Individual Project Proposal

In Huron (1989), an experiment is carried out to determine trained musicians ability to denumerate individual lines from a polyphonic musical texture.  The examples used were played using homogenous timbre.  This experiment led me to the idea that I could possibly alter its structure, and create an entirely new experiment, only this time with respect to timbre.  Timbre, as it relates to this proposal, can be defined as “that attribute of auditory sensation in terms of which a listener can judge that two sounds similarly presented and having the same loudness and pitch are dissimilar” Brancucci (1999).  My proposal is to use the musical examples from Gregory (1990) in order to test a participants ability to denumerate, or count the number of voices active in a polyphonic structure.  These examples would be altered using different timbres in order to observe what effect this might have on a participants ability to attend to concurrent and independent stimuli.  This question could lead to further studies about the perception of music and how timbre can effect our ability to attend to simultaneously occurring independent auditory streams.

Using the 5 polyphonic examples from Gregory (1990) the stimuli will be randomly organized and presented to participants.  As a rule, no one will hear the same excerpt twice.  The control timbre will be a standard grand piano sound.  I will alternate using tuba and oboe in order to get a good sense of the high and low ends of the pitch spectrum.  I will then analyze the results with respect to timbre and example number, doing a side by side comparison.

My prediction is that timbre will have an effect on the listener’s ability to denumerate individual lines in a polyphonic texture.  Specifically, I expect to observe a higher rate of success in identification with the oboe.  The tuba’s timbre quality I expect will make it more difficult to attend to separate audio streams.



Gregory, A. H.  Listening to Polyphonic Music. Psychology of Music, October 1990; vol. 18,

2: pp. 163-170. Article DOI: 10.1177/0305735690182005.

I used the musical examples in this article.


Huron, D. Voice Denumerability in Polyphonic Music of Homogeneous Timbres

Music Perception: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Vol. 6, No. 4 (Summer, 1989), pp. 361-382

Published by: University of California Press. Article DOI: 10.2307/40285438.

I used this article as a model for my current experiment.



Pietro, S.M. and Brancucci, A. Laterality in the perception of temporal cues of musical

timbre. Neuropsychologia, Volume 37, Issue 13, December 1999, Pages 1445–


I used this article to help define timbre as it relates to this experiment.


Risset J.C. and Wessel D.L. Exploration of timbre by analysis and

synthesis. In: Deutsch D, editor. The psychology of music. New

York: Academic Press, 1982. p. 25±58.

I used this chapter to further clarify my definition of timbre as it relates to this experiment.



2 thoughts on “Individual Project Proposal

  1. This project is quite different than what we had discussed. This is not a problem in itself, but your proposal will need to be altered to include some aspect of rhythm to the question, so that it is more pertinent to this course.

  2. Hi Chris,

    As proposed, this is an interesting project. My main questions would center on your planned implementation of this project, particularly your creation of the audio stimuli.

    Here are some ramble-y thoughts: Will you be using live musicians or mechanically produced sound? Live musicians create problems of expressive variation and dynamics; you can condense and envelope the sound file to have a consistent loudness & chop up your recordings to match timing among voices, but the resultant will be far from real music. Alternately, if you use a sampled instrument library, the sound files are generally close blends–i.e. several distinct wave forms very slightly out of tune, which allows for easy blending. Perhaps synthesized sounds (i.e. generated wave forms) would be easiest, but they would require a significantly different (more limiting) definition of timbre than the one you have provided.

    To fulfill Eve’s comment, you might be able to reconstruct your project to test whether small timing variations on a consistent, mechanically generated sound stimuli affect polyphonic voice denumeration.

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