Influence of musical and psychoacoustical training on pitch discrimination

Christophe Micheyl, Karine Delhommeau, Xavier Perrot, Andrew J. Oxenham

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353 Scopus citations


This study compared the influence of musical and psychoacoustical training on auditory pitch discrimination abilities. In a first experiment, pitch discrimination thresholds for pure and complex tones were measured in 30 classical musicians and 30 non-musicians, none of whom had prior psychoacoustical training. The non-musicians' mean thresholds were more than six times larger than those of the classical musicians initially, and still about four times larger after 2 h of training using an adaptive two-interval forced-choice procedure; this difference is two to three times larger than suggested by previous studies. The musicians' thresholds were close to those measured in earlier psychoacoustical studies using highly trained listeners, and showed little improvement with training; this suggests that classical musical training can lead to optimal or nearly optimal pitch discrimination performance. A second experiment was performed to determine how much additional training was required for the non-musicians to obtain thresholds as low as those of the classical musicians from experiment 1. Eight new non-musicians with no prior training practiced the frequency discrimination task for a total of 14 h. It took between 4 and 8 h of training for their thresholds to become as small as those measured in the classical musicians from experiment 1. These findings supplement and qualify earlier data in the literature regarding the respective influence of musical and psychoacoustical training on pitch discrimination performance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)36-47
Number of pages12
JournalHearing Research
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Sep 2006

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported in part by a grant from the French Ministry of Research, teaching and Education (Project # A62, Art and Cognition, ACI Cognitique 2000) to the first and third authors (then both at UMR CNRS 5020) and by NIH Grant R01 DC 05216 to A.J. Oxenham. The authors are grateful to Drs. B.J. May, R. Zatorre, and two anonymous reviewers for detailed comments on an earlier version of the manuscript, to J.G. Bernstein and C.E. Lewiston for insightful discussions, and to A. Poirier, Director of the National Music Conservatory of Paris, for his help in setting up this study. The musician and non-musician listeners are gratefully acknowledged for their willingness to participate.


  • Auditory training
  • Frequency discrimination
  • Musicians
  • Perceptual learning
  • Pitch


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