This study was designed to evaluate the relative importance of transients, harmonic structure, and vibrato as timbre cues in the absolute judgment of musical tones. Tape recordings were made of tones played on ten different instruments at C4, F4, and A4 of the equally tempered scale. Appropriate splicing and retaping procedures provided a test tape with 300 randomly ordered tonal stimuli (10 instruments × 3 frequencies × 2 playing styles × 5 types of tones). Twenty trained musicians were tested and retested on the final tape in two experimental sessions. S's were provided with a reminder list of 39 instruments (grouped into classes) and were required to identify the particular instrument for each tonal stimulus. The results of this study indicate that (1) some instruments (e.g., clarinet, oboe, and flute) are identified more easily than others (e.g., violin, cello, and bassoon); (2) more correct identifications are made at F4 than C4 or A4; (3) the best identification is made for stimuli consisting of initial transients and a short steady state; (4) a vibrato tone is better identified than a nonvibrato tone; and (5) identification is improved significantly with practice. Suggestions are offered for further research.

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