Presentation by Dr. Peter Q. Pfordresher
Causes and consequences of poor-pitch singing
Abstract: Singing is a ubiquitous human behavior that serves both communicative and coordinative purposes and that may share a similarly long history to that of language. Despite the centrality of singing, most individuals claim they are not able to sing well, and a minority of individuals – referred to as “poor-pitch” singers – sing consistently out of tune by more than a musical semitone. This talk will consider both the specific performance traits of poor-pitch singing (the “consequences”) as well as the basis for these deficits (the “causes”). Results of recent research leads to the hypothesis that most poor-pitch singers have a deficient internal model of the auditory-vocal system, and are thus unable to adopt the inverse modeling of perception-action relationships that are necessary for the vocal imitation of pitch.
Bio: Peter Q. Pfordresher is Associate Professor of psychology and head of the cognitive area at the University at Buffalo, the State University of New York. He holds a B.A. from Georgetown University, an M.Sc. from University College London and a Ph.D. from the Ohio State University, all in psychology. His research focuses on the relationship between perception and action in the context of music and has appeared in journals such as Music Perception, Psychological Review, and the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance. Specific lines of research include the role of auditory feedback in music performance, sensorimotor bases of poor-pitch singing, cognitive mechanisms for retrieval of music during performance, and the interplay between melody and rhythm during perception and production. He is co-author (with Siu-Lan Tan and Rom Harré) of the textbook Psychology of Music: From Sound to Significance (Psychology Press, 2010). His service to the field includes serving as associate editor for two journals: Music Perception and Psychological Research, and as a consulting editor for Attention, Perception & Psychophysics.