Tuesday, January 09, 2007

What did you play?

Dave Munger reports that Jake Mandell has reported the results of his tone deafness study. Dave quotes two significant results of training and race on musical perception, you can read them at his blog. He doesn't comment on the sex effects:
Males performed better than females on the rhythm and adaptive pitch tests, but not on the tonedeaf test, where there was no significant difference between the sexes.

However, looking at the number of participants I wonder if this result can be taken with confidence. The Adaptive Pitch test (being able to tell whether the second pitch is higher or lower than the first pitch) had 20,665 males and 8,523 females. The Rhythm Test (identifying same or different rhythms) had 3,552 males and 1,486 females. The knowledge I have of statistics tells me that this disparity in numbers is problematic, though I will accept a correction by experts. With the Adaptive Pitch test, it moves quickly into the nonmusical realm, with intervals smaller than even a quarter-step. The average pitch sensitivity of males was 16.62 cents, whereas females' average limit of pitch sensitivity was 18.33 cents. To put these numbers in perspective, 12 cents is how much the third of a major chord should be lowered from equal temperament to be in just temperament, 50 cents is a quarter-step, 100 cents is a semitone or half-step. At best you could suggest that men have a slightly better sense of tuning than women. I also wonder why Jake reported his results in Cents, when the test I took was all based around 500 Hz. Thus he should have reported in Hz, since he didn't test at different pitch ranges. And his results conflict with other more robust studies of pitch discrimination which average at about 1% frequency differences across ranges, timbres, durations, etc.

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