This study examined Mandarin tone identification by 36 English-speaking musicians and 36 nonmusicians and musical note identification by the musicians. In the Mandarin task, participants were given a brief tutorial on Mandarin tones and identified the tones of the syllable sa produced by 32 speakers. The stimuli included intact syllables and acoustically modified syllables with limited F0 information. Acoustic analyses showed considerable overlap in F0 range among the tones due to the presence of multiple speakers. Despite no prior experience with Mandarin, the musicians identified intact tones at 68% and silent-center tones at 54% correct, both exceeding chance (25%). The musicians also outperformed the nonmusicians, who identified intact tones at 44% and silent-center tones at 36% correct. These results indicate musical training facilitated lexical tone identification, although the facilitation varied as a function of tone and the type of acoustic input. In the music task, the musicians listened to synthesized musical notes of three timbres and identified the notes without a reference pitch. Average identification accuracy was at chance level even when multiple semitone errors were allowed. Since none of the musicians possessed absolute pitch, the role of absolute pitch in Mandarin tone identification remains inconclusive.

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