Thursday, December 08, 2005

Effects of a Change in Instrumentation on the Recognition of Musical Materials

Effects of a Change in Instrumentation on the Recognition of Musical Materials

[Timbre- tone color: brass has a different timbre than woodwinds]

The main purpose of this study was to determine whether or not different instrumentation has an effect on a person’s ability to recognize a melody. The study also provided an opportunity to determine whether timbre, along with pitch and rhythm, helps to define the identity of a musical work. For example, would Moonlight Sonata be as recognizable if it were performed by an orchestra instead of a piano? In the history of Western music, the timbre of a piece of music, which is created by its instrumentation, has always been considered less important than its pitches and its rhythms.

Several previous studies contributed to the formation of this study’s hypothesis. The first, a study completed by Peretz & Kolinsky in 1993, asked participants to make various judgments about two consecutively sounded pitches. When the two pitches were performed on the same instrument, those participating in the study were able to judge them faster and with greater accuracy than when the pitches were performed on two different instruments.

A study completed by Pitt & Crowder in 1992 suggested that the timbre of a pitch can actually influence someone’s perception of the pitch. In this study, subjects were again asked to listen to two consecutive tones. After hearing the tones, they were to determine whether the second pitch was the same as or different than the first one. When the timbre remained constant, the listeners had no trouble providing the correct answers, however, when the timbre changed, the listener’s accuracy decreased significantly.

Contrary to the Pitt and Crowder study, however, was the Semal and Demany study of 1991, which attempted to study the relationship between pitch memory and timbre. They concluded that pitch memory is independent of timbre and that there is no correlation between the pitch and the timbre of a note.

But again in 1998, a study by Peretz, Gaudreau, and Bonnel showed the strong effect of timbre change on melody recognition. Melodies that stayed in the same timbre were recognized with greater accuracy than melodies that were performed in different timbres.

Because of the results of these studies, along with a few others, it was believed that the timbre of a piece of music would be influential in the work’s recognition.

The Trials

For the first trial, 73 students from a university in France participated: 29 were regular university students, and 44 were music students. Musical excerpts from The Angel of Death, a piece composed by Reynolds in 2004, were played for them. 18 of the excerpts were performed on piano, and 18 were played by a chamber orchestra.
The experimental procedure was performed in two phases. In the first phase, which was referred to as “the learning phase,” participants were asked to carefully listen to 9 excerpts, which were a combination of piano and orchestral recordings. They were told before the examples were played that there would be a recognition test following the learning phase.

In the recognition phase of the study, the participants were asked to listen to 18 excerpts. 9 of them were those they had listened to earlier, and 9 were other sections of the same work. Sometimes, the timbre of the old sections was different than in the first hearing, and sometimes it remained the same.

They were then asked whether or not they had heard each of the 18 excerpts previously. For the non-musicians, the percentages of correct answers always hovered between 50 and 60%, or just a little over chance. Only with the trained musicians did the timbre appear to have a significant effect.

It was then decided that since the participants had been told before listening to the original 9 excerpts that they were going to be tested later over recognition, the results may have be misleading. So, a second trial, nearly identical to the first, was prepared and set into motion. The only difference being that the students were not informed of the second phase of the study.

The results of the second trial were nearly identical to those of the first. When the same excerpt was replayed in the same timbre (both performed by an orchestra), the accuracy of the participants in recognizing it was 80%. However, when a melody was performed first by an orchestra, and then by a piano, the accuracy was only 55%.

There was also a third trial performed as part of this study. The purpose was the same, and the only difference was category of musical excerpt chosen. Instead of contemporary instrumental music, the chosen selection was Liszt’s Symphonic Poem #3. The results of this third study were similar to the two previous ones.

In conclusion, the timbre of a musical work can influence an audience’s recognition of it.


Blogger gfunk5 said...

Could you make a correlation between the impact of this study on the world and the study itself?

Thursday, December 08, 2005 10:42:00 PM  
Blogger violinbrunetka said...

I would like to say that you did a good job on your presentation. Garth, i mean gfunk5, has a point. Other then that it was good. :)

Friday, December 09, 2005 9:38:00 PM  
Blogger saxubatar said...

Was timbre a greater effect on the musicians, making them less likely to recognize or more likely to recognize the piece played differently?

Saturday, December 10, 2005 11:30:00 PM  

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