4aMU2. The effect of musical experience on describing sounds with everyday words.

Session: Thursday Morning, May 21


Author: Mihir Sarkar
Location: The Media Lab., Massachusetts Inst. of Technol., 20 Ames St., Cambridge, MA 02139, mihir@media.mit.edu
Author: Cyril Lan
Location: The Media Lab., Massachusetts Inst. of Technol., 20 Ames St., Cambridge, MA 02139, mihir@media.mit.edu
Author: Joseph Diaz
Location: The Media Lab., Massachusetts Inst. of Technol., 20 Ames St., Cambridge, MA 02139, mihir@media.mit.edu
Author: Barry Vercoe
Location: The Media Lab., Massachusetts Inst. of Technol., 20 Ames St., Cambridge, MA 02139, mihir@media.mit.edu

Abstract:

Musicians often use non‐technical words such as “warm,” “sharp,” or “sweet” to describe sound quality. Commonplace experience indicates that the descriptions of a sound by a diverse group of musicians may vary, suggesting that musical background may influence one’s interpretation of a sound. A research study was carried out targeting 844 subjects of varying musical backgrounds where each subject had the chance to match various words to sound samples. Each subject was assigned to one or more musical categories (strings, woodwinds, electronic, percussion, brass) based on previous musical experience, and the results were compared across categories. Statistical measures were employed to determine if a correlation existed between musical background and survey responses. After analyzing the results from all sound‐word combinations, it was determined that the musical background had no effect on the selection of words. Because of the nature of statistical hypothesis testing, the expected rate of false positives was greater than the proportion of statistically significant sound‐word combinations. From the data collected in this user study, it is reasonable to suggest that the description of musical sounds is an innate skill that is not influenced by musical background and training.