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Influences of Tone-Colour on Musical Memory

Influences of Tone-Colour on Musical Memory

Presenter Name:Graeme Noble

School/Affiliation:McMaster University

Co-Authors:Joanna Spyra, Matthew Woolhouse


Previous research has investigated the extent to which an initial key is retained in short-term memory following a musical modulation. While literature has covered several distinct aspects of music and their effects on memory, the contribution of timbre has yet to be studied with such scrutiny. Timbre (the ‘tone-colour’ of a sound) consists of pure-tone components with independent amplitude envelopes (AEs) varying in duration and intensity. The current study explored these two aspects of timbre by manipulating number of harmonics and AE shape. Participants in Experiment 1 were asked to rate the naturalness of sampled vs. subtractive vs. additive synthesized sounds. In Experiment 2, the sounds from Experiment 1 were interjected into a modulating passage to address whether timbral naturalness impacted key memorization. Using the sequences from Experiment 2, Experiment 3 explored the extent to which individual components of timbre influenced key memorization. Here, AEs and the number of harmonics were manipulated independently such that the initial segment and probe cadence were played with flat or dynamic AEs and either 1 or 9 harmonics. In summary, stimuli were easily and appropriately distinguishable for their subjective naturalness. Furthermore, participants’ judgements of completion were greatest for probe cadences with a natural timbre and those that matched the timbre of the initial segment. Ratings were significantly higher when the initial segment and probe cadence were matched for harmonics, rather than their AEs. We thus conclude that the harmonic component of timbre within our stimuli was critical with respect to observed memory effects.

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