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AMPS: Past Seminar Series

Past Seminar Series

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2006 Seminar Series

Temporal Precision in Tasks Involving Auditory Imagery
Speaker : Peter Keller Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain
Date :6th Jan

Affective Channels: Music, Speech Prosody, and Facial Expression
Speaker : Bill Thompson University of Toronto
Date :3rd Feb


Affect is communicated musically and through tone of voice (vocally) by manipulating acoustic variables such as intensity, rate, and pitch height. Performers and speakers also use facial expressions and gestures to amplify, foreshadow, and clarify such messages. Researchers and theorists have noted intriguing connections between these affective channels that may have evolutionary and developmental implications. In this talk, I will summarize recent empirical evidence that: (1) direct experimental manipulations of specific acoustic variables have similar affective consequences in music and speech prosody; (2) acoustic variables are related to affective meaning in similar ways across cultures; (3) perceptual judgements of affective meaning are related, but not identical, to experiential consequences of prolonged exposure to affective stimuli; and (4) listeners attend closely to facial expressions when decoding emotional meaning from acoustic input, and their interpretations of affect represent a balance between visual and acoustic cues.

The Recordings of Joachim, Sarasate and Ysaye: A Study of Violin Playing on Early Recordings in Light of Contemporary Reviews
Speaker : Dorottya Fabian School of Music & Music Education, UNSW
Date :24th Mar


The press reception of famous 19th-century violinists is an important resource for the historical study of performance. Comparing several reports across many years with surviving sound recordings provides some insight into what these recordings might have captured from the artistry of these players. Currently held received wisdom regarding the differences between these violinists gains a new perspective. For instance, Joachim is upheld as the "authoritative" interpreter of the classics, especially Bach. But it turns out that, at least for Bernard Shaw, "Ysaÿe's power of polyphonic playing enables him to challenge any comparison". Using software-assisted measurements this paper comments on intonation, tone quality, tempo choices, phrasing and musicianship and challenges some widely held views on performance traditions as well as violin playing. The reported findings
1) The excessive tempo of Ysaÿe's rendering of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto is probably correct because all contemporary reviews of his concert performances complain about it. Measured pitch fluctuation is less than in some later recordings (e.g. Szigeti, 1933) and is in line with A=440 Herz.
2) There is a greater similarity in their vibrato than generally assumed, the difference being dependent on choice of repertoire and approach to musical projection.
3) Contemporary judgment of tempo, tone quality, and musicianship is supported by the evidence of the audio analysis which may indicate a degree of stability in human perception and appreciation of music within a broadly based cultural setting across extended historical periods
4) The performance analysis as well as the contemporary opinion seems to challenge the view that the "fast objectivist" performance style is a "modernist"and characteristically twentieth century phenomenon.

The Art of Intersubjectivity: Music Therapy with Hospitalised Infants
Speaker : Stephen Malloch et al.
Date :7th Apr


The presence of contingency appears to be vital for a healthy caregiver-infant relationship, and for the well-being of the infant. A problem exists in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit - while the highly technological, noisy and interventionist environment maximises chances of the physical survival of the infant, it also minimises opportunities for sympathetic, contingent relationships. In this environment, the music therapist, with her training in listening and observing through time and making available appropriately modulated interaction, provides a setting where the infant has his communicative skills met and nurtured (Trevarthen & Malloch, 2000). We will report results of a three year study that assessed the impact of an improvised music therapy intervention (Shoemark, 1999) carried out at the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne, Australia. The aims were to examine the efficacy of the Music Therapy protocol, and to examine the nature of the interaction between therapist and infant.

Of Mice and Men: Evaluating Non-musical Benefits of Acoustic Enrichment and Musical Training
Speaker : Nikki S. Rickard Monash University
Date :9th Jun


Non-musical benefits of exposure and engagement with music have been reported for centuries, but have only recently been subjected to critical scientific evaluation. For instance, while a musical upbringing has consistently been claimed to advance children in academic and other intellectual domains, only a handful of studies have confirmed this experimentally. In this talk, two projects currently underway at Monash which attempt to explore this claim further will be described. The first will follow three groups of primary school children for 3 years as they are involved in an intensive, sequential music training program, a non-musical but otherwise engaging arts activity, or no new arts activities. Two age cohorts will be assessed on measures of memory, literacy and numeracy, social skills and self-esteem. The second project will follow three groups of young Long-Evans rats for 2 years as they are exposed to an acoustically enriched environment, a ‘classic' enriched environment or no additional enrichment. Animals will be assessed on measures of spatial memory, synaptic plasticity, anxiety and general health. While data have not yet been obtained for either project, feedback on the use of parallel approaches to certain issues in music psychology is welcomed.

