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Re: memory for pitch

Title: Re: memory for pitch
Dear Martin et al,

Indeed - and one of the most surprising outcomes of this series of experiments was evidence for lateral inhibition in the pitch memory system. When you present two test tones for recognition ('same' or 'different') and these are separated by an interpolated sequence of six tones, the error rate depends systematically on the pitch relationship between a 'critical interpolated tone' and the first test tone. As the interval between these two tones increases in 1/6 tone steps, error rates increase, peak at an interval of 2/3 tone, and then return to baseline.See

Deutsch, D. Mapping of interactions in the pitch memory store. Science,  1972, 175, 1020-1022, posted as a PDF at


Furthermore, error rates increase substantially when tow tones are interpolated, each a semitone removed from the first test tone.See

Deutsch, D. Interference in memory between tones adjacent in the musical scale. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 1973, 100, 228-231.

Most persuasive is the evidence, obtained with John Feroe, of disinhibition in pitch memory. If a tone that is 2/3 tone removed from the first test tone (the maximally inhibiting position) is interpolated, and a tone further removed is also interpolated, which moves at 1/6 tone steps from the maximally inhibiting tone, you get an orderly disinhibition function, which on modeling was found to fit a simple Hartline-Ratliff model of a lateral inhibitory network.

See Deutsch, D. & Feroe, J. Disinhibition in pitch memory.  Perception and Psychophysics, 1975, 17, 320-324, also posted as a PDF in the above location.



Dear Diana and others,

you wrote (Monday, May 22):
...... So at least where memory for the pitch of a
single tone is concerned, performance appears to be substantially
unrelated to rehearsal strategy, and appears to be the function of a
low-level system that has characteristics which are very similar to
the system that handles pitch information at the incoming level.

Your indications of a low-level system for the short-term memory of pitch is further supported by musical practice and by results of research in neurophysiology.

1) In music we experience consonance and dissonance not only for simultaneous tones, but also for non-simultaneous ones. When comparing the two series of tones C4-F4-A4-C5 and C4-F4-A4-C#5, the first one is perceived as more consonant than the second. Today we further assume that this sensitivity for "horizontal harmony" is due to the structure of the mammalian auditory brain, because also monkeys have it (Wright et al., 2000).

In order to explain the sensory interaction of non-simultaneous tones, some kind of internal reverberation was suggested. Clearly, if the quality of interaction depends on acoustic frequency ratios, the interaction must occur at a level where neural signals still contain pitch-related periodicity information. The highest level where this information is still present is the auditory midbrain (colliculi inferiores).

2) Bob Zatorre and his team found in two positron emission tomographic studies (1994, 1996) that imagination of pitch of musical tones led to a significant activity increase also in the auditory midbrain (colliculi inferiores).

Zatorre, R.J., Evans, A.C., Meyer, E., 1994. Neural mechanisms underlying melodic perception and memory for pitch. J. Neurosci. 14, 1908-1919.

Zatorre, R.J., Halpern, A.R., Perry, D.W., Meyer, E., Evans, A.C., 1996. Hearing in the mind's ear: A PET investigation of musical imagery and perception. J. Cogn. Neurosci. 8, 29-46.

Wright, A.A., Rivera, J.J., Hulse, S.H., Shyan, M., Neiworth, J.J., 2000. Music perception and octave generalization in rhesus monkeys. J. Exp. Psychol. Gen. 129, 291-307.
[I wrote a short comment at: http://web.telia.com/~u57011259/Wright.htm ]



Martin Braun
Neuroscience of Music
S-671 95 Klässbol
web site: http://w1.570.telia.com/~u57011259/index.htm