Research Article|Articles in Press

The Relationship Between Pitch Discrimination and Fundamental Frequency Variation: Effects of Singing Status and Vocal Hyperfunction

  • Allison S. Aaron
    Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Allison S. Aaron, MS, Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences, Boston University, Boston, MA 02215
    Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts
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  • Defne Abur
    Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts

    Department of Computational Linguistics, Centre for Language and Cognition Groningen, University of Groningen, The Netherlands

    Research School of Behavioral and Cognitive Neurosciences, University of Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands
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  • Kalei P. Volk
    Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts
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  • Jacob Pieter Noordzij
    Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts

    Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts
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  • Lauren F. Tracy
    Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts

    Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts
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  • Cara E. Stepp
    Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts

    Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts

    Department of Biomedical Engineering, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts
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Published:February 06, 2023DOI:



      The purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship between pitch discrimination and fundamental frequency (fo) variation in running speech, with consideration of factors such as singing status and vocal hyperfunction (VH).


      Female speakers (18–69 years) with typical voices (26 non-singers; 27 singers) and speakers with VH (22 non-singers; 30 singers) completed a pitch discrimination task and read the Rainbow Passage. The pitch discrimination task was a two-alternative forced choice procedure, in which participants determined whether tokens were the same or different. Tokens were a prerecorded sustained /ɑ/ of the participant's own voice and a pitch-shifted version of their sustained /ɑ/, such that the difference in fo was adaptively modified. Pitch discrimination and Rainbow Passage fo variation were calculated for each participant and compared via Pearson's correlations for each group.


      A significant strong correlation was found between pitch discrimination and fo variation for non-singers with typical voices. No significant correlations were found for the other three groups, with notable restrictions in the ranges of discrimination for both singer-groups and in the range of fo variation values for non-singers with VH.


      Speakers with worse pitch discrimination may increase their fo variation to produce self-salient intonational changes, which is in contrast to previous findings from articulatory investigations. The erosion of this relationship in groups with singing training and/or with VH may be explained by the known influence of musical training on pitch discrimination or the biomechanical changes associated with VH restricting speakers’ abilities to change their fo.

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