Yanny or Laurel? The Simple Musical Explanation Behind the Phenomenon

Even those who haven’t taken online music lessons can tell the Internet seems to be having a case of tone deafness from the Yanny or Laurel debate.

You might remember the debate three years ago when the internet collectively lost its mind over “the dress— “was it black and blue or white and gold?

On Tuesday May 15th, 2018, a new phenomenon emerged that has people arguing like it’s the dress all over again.

[Check out the audio and a video explanation here]

According to the experts, it depends!

As it turns out, there is a musical explanation behind the dichotomy.

The Musical Explanation

“Yanny” is heard when played at a higher pitch, and so interpretation can hinge upon the kind of speaker the clip is played through.

As explained by Brad Story, Professor of Speech, Language and Hearing at The University of Arizona, “you have to take into account the different ways people are listening to this—through mobile phones, headphones, tablets, etc.” (1)

For example, a speaker with more bass would sound more like “Laurel,” whereas a phone speaker or one with poor bass would sound like “Yanny.”

Pitch interpretation is also affected by age— younger people are more likely to hear “Yanny” because their ears pick up higher pitches more frequently.

Listen to the Experts

Another possible explanation is that some people simply listen to— or “attend”— a higher or lower frequency based on personal preference.

Patricia Keating, a linguistics professor and the director of the phonetics lab at U.C.L.A., described the difference, suggesting that factors like how much time we spend talking on the phone can have an effect.

She described, “I have no idea why some listeners attend more to the lower frequency range while others attend more to the higher frequency range.” (2)

Audio experts are also pointing out that acoustic patterns and similarities between the two words affect perception.

Jody Kreiman, a principal investigator at the voice perception laboratory at the University of California, Los Angeles, explained that “the acoustic patterns for the utterance are midway between those for the two words.”

But I Want to Hear Both!

Can you only hear one frequency, but want to hear both?

One idea is to turn down the volume on your phone or computer. Lower volume can sometimes drop the bass value and emphasize the higher pitches.

Final Note

Want to become a real music expert?

Check out our online music lessons including courses such as guitar for beginners.

While your family and friends lose their minds over Yanny vs. Laurel, kick back and start your music education online with Musician’s Toolkit!

Bonus – Infographic

Check out this awesome infographic which visually depicts the music and science behind this latest Internet phenomenon!


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