The Child Musician
Speaker : Prof. Gary E. McPherson The University of Illinois at Urbana Cha
Date :23rd Jun


This presentation outlines some of the research that Gary has undertaken during the past two years. It includes a discussion of a young, highly gifted pianist (aged 7-9) that he has been studying in Hong Kong, additions and elaborations on his longitudinal research with children who are learning musical instruments, examples from a study he conducted with Hong Kong school children using the Eccles and Wigfield expectancy-value motivation theory and comments on his new edited volume for Oxford University Press: The Child as Musician: A handbook of musical development.

Developing and Testing the Mind's Ear
Speaker : Dr. Freya Bailes, The University of Canberra
Date :15th Sep


Of interest to musicians is whether the ability to imagine sound can be developed, either through the natural course of musical activity or through separate aural training. The limited literature and pedagogical guidance on the subject does not adequately consider current practise. Particularly lacking is the perspective of aural training teachers who might be expected to hold specific views about the relevance of auditory imagery (the conscious mental image of sound) in aural development, and possible ways of developing the Œmind's ear'. Consequently, aural teaching was observed at three different institutions of higher education in the UK. Students and tutors were questioned about their past aural training, the importance of inner hearing skills, and teaching methods. The aims of the study were to determine whether inner hearing is viewed as an important ability and to explore how this might be developed. Learning methods favouring enhanced listening through performance, improvisation, or listening in a multi-modal fashion, were believed to develop the mind's ear.

A separate study explored the perceived efficiency of various methods of testing auditory imagery ability. Music students at Ohio State University performed a mixture of aural skills evaluation tasks, and were asked to describe their perspective of such tests as a measure of their aural abilities. The results from both studies reveal that while music teachers and students value inner hearing skills, there is considerable confusion as to how these might be developed and tested.

Timing and Interval Information in Memory for Unfamiliar Melodies
Speaker : Tim Byron, MARCS Auditory Laboratories, University of Western Sy
Date :20th Oct


Melodic contour is the shape of a melody without reference to the individual notes. Melodic contour has generally been conceived as specifically the direction of pitch intervals (i.e., up or down), and it has been argued that memory for short unfamiliar transposed melodies encodes melodic contour and scale (Dowling, 1978). Recently it has also been implicated as a link between the cognition of speech and music (Patel, 2003). We detail two experiments, the results of which suggest that pitch interval magnitude (i.e., whether the pitch interval between notes is a step or a leap) and temporal information also play a role in memory for short unfamiliar transposed melodies.

Singing Pitch Accuracy in the Male Changing Voice
Speaker : Elizabeth Willis & Dianna T Kenny
Date :3rd Nov


Objectives: This longitudinal study assessed the effects of voice change on boys’ singing pitch accuracy.

Study Design: Prospective longitudinal study. 18 pubescent boys were recorded at the beginning and end of a year, and 12 of these boys were recorded an additional three times during the year. 55% of the boys had limited vocal training.

Methods: The boys sang ‘Happy Birthday’ at each recording session. Recordings were digitized to 16 kHz, and the frequencies of the octave leap in the third phrase of the song analyzed. To assess results according to stage of pubertal development, data were arranged in descending SFo order, and grouped using Cooksey’s guidelines into unchanged, midvoice I, midvoice II, midvoice IIA, new voice and settling voice categories. Additional data on weight, voice range and development of phonational gaps over the voice-range were applied to test for their potential influence on the boys’ pitch accuracy in singing the octave.

Results: Averaged results showed that boys in all stages of voice change found singing the octave difficult. Unchanged voices were the most accurate, singing the octave a semitone flat, and settling voices least accurate (three semitones flat). The other four categories averaged one tone flat. Factors affecting pitching accuracy include the appearance of phonational gaps over the voice range, and variation in speaking fundamental frequency (SFo). Boys in unchanged and midvoice I stages chose a starting note lower than their SFo, but boys in midvoice II and midvoice IIa preferred a starting-note higher than their SFo. Boys in settling voice and new voice stages chose starting notes close to their SFo.

Conclusions:This study challenges current practice in providing support for the use of SFo pitch as the baseline skill level for vocal instruction for boys undergoing voice-change, and for the use of repertoire with smaller intervals that focus around the SFo pitch.

Hormonal Effects on Voice in Young Female Singers
Speaker : Maree Ryan & Dianna T Kenny, Australian Centre for Applied Resea
Date :3rd Nov


Throughout the 20th Century, female operatic singers in most of the major European opera houses were given “grace days” (where they were not required to sing) in recognition of the effect of hormonal changes on the singing voice. Financial constraints in professional companies have resulted in a reduction of such considerations, but to date, there has been no systematic study of the effects of hormonal fluctuations on the quality of the female singing voice, or of its potential adverse effects on the vocal apparatus for singers who are affected by pre-menstrual syndrome.

