The goal of the current study was to explore outstanding questions in the field of timbre perception and cognition—specifically, whether memory for timbre is better in trained musicians or in nonmusicians, whether short-term timbre recognition is invariant to pitch differences, and whether timbre dissimilarity influences timbre recognition performance. Four experiments examined short-term recognition of musical timbre using a serial recognition task in which listeners indicated whether the orders of the timbres of two subsequently presented sound sequences were identical or not. Experiment 1 revealed significant effects of sequence length on recognition accuracy and an interaction of music training and pitch variability: musicians performed better for variable-pitch sequences, but did not differ from nonmusicians with constant-pitch sequences. Experiment 2 yielded a significant effect of pitch variability for musicians when pitch patterns varied between standard and comparison sequences. Experiment 3 high-lighted the impact of the timbral dissimilarity of swapped sounds and indicated a recency effect in timbre recognition. Experiment 4 confirmed the importance of the dissimilarity of the swap, but did not yield any pertinent role of timbral heterogeneity of the sequence. Further analyses confirmed the strong correlation of the timbral dissimilarity of swapped sounds with response behavior, accounting for around 90% of the variance in response choices across all four experiments. These results extend findings regarding the impact of music training and pitch variability from the literature on timbre perception to the domain of short-term memory and demonstrate the mnemonic importance of timbre similarity relations among sounds in sequences. The role of the factors of music training, pitch variability, and timbral similarity in music listening is discussed.

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