Singing Without Hearing: A Comparative Study of Children and Adults Singing a Familiar Tune

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Abstract

The current study had 2 goals: to examine and compare baseline singing accuracy of 3 age-groups of participants (children ages 5–8 years, children ages 9–12, and adults) when performing a familiar song from memory, and to examine all participants’ use of auditory and proprio-kinesthetic feedback in regulating pitch by masking their ability to hear themselves. Pitch accuracy, error variability, and tonal stability were examined. All participants were asked to sing “The Alphabet Song” from memory in 2 conditions: normal auditory feedback and masked auditory feedback. Under both feedback conditions, there was significant improvement between the youngest children (ages 5–8) and the adults on all 3 measures, but not between the older children (ages 9–12) and the adults. Participants in every age-group performed more poorly in terms of interval accuracy and error variability when they could not hear themselves. In terms of tonal stability, however, we found an age by feedback interaction such that auditory masking negatively affected key stability for children ages 9 to 12, but not the younger children or the adults. This suggests that although older children may rely heavily on auditory feedback to control relative pitch accuracy and tonal center, adults and younger children may show a different pattern of feedback monitoring for interval-based singing accuracy and maintaining a consistent tonal center.

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