Wave dispersion in a string carrying periodically distributed masses is investigated analytically and experimentally. The effect of the string's geometric nonlinearity on its wave propagation characteristics is analyzed through a lumped parameter model yielding coupled Duffing oscillators. Dispersion frequency shifts are predicted that correspond to the hardening behavior of the nonlinear chain and that relate well to the backbone of individual Duffing oscillators. Experiments conducted on a string of finite length illustrate the relation between measured resonances and the dispersion properties of the medium. Specifically, the locus of resonance peaks in the frequency/wavenumber domain outlines the dispersion curve and highlights the existence of a frequency bandgap. Moreover, amplitude-dependent resonance shifts induced by the string nonlinearity confirm the hardening characteristics of the dispersion curve. Analytical and experimental results provide a critical link between nonlinear dispersion frequency shifts and the backbone curves intrinsic to nonlinear frequency response functions. Moreover, the study confirms that amplitude-dependent wave properties for nonlinear periodic systems may be exploited for tunability of wave transport characteristics such as frequency bandgaps and wave speeds.