Apparent asymmetry in discriminating between two closely spaced pitches

Seaton, Richard; Sharp, David; Jones, Allan and Pim, Dennis (2019). Apparent asymmetry in discriminating between two closely spaced pitches. In: Proceedings of the Institute of Acoustics, 31(1) pp. 302–309.

Abstract

Recent research into the cause of pitch drift in choirs involved a survey of the pitch discrimination abilities of some 150 amateur choral singers from eleven UK-based choirs. A series of tests, comprising 22 tone pairs based around A4 (440 Hz), were presented to the singers. Eighteen tone pairs varied in pitch between ±1 and ±48 cents with, as a control, an additional four pairs with equal pitches. The aim of the survey was to determine whether there was any relationship between the pitch discrimination abilities of the singers and the average pitch drift experienced by their choirs. Unfortunately, insufficient responses from some choirs meant this became impractical, but in treating the singers’ responses as a whole an interesting outcome became apparent, which to date appears not to have been reported in literature; the singers appeared more able to discriminate the two pitches of a pair when the second tone was flatter than the first, than when the second tone was sharper than the first. This paper presents the development of the survey along with the results to date. A discussion of this unanticipated outcome follows, including an exploration of possible reasons for its occurrence.

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