Effect of harmonic rank on sequential sound segregation

Sara M.K. Madsen, Torsten Dau, Brian C.J. Moore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The ability to segregate sounds from different sound sources is thought to depend on the perceptual salience of differences between the sounds, such as differences in frequency or fundamental frequency (F0). F0 discrimination of complex tones is better for tones with low harmonics than for tones that only contain high harmonics, suggesting greater pitch salience for the former. This leads to the expectation that the sequential stream segregation (streaming) of complex tones should be better for tones with low harmonics than for tones with only high harmonics. However, the results of previous studies are conflicting about whether this is the case. The goals of this study were to determine the effect of harmonic rank on streaming and to establish whether streaming is related to F0 discrimination. Thirteen young normal-hearing participants were tested. Streaming was assessed for pure tones and complex tones containing harmonics with various ranks using sequences of ABA triplets, where A and B differed in frequency or in F0. The participants were asked to try to hear two streams and to indicate when they heard one and when they heard two streams. F0 discrimination was measured for the same tones that were used as A tones in the streaming experiment. Both streaming and F0 discrimination worsened significantly with increasing harmonic rank. There was a significant relationship between streaming and F0 discrimination, indicating that good F0 discrimination is associated with good streaming. This supports the idea that the extent of stream segregation depends on the salience of the perceptual difference between successive sounds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)161-168
Number of pages8
JournalHearing Research
StatePublished - Sep 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported by a Carlsberg Foundation's Postdoctoral Fellowship in Denmark awarded to S.M.K.M. and an Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council grant (UK, RG78536 ) to B.C.J.M. We thank Andrew Oxenham, Bob Carlyon, Federica Bianchi, Sebastién Santurette and two reviewers for useful discussions and comments.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 The Authors


  • Fundamental frequency discrimination
  • Pitch
  • Stream segregation


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