Neural processes for experiencing a musical note

The early auditory system decomposes incoming sounds into a collection of sine waves with different frequencies. But we would not describe our everyday experience of hearing sound as one of “perceiving frequencies”. Rather, we hear complex features such as a familiar voice or a musical melody. My research group examines how the auditory cortex integrates the frequency and timing components of sounds into more behaviourally relevant features, such as “pitch”. Pitch is our perception of the tonal quality of sounds that allows us to experience musical melody. We are using a combination of electrophysiological, behavioural and 2-photon calcium imaging techniques in ferrets to better understand how populations of auditory cortical neurons encode a sound’s pitch. Our results have provided insights into the mechanisms used by individual neurons and neural populations to produce our perception of pitch across a wide range of complex sounds. This work helps explain how we can recognize a familiar tune on a violin or piano.