The neural basis of individual holistic and spectral sound perception

Peter Schneider*, Martina Wengenroth

*Corresponding author for this work
14 Citations (Scopus)


With respect to enormous inter-individual differences in sound perception, this article aims to review the research background of the neural basis of individual sound perception. Principally, two basic listening types can be distinguished: 'holistic' or 'synthetic' listeners recognize the sound as a whole, and appreciate its pitch and timbre as characteristic qualities of the entire sound; and 'spectral' or 'analytical' listeners break up the sound into its harmonic constituents, at the expense of timbral qualities of the sound as a whole. In-between these two extreme listening modes, intermediate listeners perceive holistic and spectral cues simultaneously to varying degrees (auditory ambiguity). Several recent neurological investigations have pinpointed these perceptual differences to neuroanatomical and neurophysiological measures of the auditory cortex. Furthermore, it has been shown that individual auditory perception bias corresponds to musical instrument preference and musical performance style. Multimodal research findings point towards an individual 'fingerprint' of auditory cortex and perception profiles; however, whether these properties are shaped by intense training or rather reflect innate, genetically determined predisposition remains a matter of unresolved debate.

Original languageEnglish
JournalContemporary Music Review
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)315-328
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 06.2009


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