Representation of pitch chroma by multi-peak spectral tuning in human auditory cortex

Michelle Moerel, Federico De Martino, Roberta Santoro, Essa Yacoub, Elia Formisano

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

9 Scopus citations


Musical notes played at octave intervals (i.e., having the same pitch chroma) are perceived as similar. This well-known perceptual phenomenon lays at the foundation of melody recognition and music perception, yet its neural underpinnings remain largely unknown to date. Using fMRI with high sensitivity and spatial resolution, we examined the contribution of multi-peak spectral tuning to the neural representation of pitch chroma in human auditory cortex in two experiments. In experiment 1, our estimation of population spectral tuning curves from the responses to natural sounds confirmed-with new data-our recent results on the existence of cortical ensemble responses finely tuned to multiple frequencies at one octave distance (Moerel et al., 2013). In experiment 2, we fitted a mathematical model consisting of a pitch chroma and height component to explain the measured fMRI responses to piano notes. This analysis revealed that the octave-tuned populations-but not other cortical populations-harbored a neural representation of musical notes according to their pitch chroma. These results indicate that responses of auditory cortical populations selectively tuned to multiple frequencies at one octave distance predict well the perceptual similarity of musical notes with the same chroma, beyond the physical (frequency) distance of notes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)161-169
Number of pages9
StatePublished - Feb 1 2015


  • FMRI encoding
  • High field functional MRI
  • Human auditory cortex
  • Music
  • Octave percept
  • Pitch chroma

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