Perception of Nigerian Dùndún Talking Drum Performances as Speech-Like vs. Music-Like: The Role of Familiarity and Acoustic Cues Academic Article uri icon

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  • It seems trivial to identify sound sequences as music or speech, particularly when the sequences come from different sound sources, such as an orchestra and a human voice. Can we also easily distinguish these categories when the sequence comes from the same sound source? On the basis of which acoustic features? We investigated these questions by examining listeners’ classification of sound sequences performed by an instrument intertwining both speech and music: the dùndún talking drum. The dùndún is commonly used in south-west Nigeria as a musical instrument but is also perfectly fit for linguistic usage in what has been described as speech surrogates in Africa. One hundred seven participants from diverse geographical locations (15 different mother tongues represented) took part in an online experiment. Fifty-one participants reported being familiar with the dùndún talking drum, 55% of those being speakers of Yorùbá. During the experiment, participants listened to 30 dùndún samples of about 7s long, performed either as music or Yorùbá speech surrogate (n= 15 each) by a professional musician, and were asked to classify each sample as music or speech-like. The classification task revealed the ability of the listeners to identify the samples as intended by the performer, particularly when they were familiar with the dùndún, though even unfamiliar participants performed above chance. A logistic regression predicting participants’ classification of the samples from several acoustic features confirmed the perceptual relevance of intensity, pitch, timbre, and timing measures and their interaction with listener familiarity. In all, this study provides empirical evidence supporting the discriminating role of acoustic features and the modulatory role of familiarity in teasing apart speech and music.


  • Durojaye, Cecilia
  • Fink, Lauren
  • Roeske, Tina
  • Wald-Fuhrmann, Melanie
  • Larrouy-Maestri, Pauline

publication date

  • 2021