Accessibility navigation

The effect of musical training and language background on vocal imitation of pitch in speech and song

Honda, C., Pruitt, T., Greenspon, E., Liu, F. ORCID: and Pfordresher, P. Q. (2023) The effect of musical training and language background on vocal imitation of pitch in speech and song. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 49 (10). pp. 1296-1309. ISSN 1939-1277

Text - Accepted Version
· Please see our End User Agreement before downloading.


It is advisable to refer to the publisher's version if you intend to cite from this work. See Guidance on citing.

To link to this item DOI: 10.1037/xhp0001146


Vocal imitation plays a critical function in the development and use of both language and music. Previous studies have reported more accurate imitation for sung pitch than spoken pitch, which might be attributed to the structural differences in acoustic signals and/or the distinct mental representations of pitch patterns across speech and music. The current study investigates the interaction between bottom-up (i.e., acoustic structure) and top-down (i.e., participants’ language and musical background) factors on pitch imitation by comparing speech and song imitation accuracy across four groups: English and Mandarin speakers with or without musical training. Participants imitated pitch sequences that were characteristic of either song or speech, derived from pitch patterns in English and Mandarin spoken sentences. Overall, song imitation was more accurate than speech imitation, and this advantage was larger for English than Mandarin pitch sequences, regardless of participants’ musical and language experiences. This effect likely reflects the perceptual salience of linguistic tones in Mandarin relative to English speech. Music and language knowledge were associated with optimal imitation of different acoustic features. Musicians were more accurate in matching absolute pitch across syllables and musical notes compared to non-musicians. By contrast, Mandarin speakers were more accurate at imitating fine-grained changes within and across pitch events compared to English speakers. These results suggest that different top-down factors (i.e., language and musical background) influence pitch imitation ability for different dimensions of bottom-up features (i.e., absolute pitch and relative pitch patterns).

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Interdisciplinary Research Centres (IDRCs) > Centre for Integrative Neuroscience and Neurodynamics (CINN)
Interdisciplinary centres and themes > ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorders) Research Network
Life Sciences > School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences > Department of Psychology
Life Sciences > School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences > Language and Cognition
ID Code:112168
Publisher:American Psychological Association


Downloads per month over past year

University Staff: Request a correction | Centaur Editors: Update this record

Page navigation