Sound Elements: Pitch and Timbre

Aniruddh D. Patel

in Music, Language, and the Brain

Published in print December 2007 | ISBN: 9780195123753
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199848034 | DOI:
Sound Elements: Pitch and Timbre

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All humans are innately bestowed with two different sound systems that serve two different purposes. The first system is linguistic, and this accounts for various aspects of language such as differences in pitch, consonants, and vowels. The second system, on the other hand, is musical and encompasses all the pitches and timbres involved within a particular culture's music. Because of this, and even if infants are not exposed to explicit or formal modes of teaching, human beings as adults are able to appreciate their culture's music and are evidently proficient in their native languages. However, because we are more familiar with our native sound system than any other sound system, it may become difficult to learn other languages and enjoy music of other cultures. While this establishes a mental framework for distinguishing sound categories, this chapter looks into and compares how timbre and pitch are organized by both speech and music.

Keywords: linguistic system; musical system; pitch; timbre; native sound system; music; speech

Chapter.  34598 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Neuroscience

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