Royal Society Publishing

Some New Pitch Paradoxes and their Implications

Diana Deutsch


This paper explores two new paradoxical sound patterns. The tones used to produce these patterns consist of six octave-related harmonics, whose amplitudes are scaled by a bell-shaped spectral envelope; these tones are clearly defined in terms of pitch class (C, C#, D, and so on) but are poorly defined in terms of height. One pattern consists of two tones that are separated by a half-octave. It is heard as ascending when played in one key, yet as descending when played in a different key. Further, when the pattern is played in any one key it is heard as ascending by some listeners but as descending by others (the tritone paradox). Another pattern that consists of simultaneous pairs of tones displays related properties (the semitone paradox). It is shown that the way the tritone paradox is perceived correlates with the speech characteristics of the listener, including his or her linguistic dialect. The findings suggest that the same, culturally acquired representation of pitch classes influences both speech production and also perception of this musical pattern.