Conference Program

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Session Overview
L1M: Long Talks 1 - Singing and Development
Tuesday, 24/Jul/2018:
23:00 - 23:59

Session Chair: Andrea R. Halpern
Location: Montreal_1

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ID: 181

The Role of Singing Accuracy and Imagery Self-Report in Auditory Imagery Tasks

Andrea R. Halpern1, Emma B. Greenspon2, Tim A. Pruitt2, Peter Q. Pfordresher2

1Bucknell University; 2University at Buffalo, The State University of New York


Auditory imagery underlies many musical tasks, including good pitch imitation, and can be measured by self-report and in objective tasks. Pfordresher and Halpern (2013) showed that poor pitch imitators reported lower auditory imagery vividness on a self-report scale. A subsequent study (Greenspon, Pfordresher & Halpern, 2017) found that the poor pitch imitators showed degraded ability to form auditory images of novel short tunes that they were then told to manipulate. This perceptual-motor mapping was further explored in two studies.


One study extended the auditory imagery task to familiar melodies. As the task was difficult with novel tunes, we asked if having a prior memory representation would increase performance, particularly in poor imitators. A second study used EMG recorded from the face and neck to see if better pitch imitators differed from poor imitators in activation of the motor system when imagining tunes, given that (sub)cortical motor system activation is sometimes seen in the brain during imagery tasks.


Familiar/Unfamiliar Tune experiment: participants compared two melodies (Familiar or matched Unfamiliar melodies) in a same/different (one changed note) task: the target was either repeated or was presented in reverse order, transposed, or shifted serially. Pitch imitation accuracy, imagery vividness and control, and forward and backward digit span were predictors.

EMG experiment: we measured laryngeal and orofacial muscle activity during preparation for singing and also a control task of visual imagery. In the auditory task, participants listened to a four-note melody, imagined the melody, and then sang it aloud. In the visual task, participants studied an array of objects, imagined the array, and then were probed about a single object’s location.


In the Familiar/Unfamiliar Tune experiment, using familiar tunes did improve performance. Singing accuracy and pitch discrimination predicted performance in all conditions. Only self-reported vividness and control of imagery predicted performance for repetitions of familiar tunes. Only STM (digits forward) predicted recognition of unfamiliar tunes in all conditions.

In the EMG study, when controlling for baseline activity, subtle motor activity near the larynx and lip was larger in auditory compared to visual imagery. Worse pitch imitators showed larger laryngeal responses than better pitch imitators. Imagery vividness, assessed on each trial, correlated positively with both imagery tasks.


These experiments extend our understanding of perceptual-motor mapping in auditory imagery. The first experiment suggests a dissociation. Whereas imagery formation may be the critical stage in representing familiar tunes, unfamiliar tunes may need to draw on the “computing power” of STM as is needed in imagery manipulation. The second study links auditory imagery to supportive motor behavior, as the increased activity in poorer pitch imitators implies an attempt at compensation. Auditory imagery is clearly not one entity but has many components, which selectively support musically relevant behaviors.


Greenspon, E. B., Pfordresher, P. Q., & Halpern, A. R. (2017). Mental transformations of melodies. Music Perception, 34, 585- 604.

Pfordresher, P. Q. & Halpern, A. R. (2013). Auditory imagery and the poor-pitch singer. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 20, 747-753.

ID: 348

Characteristics of Infant-directed singing and speech in early development

Simone Falk1, Christine D. Tsang2, Christopher T. Kello3

1Université Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris-3, France; 2Huron University College at the University of Western Ontario, Canada; 3University of California, Merced, USA


There has been an abundance of research in the last 30 years exploring the special vocal communication primarily directed to infant listeners. However, infant–directed (ID) speech has received more research attention than ID–singing, although singing to infants is a universal caregiving practice around the world.


To reach a better understanding of the role and structure of these two different ID inputs, we discuss how the acoustics and infants’ perception of ID singing and speech converge or differ.

Method & Results

In the first part of our talk, we present examples from two corpora of naturalistic ID singing and speech (German, French, Russian; Falk, 2009), and a more controlled lab corpus (German; Falk & Kello, 2017). Using a head-turn preference procedure, we examine infants’ ability to perceive and categorize naturalistic ID singing and speech in a native and foreign language. Sixty-six 6- to 9-month-old infants from English-speaking households listened to native Russian-speaking and native English-speaking mothers speaking or singing to their 6-months-old infants. We found that infants listened significantly longer to the sung stimuli compared to the spoken stimuli, in particular to stimuli presented in their non-native language (i.e., Russian). This finding shows that infants discriminate between both sets of stimuli and are highly attracted to properties of ID singing (Tsang, Falk, & Hessel, 2017).

In the second part of our talk, we discuss which acoustic properties could influence infant preferences for ID speech vs. singing as well as adult- vs. ID speech and singing. Recent research illustrates the difficulties in capturing the characteristic form and function of ID registers that arise from substantial variability in the acoustic structure (e.g., Martin et al., 2015). We present a novel method (“temporal event clustering”, Abney, Paxton, Dale & Kello, 2014; Falk & Kello, 2017) that very efficiently characterizes differences between adult-directed and ID speech and singing taking temporal variability as a point of departure. The method, which is fully automized, allows to determine the degree of nested clustering of temporal events in speech. “Events” are derived from peaks in the amplitude envelope, and peak clustering and the nesting of these clusters are determined at varying timescales. Analyses on ID and AD story reading and playsong singing of 15 German-speaking mothers with their infants showed that ID speech and song display significantly more temporal clustering and hierarchical nesting compared to AD speech and song. We discuss how this feature could foster infants’ perceptual processing and preference of ID stimuli.


Overall, we argue that ID singing complements ID speech as a critically important stimulus for infants’ perception and learning in the first year of life. In the future, ID–singing should be investigated with its unique features and functions compared to ID speech and AD registers.

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