overall, these results suggest that AP possessors may have better pitch memory, even when divorced from pitch labeling (note categories). As such, these results have implications for how AP may develop and be maintained.

Concepts: Frequency, Hertz, Sound, Pitch, Scientific pitch notation, Broadcasting, Octave, Taboo


Individuals with absolute pitch (AP) are able to identify or reproduce a given musical note without the benefit of a reference tone (Deutsch, 2013). They tend to utilize AP when matching visually presented musical scores with auditorily presented melodies, showing poor performance in recognizing a shifted tone in a transposed melody (Miyazaki and Rakowski, 2002). A previous work in our group showed that congruency between visual musical scores and auditory melodies modulated visual awareness of the musical scores during binocular rivalry (Lee et al., VSS 2014). In the present study, we further investigated whether visual awareness of musical scores accompanied by auditory transposed melodies is distinguishable from that of congruent audiovisual information for individuals with AP. Participants with the ability of reading musical scores were divided into two groups depending on the possession of AP. A sinusoidal vertical grating and one of six musical scores moving in the opposite directions were presented dichoptically. Each musical score was accompanied by congruent, incongruent, or congruent-transposed melody. Transposed melodies were either a semitone lower or higher than the noted melody. Participants tracked their rivalry perception by depressing one of two keys. Results replicated our previous work in that a visually presented musical score predominated over a competing rival stimulus when the melody congruent to that score is accompanied. However, only the AP group showed the difference in predominance of scores between the congruent and the congruent-transposed conditions. Specifically, a visual score tended to predominate less when accompanied by transposed auditory melody than when accompanied by congruent melody. The degree of reduced score predominance in the transposed condition didn’t reach that in the incongruent condition. These results suggest that individuals with AP are sensitive to a slight offset of an auditory melody from visual musical scores, which impacts perceptual dynamics during binocular rivalry. Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2015.

Concepts: Visual perception, Consciousness, Sound, Pitch, Interval, Scientific pitch notation, Musical notation, Sheet music


The association/dissociation of pitch processing between music and language is a long lasting debate. We examined this music-language relationship by investigating to what extent pitch deficits in these two domains were dissociable. We focused on a special neurodevelopmental pitch disorder-congenital amusia, which primarily affects musical pitch processing. Recent research has also revealed lexical tone deficits in speech among amusics. Approximately one-third of Mandarin amusics exhibits behavioural difficulties in lexical tone perception, which is known as tone agnosia. Using mismatch negativities (MMNs), our current work probed lexical tone encoding at the pre-attentive level among the Mandarin amusics with (tone agnosics) and without (pure amusics) behavioural lexical tone deficits compared with age- and IQ-matched controls. Relative to the controls and the pure amusics, the tone agnosics exhibited reduced MMNs specifically in response to lexical tone changes. Their tone-consonant MMNs were intact and similar to those of the other two groups. Moreover, the tone MMN reduction over the left hemisphere was tightly linked to behavioural insensitivity to lexical tone changes. The current study thus provides the first psychophysiological evidence of subgroup differences in lexical tone processing among Mandarin amusics and links amusics' behavioural tone deficits to impaired pre-attentive tone processing. Despite the overall music pitch deficits, the subgroup differences in lexical tone processing in Mandarin-speaking amusics suggest dissociation of pitch deficits between music and speech.

Concepts: Tone, Pitch, Scientific pitch notation, Timbre, Musical tuning, Pitch accent


Congenital amusia is a musical disorder that mainly affects pitch perception. Among Mandarin speakers, some amusics also have difficulties in processing lexical tones (tone agnosics). To examine to what extent these perceptual deficits may be related to pitch production impairments in music and Mandarin speech, eight amusics, eight tone agnosics, and 12 age- and IQ-matched normal native Mandarin speakers were asked to imitate music note sequences and Mandarin words of comparable lengths. The results indicated that both the amusics and tone agnosics underperformed the controls on musical pitch production. However, tone agnosics performed no worse than the amusics, suggesting that lexical tone perception deficits may not aggravate musical pitch production difficulties. Moreover, these three groups were all able to imitate lexical tones with perfect intelligibility. Taken together, the current study shows that perceptual musical pitch and lexical tone deficits might coexist with musical pitch production difficulties. But at the same time these perceptual pitch deficits might not affect lexical tone production or the intelligibility of the speech words that were produced. The perception-production relationship for pitch among individuals with perceptual pitch deficits may be, therefore, domain-dependent.

Concepts: Tone, Sound, Scientific pitch notation, Pitch accent