T imbre is an important factor that affects the perception of emotion in music. To date, little is known about the effects of timbre on neural responses to musical emotion. To address this issue, we used ERPs to investigate whether there are different neural responses to musical emotion when the same melodies are presented in different timbres. With a cross-modal affective priming paradigm, target faces were primed by affectively congruent or incongruent melodies without lyrics presented in the violin, flute, and voice. Results showed a larger P3 and a larger left anterior distributed LPC in response to affectively incongruent versus congruent trials in the voice version. For the flute version, however, only the LPC effect was found, which was distributed over centro-parietal electrodes. Unlike the voice and flute versions, an N400 effect was observed in the violin version. These findings revealed different patterns of neural responses to musical emotion when the same melodies were presented in different timbres, and provide evidence for the hypothesis that there are specialized neural responses to the human voice.
Congenital amusia is a lifelong disorder of musical processing for which no effective treatments have been found. The present study aimed to treat amusics’ impairments in pitch direction identification through auditory training. Prior to training, twenty Chinese-speaking amusics and 20 matched controls were tested on the Montreal Battery of Evaluation of Amusia (MBEA) and two psychophysical pitch threshold tasks for identification of pitch direction in speech and music. Subsequently, ten of the twenty amusics undertook 10 sessions of adaptive-tracking pitch direction training, while the remaining 10 received no training. Post training, all amusics were retested on the pitch threshold tasks and on the three pitch-based MBEA subtests. Trained amusics demonstrated significantly improved thresholds for pitch direction identification in both speech and music, to the level of non-amusic control participants, although no significant difference was observed between trained and untrained amusics in the MBEA subtests. This provides the first clear positive evidence for improvement in pitch direction processing through auditory training in amusia. Further training studies are required to target different deficit areas in congenital amusia, so as to reveal which aspects of improvement will be most beneficial to the normal functioning of musical processing.
We examined explicit processing of musical syntax and tonality in a group of Han Chinese Mandarin speakers with congenital amusia, and the extent to which pitch discrimination impairments were associated with syntax and tonality processing. In Experiment 1, we assessed whether congenital amusia is associated with impaired explicit processing of musical syntax. Congruity ratings were examined for syntactically regular or irregular endings in harmonic and melodic contexts. Unlike controls, amusic participants failed to explicitly distinguish regular from irregular endings in both contexts. Surprisingly, however, a concurrent manipulation of pitch distance did not affect the processing of musical syntax for amusics, and their impaired music-syntactic processing was uncorrelated with their pitch discrimination thresholds. In Experiment 2, we assessed tonality perception using a probe-tone paradigm. Recovery of the tonal hierarchy was less evident for the amusic group than for the control group, and this reduced sensitivity to tonality in amusia was also unrelated to poor pitch discrimination. These findings support the view that music structure is processed by cognitive and neural resources that operate independently of pitch discrimination, and that these resources are impaired in explicit judgments for individuals with congenital amusia.