Spectral pattern, grouping, and the pitches of complex tones and their components

Brian Roberts*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Harmonically related components are typically heard as a unified entity with a rich timbre and a pitch corresponding to the fundamental frequency. Mistuning a component generally has four consequences: (i) the global pitch of the complex shifts in the same direction as the mistuning; (ii) the component makes a reduced contribution to global pitch; (iii) the component is heard out as a separate sound with a pure timbre; (iv) its pitch differs from that of a pure tone of equal frequency in a small but systematic way. Local interactions between neighbouring components cannot explain these effects; instead they are usually explained in terms of the global operation of a single harmonic-template mechanism. However, several observations indicate that separate mechanisms govern the selection of spectral components for perceptual fusion and for the computation of global pitch. First, an increase in mistuning causes a harmonic to be heard out before it begins to be excluded from the computation of global pitch. Second, a single even harmonic added to an odd-harmonic complex is typically more salient than its odd neighbours. Third, the mistuning of a component in frequency-shifted stimuli, or stimuli with a moderate spectral stretch, results in changes in salience and component pitch like those seen for harmonic stimuli. Fourth, the global pitch of frequency-shifted stimuli is predicted well by the weighted fit of a harmonic template, but, with the exception of the lowest component, the fusion of individual partials for shifted stimuli is best predicted by the common pattern of spectral spacing. Fifth, our sensitivity to spectral pattern is surprisingly resistant to random variations in component spacing induced by applying mistunings to several harmonics at once. These findings are evaluated in the context of an autocorrelogram model of the proposed pitch/grouping dissociation. © S. Hirzel Verlag · EAA.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)945-957
Number of pages13
JournalActa Acustica United with Acustica
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2005


  • autocorrelation
  • probabilistic approach
  • modeling
  • grouping
  • spacing
  • frequency shift
  • natural frequency
  • timbre
  • pitch(acoustics)
  • hearing
  • psychoacoustics


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