Identifying the number of instruments in pairs of simultaneously sounding timbre

Dora Chan, Elzbieta Slawinski


Timbre as a source of variation in music has become increasingly important in music composition in recent years. The present study investigated the ability of listeners to appreciate pairs of different timbres simultaneously. The stimuli were combinations of the steady state portions (300 ms) of three instrumental timbres, including the clarinet, trombone and harp. Forty different pairs were constructed for the four stimulus conditions: three experimental conditions consisting of the instrumental timbres, and a control condition consisting of pure tones corresponding to the fundamental frequency of these timbres. Thirty undergraduates, with and without musical training, were required to listen to a total of 400 randomized tonal stimuli. Their task was to make a judgment on whether they heard one or two instrument(s) after listening to each stimulus. Overall, musicians could perceive two timbres more readily than non-musicians, thus suggesting that musical experience may enhance the perception of timbre. Performance differences between the groups across conditions are also discussed.


Continuum mechanics; Frequencies; Information analysis; Musical instruments; Parameter estimation; Signal processing; Standards; Waveform analysis; Complex sounds; Multidimensional scaling (MDS); Timbre; Tones

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