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Peter Q Pfordresher, Steven Brown, Kimberly M Meier, Michel Belyk, and Mario Liotti (2010)

Imprecise singing is widespread

Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 128(4):2182-2190.

There has been a recent surge of research on the topic of poor-pitch singing. However, this research has not addressed an important distinction in measurement: that between accuracy and precision. With respect to singing, accuracy refers to the average difference between sung and target pitches. Precision, by contrast, refers to the consistency of repeated attempts to produce a pitch. A group of 45 non-musician participants was asked to vocally imitate unfamiliar 5-note melodies, as well as to sing a series of familiar melodies from memory (e.g., Happy Birthday). The results showed that singers were more accurate than they were precise, and that a majority of participants could justifiably be categorized as imprecise singers. Accuracy and precision measures were correlated with one another, and conditional-probability analyses suggested that accuracy predicted precision more so than the converse. Finally, performance differences across groups of singers were greater for the imitation of unfamiliar tone sequences than for the recall of familiar melodies.

melody, singing, imitation, pitch