Perceptual Feedback in Sequence Production

How do we use the sounds we create as we sing a song, tap a rhythm on the table, or speak? This line of research explores the relationships between the produced actions in music performance (e.g., key presses on a piano) and the auditory pattern that results from these actions (auditory feedback). The general paradigm involves altering various characteristics of auditory feedback during performances, including the production of melodies or sentences.

Theoretical goals of this research include a better understanding of the way people use auditory feedback when communicating meaningful sequences, the degree to which perception and production use a common representation, and the degree to which perceptual feedback guides movement.

Applied goals include a better understanding of perception/production related disorders (e.g. stuttering), the kinds of acoustic environments that can prove disruptive to performance and how to counteract such situations, sources of difficulty in ensemble performance, and the design of new electronic instruments that foster compatible human/machine interactions.

Publications: Kulpa and Pfordresher (2013); Pfordresher (2003b, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2012, 2014); Pfordresher and Beasley (2014); Pfordresher and Benitez (2007); Pfordresher and Dalla Bella (2011); Pfordresher and Kulpa (2011); Pfordresher and Mantell (2012); Pfordresher and Palmer (2002, 2006); Pfordresher and Varco (2010); Pfordresher et al (2011, 2014); Pruitt and Pfordresher (2015); Zamm et al. (2015).

Vocal Imitation of Pitch

Most people claim an inability to sing, and at least a small percentage of the population may literally be correct. People who are unable to imitate melodies vocally (i.e. sing), are typically called "tone deaf" but are such persons -- as the term implies -- literally unable to perceive differences in pitch? This line of research explores individual differences in vocal imitation during singing and speaking. With respect to singing, not much is known about the actual performances of so-called "tone deaf" persons and our behavioral studies examine empirically what exactly is "bad" about "bad" singing. Furthermore, we are comparing vocal imitation of pitch during singing with imitation in speech, to probe the degree to which each behavior relies on common mechanisms.

Theoretical goals of this research include understanding the cognitive and neural bases of vocal imitation (a particularly difficult imitative task considering that one cannot see the actions one imitates), the degree to which the imitation of song versus speech are guided by similar mechanisms, as well as the degree to which deficits in production are related to concomitant deficits in perception.

Applied goals of this research include developing educational practices to help alleviate bad singing and to gauge whether people are generally as bad as they think they are at this task.

Publications: Liu et al. (2013); Mantell and Pfordresher (2010, 2013); Mercado et al. (2014); Pfordresher (2011); Pfordresher and Brown (2007, 2009); Pfordresher and Halpern (2013); Pfordresher and Mantell (2009, 2014); Pfordresher et al. (2010); Wisniewski et al. (2013). In 2015 Peter Pfordresher and Steven Demorest co-edited a special issue of the journal Music Perception which included the following APAL publications: Demorest et al. (2015); Demorest and Pfordresher (2015); Pfordresher, Halpern and Greenspon (2015); Pfordresher et al. (2015);

Modeling retrieval in production

How do we retrieve notes and put them into action? Why and how does this process occasionally break down? This area of research focuses in particular on mathematical modeling of the kinds of errors piano players make when performing under various conditions. The technique of relating errors to cognitive plans that guide memory retrieval stems from speech research. In general, striking similarities are found across these domains.

Theoretical goals of this research include a better understanding of cognitive plans that underlie sequence production, the role of time in memory retrieval, and interrelationships between timing and serial order in production.

Applied goals include understanding the ways in which errors can be used as a pedagogical tool to understand different stages of musical skill, and the performance conditions in which optimal planning can occur.

Publications: Mathias et al. (2011, 2015); Palmer and Pfordresher (2000, 2003); Pfordresher and Palmer (2006); Pfordresher, Palmer, and Jungers (2007).

Perception of musical structure

What characteristics of a melody help it make "sense" as we listen to it and help us remember it later? Various projects have explored the way in which serial trajectories formed by melodic (pitch-related) and/or rhythmic (time-related) change in a melody provide for the listener a higher-order time frame (e.g. meter) that guides melodic processing. The core hypothesis of this work is that melodies are more easily perceived, attended to, and, as a result, remembered when this higher order structure is temporally stable and matches time-based expectancies in the listener.

Theoretical goals of this research include a better understanding of the role of stimulus structure in perception and cognition, contributions of dynamic (pattern-related) and schematic (memory-related) structures to music listening, and comparisons between the perception of pitch and time in the context of musical patterns.

Applied goals include a better understanding of what compositional techniques may yield more or less memorable melodies, and components of similarity in music.

Publications: Acevedo et al. (2014); Jones and Pfordresher (1997); Pfordresher (2003);  Prince and Pfordresher (2010, 2012).

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