This study investigated the effects of hormonal fluctuations on young professional female classical singers. Female and male professional singers in training (students) at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, University of Sydney, participated in the study by keeping daily diaries. The female singers kept a diary for two separate months beginning on the first day of menstruation, in which they recorded their daily basal temperature, mood, voice state and physical well being. The male control subjects kept daily diaries for one month. Acoustic analysis of two vocal samples taken during the second month, on days 1 and 14 of the cycle, were completed on the six most severely affected female subjects, who were identified through their diary ratings of changes in vocal quality during menstruation.

The selected students assessed their own vocal samples, presented in random order, to determine whether they could reliably identify which of their samples was affected by menstruation. Vocal staff at the Conservatorium (pedagogues), who were blind to the purpose of the study, also assessed recordings presented randomly. Results indicated that self-perceived vocal quality varied over the course of the menstrual cycle, particularly during the first seven days of the cycle, that negative changes in mood affected the voice, and that fatigue, effort, hoarseness, weakness & peak performance were the most frequently affected vocal states. Male self-perceived voice quality also varied over the course of one month of diary keeping but there was no consistent pattern to the variation.

Five of the six most affected singers correctly identified their performance during menstruation but pedagogues were not consistently able to do so. These results indicate that perceived quality of the voice through changes in the menstrual cycle may not be as obvious to a highly trained observer even though they were reliably perceived by the singer.

This study demonstrates that menstruation has a discernible impact on the self-perception of female singers’ vocal quality and implies that the premenstrual or menstrual female may not feel able to present her peak performance at these times of hormonal fluctuation.

What Makes a Good Didjeridu?
Speaker : John Smith and Joe Wolfe School of Physics, UNSW
Date :17th Nov


What makes a good musical instrument? This is one of most interesting questions in music acoustics that is often, because of the subtleties and complexities in music performance, one of the hardest to answer. In most cases it is beset by confounding influences, such as the reputation of the maker and the opinions of the player, the familiarity and 'feel' under the fingers and by the relatively small size of the differences among technologically evolved contemporary instruments.

To answer this question, the didjeridu has the advantage that it is relatively easy to do double blind experiments: usually, neither player nor experimenter knows the internal geometry. Further, there is a huge range of internal and external geometries that are not simply related.

Here we report a study in which an expert panel of players assessed the playing qualities of a set of 38 natural didjeridus (and also 11 plastic pipes). We also made objective, physical measurements of the acoustical properties of the instruments using techniques that do not involve human players. In this talk we relate the playing properties to physical properties of the instrument.

Of several determinants of perceived quality, the strongest is clear. It is best described in terms of the acoustic impedance Z(f), which is a measure of how difficult it is to make air move at a particular frequency. In most wind instruments, Z(f) has several strong peaks that drive the reed or the player's lips in different registers. In didjeridus, good instruments have only low values of Z(f) in the frequency range 1-2 kHz. This can be understood in terms of recent work [1,2,3] in this lab that has explained the coupling of the vocal tract to the instrument and the mechanism whereby the strong formants in the output sound are produced by the configuration of the player's tract.


1. Tarnopolsky, A, Fletcher, N. Hollenberg, L., Lange, B., Smith, J. and Wolfe, J. (2005). The vocal tract and the sound of a didgeridoo, Nature, 436, 39.

2. Tarnopolsky, A, Fletcher, N. Hollenberg, L., Lange, B., Smith, J. and Wolfe, J. (2006). Vocal tract resonances and the sound of the Australian didjeridu (yidaki) I: Experiment, J. Acoust. Soc. America, 119, 1194-1204.

3. Fletcher, N., Hollenberg, L., Smith, J., Tarnopolsky, A. and Wolfe, J. (2006). Vocal tract resonances and the sound of the Australian didjeridu (yidaki) II: Theory, J. Acoust. Soc. America, 119, 1205-1213.

Cognitive Processes In and Around Music Perception
Speaker : Prof. Barbara Tillmann UWS Eminent Researcher
Date :22nd Nov


Listening to music requires not only auditory memory of sounds evolving over time, but requires understanding the structural relations that exist between the sounds. Listeners have acquired sensitivity to the regularities of the tonal system by mere exposure to musical pieces in everyday life. This implicitly acquired tonal knowledge allows listeners to perceive structures and relations between musical events and to develop expectations for future events that then influence the processing of these events.

The presented research investigates implicit learning processes leading to nonmusicians’ musical knowledge and the influence of musical knowledge on perception and memory. The overall data patterns show that nonmusician listeners can be considered as “implicit experts of music perception”. Studying music perception provides insight into cognitive processes and neural correlates of learning and perceiving complex acoustic, nonverbal structures. It further allows revealing similarities and differences to language processing.