Conference Program

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Please note that this is a preliminary program. There will be minor changes before the conference. Changes will appear here first.

Session Overview
T2M: Short Talks 2 - Musical Skill
Tuesday, 24/Jul/2018:
14:30 - 15:30

Session Chair: Gary S. Karpinski
Location: Montreal_2

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ID: 308

Diagnostic assessment of aural skills based on cognitive principles: Placement testing and curricular ramifications

Gary S. Karpinski1, Sigrun Heinzelmann2

1University of Massachusetts Amherst, United States of America; 2Universität Mozarteum Salzburg


This paper examines the use of cognitive principles as a basis for designing and implementing a diagnostic placement examination in aural skills for entering students at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Traditional methods of assessing and evaluating the aural skills of incoming college music students have proven to be ineffective predictors of success in traditional aural skills curricula. These methods — interval and chord-quality identification, error detection, dictation, and sight singing — are at best snapshots of students’ achievements in these specific activities. Future achievement in aural training hinges not so much on students’ proficiency in such complex behaviors but on much more basic aural abilities and skills.


An aural examination was devised based on research in musical intelligence, learning sequence, pitch discrimination, musical memory, and tonal perception. This examination tests such fundamental skills as pulse inference, pitch matching, short-term rhythm and pitch memory, extractive memory, and tonic inference. During the test, students sing and clap their responses to test items. The results are interpreted and used to place students in either of two curricular tracks in aural skills.

Main Contribution & Implication

This paper presents the cognitive principles underlying the designs of the various test items and explores the interpretations of various responses to each item. The pedagogical designs for the two curricular tracks are examined, with an eye toward how specific goals and methods of this curriculum are dependent on the perceptual and cognitive skills measured by the examination. The paper also explores how best to develop the skills of those individuals exhibiting specific deficiencies on the examination. The paper goes on to investigate correlations between diagnostic examination scores and actual achievement during the academic year. Student achievement in the years before and after implementation of the two-track curriculum is also compared.


Berz, William L. (1995). Working memory in music: A theoretical model. Music Perception 12: 353-364.

Butler, David and Brown, Helen (1994). Describing the mental representation of tonality in music. In Musical perceptions (pp. 191-212). Ed. Rita Aiello with John Sloboda. New York: Oxford University Press.

Dawe, Lloyd A.; Platt, John R.; and Racine, Ronald J. (1994). Inference of metrical structure from perception of iterative pulses within time spans defined by chord changes. Music Perception 12: 57-76.

Karpinski, Gary S. (2000). Aural skills acquisition: The development of listening, reading, and performing skills in college-level musicians. New York: Oxford University Press.

Lee, Christopher S. (1991). The perception of metrical structure: Experimental evidence and a model. In Representing musical structure. Ed. Peter Howell, Robert West, and Ian Cross. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Lerdahl, Fred and Jackendoff, Ray (1983). A generative theory of tonal music. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Sloboda, John A. and Parker, David H. H. (1985). Immediate recall of melodies. In Musical structure and cognition (pp. 143-167). Ed. Peter Howell, Ian Cross, and Robert West. London: Academic Press.

Welch, Graham (1979). Poor pitch singing: A review of the literature. Psychology of Music 7/1: 50-58.

ID: 587

Musical Training Modulates Tempo Adaptation Around Spontaneous Rates

Rebecca Scheurich, Caroline Palmer

McGill University, Canada


Musicians spontaneously produce familiar sequences at consistent rates across time, tasks, and effectors (Zamm, Pfordresher, & Palmer, 2015). These rates, called Spontaneous Production Rates (SPRs), may reflect the natural frequency of an underlying oscillation at which coordination is optimized and toward which individuals may be pulled (Strogatz & Stewart, 1993). Previous research has shown that individuals with similar SPRs synchronize more accurately with one another than individuals with different SPRs during duet piano performance (Loehr & Palmer, 2011; Zamm, Wellman, & Palmer, 2016). Musical training may influence how strongly individuals are pulled toward their SPRs. Previous work suggests that musical training enhances the flexibility with which individuals synchronize at non-SPR rates (Scheurich, Zamm, & Palmer, 2018). Little is known about whether SPRs constrain tempo adaptation in real time, and how musical training modulates adaptation to changing rates away from one’s SPR.


We first investigated whether SPRs constrain tempo adaptation during synchronization. Second, we investigated how musical training modulates tempo adaptation at a variety of rates.


