Vowel content influences relative pitch perception in vocal melodies

Frank A. Russo*, Dominique T. Vuvan, William Forde Thompson

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    9 Citations (Scopus)
    30 Downloads (Pure)


    NOTE-TO-NOTE CHANGES IN BRIGHTNESS ARE ABLE to influence the perception of interval size. Changes that are congruent with pitch tend to expand interval size, whereas changes that are incongruent tend to contract. In the case of singing, brightness of notes can vary as a function of vowel content. In the present study, we investigated whether note-to-note changes in brightness arising from vowel content influence perception of relative pitch. In Experiment 1, three-note sequences were synthesized so that they varied with regard to the brightness of vowels from note to note. As expected, brightness influenced judgments of interval size. Changes in brightness that were congruent with changes in pitch led to an expansion of perceived interval size. A follow-up experiment confirmed that the results of Experiment 1 were not due to pitch distortions. In Experiment 2, the final note of three-note sequences was removed, and participants were asked to make speeded judgments of the pitch contour. An analysis of response times revealed that brightness of vowels influenced contour judgments. Changes in brightness that were congruent with changes in pitch led to faster response times than did incongruent changes. These findings show that the brightness of vowels yields an extra-pitch influence on the perception of relative pitch in song.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)57-65
    Number of pages9
    JournalMusic Perception
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Sept 2019

    Bibliographical note

    Published as Frank A. Russo, Dominique T. Vuvan, William Forde Thompson.
    Music Perception: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Vol. 37 No. 1, September 2019; (pp. 57-65) DOI: 10.1525/mp.2019.37.1.57. © 2019 by the Regents of the University of California. Copying and permissions notice: Authorization to copy this content beyond fair use (as specified in Sections 107 and 108 of the U. S. Copyright Law) for internal or personal use, or the internal or personal use of specific clients, is granted by the Regents of the University of California for libraries and other users, provided that they are registered with and pay the specified fee via Rightslink® or directly with the Copyright Clearance Center.


    • singing
    • vowels
    • timbre
    • relative pitch
    • psychoacoustics


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