Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Stefan A. Frisch, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Jennifer L. Lister, Ph.D.


Auditory evoked potential (AEP), Event related potential (ERP), Frequency discrimination, Mismatch negativity (MMN), Vocal pitch matching


Neurological evidence indicates that instrumental musicians experience changes in the auditory system following skill acquisition and sensory training; yet, little is known about auditory neural plasticity in formally trained vocal musicians. Furthermore, auditory pitch discrimination and laryngeal control are recognized as essential skills for vocal musicians; however, the relationship between physiological variables, perceptual abilities, and vocal production is unclear. Electrophysiologic and psychoacoustic measures were used to examine pitch production accuracy as well as pre-attentive and active pitch discrimination between nonmusicians and two classes of musicians. Participants included 40 formally trained musicians (19 vocalists/21 instrumentalists) and 21 nonmusician controls. All were right-handed young adult females with normal hearing.

Stimuli were harmonic tone complexes approximating the physical characteristics of piano tones and represented the mid-frequency range of the untrained female vocal register extending from C4 to G4 (F0 = 261.63-392 Hz). Vocal pitch recordings were spectrally analyzed to determine pitch production accuracy. Difference limens for frequency (DLFs) were obtained by an adaptive psychophysical paradigm. Pre-attentive auditory discrimination was assessed by auditory evoked potentials (AEPs), including the mismatch negativity (MMN). A standard tone (G4 = 392 Hz) and three deviants differing in frequency (1.5%, 3%, and 6% below) were presented in a multi-deviant paradigm. All musicians demonstrated superior pitch perception and vocal production compared to nonmusicians. Pitch perception and production accuracy did not significantly differ between vocalists and instrumentalists; however, pitch production accuracy was most consistent within the vocalist group.

Music training appears to facilitate both auditory perception and vocal production regardless of music specialty. Pitch perception and production were correlated skills only for instrumental musicians. Vocalists demonstrated minimal variability for both skills so that perception and production were not correlated. These two skills may be independent abilities between which a relationship develops with training. AEP analysis revealed an influence of musical expertise on neural responses as early as 50 ms after onset of musically relevant stimuli. MMN responses indicate that vocal musicians as well as instrumental musicians have superior sensory memory representations for acoustic parameters of harmonic stimuli and imply that auditory neural sensitivity is developed by intense music training.