Pitch discrimination: Are professional musicians better than non-musicians?

Liat Kishon-Rabin*, Ofer Amir, Yifat Vexler, Yael Zaltz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Musicians are typically considered to exhibit exceptional auditory skills. Only few studies, however, have substantiated this in basic psychoacoustic tasks. The purpose of the present investigation was to expand our knowledge on basic auditory abilities of musicians compared to non-musicians. Specific goals were: (L) to compare frequency discrimination thresholds (difference Iimen for frequency [DLF]) of non-musical pure tones in controlled groups of professional musicians and non-musicians; (2) to relate DLF performance to musical background; and (3) to compare DLF thresholds obtained with two threshold estimation procedures: 2- and 3-interval forced choice procedures (2IFC and 3IFC). Subjects were 16 professional musicians and 14 non-musicians. DLFs were obtained for three frequencies (0.25, 1 and 1.5 kHz) using the 3IFC adaptive procedure, and for one frequency (1 kHz) also using the 2IFC. Three threshold estimates were obtained for each frequency, procedure and subject. The results of the present study support five major findings: (a) mean DLFs for musicians were approximately half the values of the non-musicians; (b) significant learning for both groups during the three threshold estimations; (c) classical musicians performed better than those with contemporary musical background; (d) performance was influenced by years of musical experience; and (e) both groups showed better DLF in a 2IFC paradigm compared to the 3IFC. These data highlight the importance of short-term training on an auditory task, auditory memory and factors related to musical background (such as musical genre and years of experience) on auditory performance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)125-144
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Basic and Clinical Physiology and Pharmacology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2001


  • DLF
  • frequency difference limen
  • frequency discrimination
  • musicians


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