Music Perception, Vol. 6, No. 4 (1989) pp. 361-382.
An experiment was carried out to determine limitations in listeners' abilities to identify the number of concurrently sounding voices in polyphonic textures. As the number of concurrent voices in a musical texture increases, expert musicians are both slower to respond to the addition of new voices and more prone to identify incorrectly the number of voices present. For musical textures employing relatively homogeneous timbres, the accuracy of identifying the number of concurrent voices drops markedly at the point where a three-voice texture is augmented to four voices. Beyond three voices, confusions become commonplace; the most frequent type of confusion is underestimation of the number of voices present. Voice entries were found to be perceived more easily than voice exits, and entries of outer voices were found to be identified more easily than entries of inner voices. Compared with a nonmusician subject, musicians were found to be more accurate and consistent in denumerating concurrent voices -- suggesting that an awareness of textural density may be a musically relevant skill.