Sixteen musicians and 16 nonmusicians performed a novel musical tapping task in which they tapped every beat of a familiar melody at a comfortable and steady rate (the SPR) on a force-sensitive resistor of an Arduino while hearing the corresponding melody tones. Participants then synchronized their tapping of the same melody with a metronome that unexpectedly sped up or slowed down around their SPRs. Relative phase of taps to metronome clicks was measured after each perturbation.


First, musicians synchronized more accurately than nonmusicians at all tempi. Second, musicians adapted faster overall to both speeding and slowing tempo perturbations than nonmusicians. Third, musicians (not nonmusicians) adapted faster to perturbations that returned to the baseline tempo than to perturbations that moved away from it. Damped harmonic oscillator model fits confirmed that musicians adapted more quickly and returned to baseline synchronization more often than nonmusicians.


This study demonstrates that tempo adaptation is enhanced overall for musically trained individuals compared with individuals without musical training. In addition, musicians show a stronger attraction toward, rather than away from, baseline tempi, whereas nonmusicians do not. Future research may investigate musical training as a continuum to further examine possible effects of spontaneous production rates on tempo adaptation.


Loehr, J. D., & Palmer, C. (2011). Temporal coordination between performing musicians. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 64(11), 2153-2167.

Scheurich, R., Zamm, A., & Palmer, C. (2018). Tapping into rate flexibility: Musical training facilitates synchronization around spontaneous production rates. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 458.

Strogatz, S. H., & Stewart, I. (1993). Coupled oscillators and biological synchronization. Scientific American, 269(6), 102-109.

Zamm, A., Pfordresher, P. Q., & Palmer, C. (2015). Temporal coordination in joint music performance: Effects of endogenous rhythms and auditory feedback. Experimental Brain Research, 233(2), 607-615.

Zamm, A., Wellman, C., & Palmer, C. (2016). Endogenous rhythms influence interpersonal synchrony. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 42(5), 611-616.

ID: 310

The effect of the environment on singing skills in 2- and 3-year-olds

Helga Gudmundsdottir

University of Iceland, Iceland

The effect of the environment on singing skills in 3-year-olds


Recent studies on singing have enhanced the understanding of processes involved in singing skills, challenging conventional beliefs regarding singing proficiency in the population from kindergartners to adults. Unfortunately, the number of empirical studies conducted with very young children has been negligible. Presumably because of the challenges this age group poses for systematic study, resulting in low response rates. Recent studies using home recordings and applying age appropriate methods for evaluating singing proficiency in toddlers have found that singing skills may be more advanced in early childhood than previously suggested in the literature. However, it remains unclear how much singing proficiency in early childhood depends on biological and cognitive development and how much depends on the input of the environment in terms of training and modeling of singing behavior.


The purpose of the study was to evaluate the effect of a singing intervention in terms of direct training of singing in an age appropriate manner with 2- and 3-year-old children.


Two types of training were offered to two groups of 3-year-olds in public preschools within the same neighborhood (N = 44). The experimental group received signing lessons with an early childhood expert while the control group received musical rhythm and movement training with no singing activities. Singing tests, using age appropriate protocols, were conducted before and after the training period. The singing data was analyzed using mixed methods of automatic pitch analysis and expert judges.


Results suggest that 6 weeks of singing intervention affects 3-year-olds’ performances on tests measuring singing proficiency. The singing intervention resulted in larger singing ranges and higher pitch accuracy, although the overall performance of the treatment group was not significantly different from the control group. A significant effect of gender was found, with males scoring lower than the females. However, the males made larger improvements from pre-test to post-test than the females.


Singing proficiency is affected by gender, already at age 3. However, training at this early age has an effect on singing proficiency. When evaluating and reporting musical development it is important to account for the effects of training and exposure to musical tasks. Further studies are needed with a larger number of subjects and longer periods of intervention.


Gudmundsdottir, H. R., & Trehub, S. (2018). Adults recognize toddlers’ songs. Psychology of Music, 46(2), p. 281-291. (doi: 10.1177/0305735617711762).

Jersild, A. T., & Bienstock, S. F. (1931). The influence of training on the vocal ability of three-year-old children. Child Development, 2, 272-291.

Kelley, L., & Sutton-Smith, B. (1987). A study of infant musical productivity. In L. Kelley & B. Sutton-Smith (Eds), Music and child development (pp. 35-53). New York: Springer.

Trehub, S. E. & Gudmundsdottir, H. R. (2015). Mothers as Singing Mentors for Infants. (In Eds.: Graham Welch, David M. Howard, and John Nix). The Oxford Handbook of Singing.

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