Musical training is not associated with spectral context effects in instrument sound categorization

Anya E. Shorey, Caleb J. King, Kelly L. Whiteford, Christian E. Stilp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Musicians display a variety of auditory perceptual benefits relative to people with little or no musical training; these benefits are collectively referred to as the “musician advantage.” Importantly, musicians consistently outperform nonmusicians for tasks relating to pitch, but there are mixed reports as to musicians outperforming nonmusicians for timbre-related tasks. Due to their experience manipulating the timbre of their instrument or voice in performance, we hypothesized that musicians would be more sensitive to acoustic context effects stemming from the spectral changes in timbre across a musical context passage (played by a string quintet then filtered) and a target instrument sound (French horn or tenor saxophone; Experiment 1). Additionally, we investigated the role of a musician’s primary instrument of instruction by recruiting French horn and tenor saxophone players to also complete this task (Experiment 2). Consistent with the musician advantage literature, musicians exhibited superior pitch discrimination to nonmusicians. Contrary to our main hypothesis, there was no difference between musicians and nonmusicians in how spectral context effects shaped instrument sound categorization. Thus, musicians may only outperform nonmusicians for some auditory skills relevant to music (e.g., pitch perception) but not others (e.g., timbre perception via spectral differences).

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalAttention, Perception, and Psychophysics
StateAccepted/In press - 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024, The Psychonomic Society, Inc.


  • Context effects
  • Musical instruments
  • Musician advantage
  • Spectral contrast effects

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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