Acoustic Structure and Musical Function: Musical Notes Informing Auditory Research

Michael Schutz

in The Oxford Handbook of Music and the Brain

Published in print July 2019 | ISBN: 9780198804123
Published online October 2018 | e-ISBN: 9780191842368 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

Acoustic Structure and Musical Function: Musical Notes Informing Auditory Research

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Music’s continual temporal changes make it a useful stimulus for studying cognitive and neural processes unfolding over time. Although this dynamic nature is widely recognized on a macro level, the importance of temporal changes in individual notes is less widely discussed. For example, textbooks often focus on power spectra—time invariant summaries of spectral information—to explain differences in timbre between musical instruments. Unfortunately, this approach overlooks the importance of dynamic fluctuations in individual notes’ overtones. This chapter highlights the under-recognized importance of temporal structure in musical sounds by synthesizing a diverse range of research on musical acoustics and perception. It concludes by contrasting the rich temporal dynamics of musical sounds with the temporally invariant tones common in auditory perception research—which exhibit significant shortcomings regarding ecological validity. Although this creates barriers for generalizing outcomes from experiments with simplistic tones, it also offers exciting new topics for future research.

Keywords: timbre; amplitude envelope; spectral structure; musical instruments; auditory perception; ecological validity

Article.  8068 words. 

Subjects: Cognitive Neuroscience

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