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The Science of the Singing Voice


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Title: The Science of the Singing Voice

The Science of the Singing Voice
  • Overview of the course (HC16)
  • Winter 2008
  • Pat Keating, Linguistics, UCLA

  • Johann Sundberg, The Science of the Singing
    Voice. Northern Illinois University Press (1989)
  • Peter Ladefoged, Elements of Acoustic Phonetics.
    Second edition. University of Chicago Pres
  • Richard Miller, The Structure of Singing System
    and Art in Vocal Technique. Wadsworth Publishing
  • Richard Miller, National schools of singing
    English, French, German, and Italian techniques
    of singing revisited. Scarecrow Press (2002)
  • Garyth Nair, Voice Tradition and Technology A
    State-of-the-Art Studio. With CD. Singular
  • Ingo Titze, Principles of Voice Production (2nd
    printing 2000)

1. Intro Sundbergs demo
  • Go to The ugly voice poster
  • But we dont do any synthesis in the course

F0 and pitch
  • Vibration, Hz
  • Tuning forks, vocal folds
  • Relations of Hz to musical notes and intervals
    (several websites with these) see next slide
  • Tone generator in Audacity is another way to
    relate Hz to notes

Frequencies of piano white keys
Digital audio
  • SR, QR. compression
  • File formats more complicated this year than in
  • We need song clips with a single voice (no
    instruments or other voices)

Review questions
  • 1. Which tuning fork has the higher-sounding
    pitch, 392 Hz or 523 Hz?
  • 2. What part of the body produces the
    fundamental frequency of the voice?
  • 3. The frequency of the note G2 is 98 Hz. What
    is the frequency of G3?
  • 4. Is a song on an audio CD or an mp3 player in
    .wav format?

Lab 1 audio clips
  • Ripping CD tracks to .wav (CDex, CLICC)
  • Ripping audio from commercial DVDs (DVDFab
    Decrypter to AnyAudioConverter)
  • Ripping audio from YouTube videos (Freecorder)
  • Saving .mp3 and various other audio formats as
    .wav (Audacity, CDex, AudioConverter)
  • Splitting and saving mono tracks from stereo
  • File clips kept on our ecampus Discussion Board

  • From Worst of AI DVD
  • From AI on Youtube

2. From Sundberg
  • How do you experience your own voice?
  • Why does a recording of your voice sound
    different to you?
  • And, why do you sound better in the shower?

  • Semi-tone about 6 freq difference
  • in tune how close to target is close enough
    (about 20 cents for average listener)
  • in tune steadiness
  • Transitions between notes swooping

Example steadiness, swooping
  • Dimensions of vibrato
  • Rate, range, amplitude vibrato
  • Supposed good classical vibrato
  • 5.5 to 7 Hz rate, .5 to 2 semitones range
  • What good a vibrato does, doesnt do for the
  • Examples next slides

Example D. Fischer-Dieskau
Example Leontyne Price
Example Joan Baez
Example Kelly Clarkson
Lab 2 and Assn 1 vibratos
  • Pitchworks, wavesurfer
  • Measuring F0 from pitchtrack
  • Calculating vibrato properties

Tricks in pitchtracking
  • Hardest part keeping track of F0 range and
    optimizing option settings
  • Tuning forks and thin voices dont use cepstral
    method, use autocorrelation
  • Problems tracking trills and other fast F0
    changes need to change step size and/or window

3. Larynx and phonation
  • Laryngeal anatomy physical model, Vocal Parts
    CD, ASA and Painter videotapes, Youtube videos,
    (DVDs about source and about phonation)
  • Mechanisms of vocal fold vibration
  • F0 variation with airflow means pitch and
    loudness are correlated, which singers need to
    learn to decouple

4. Spectrum
  • The voice source F0 and overtones
  • Line spectrum of source
  • FFT of output in Audacity, wavesurfer
  • DVD Human Speech a key point of this is that
    speed of closing of vocal folds determines
    strength of higher harmonics and thus the
    brightness of the voice

Partials, overtones?
  • Partials harmonics
  • Overtones partials above F0

Lab 3 and Assn 2 FFT
  • FFT, LTAS in Pitchworks or wavesurfer
  • FFT in Audacity View-Plot spectrum (nice for
    comparing effect of window length shows musical
    note of F0)
  • Pros, cons of Audacity vs Pworks/wavesurf
  • Comparing spectra of different voice qualities by
    strength of H1, number of harmonics, extent of
    high-freq energy

5. Resonances
  • From Ladefoged on resonance
  • Basic source-filter idea
  • More of Source-Filter DVD, on filter
  • Vowel covering lowering the frequencies of
    front vowel resonances so that brightness is more
    matched across vowels

Singers formant
  • Singers formant extra energy around 3000 Hz
    (Sundberg says 2300-3000 Hz for basses, 3000-3800
    for tenors), which allows a solo voice to stand
    out against an orchestra, or other singers
  • Sopranos dont much need a singers formant
    against an orchestra, because any note above
    about B4 will stand out by itself. Similarly for
    amplified singers.

Singers formant
  • Not an additional formant, but a clustering of
    F3, F4, F5 when they are close together in
    frequency their strengths are mutually enhanced
    and they give one broad strong spectral peak
  • Male singers enlarge the ventricle (just above
    the larynx), lower the larynx
  • It is not known how altos (or sopranos, if they
    have one) produce their singers formant

Miller singers formant
Example Fischer-Dieskau (last vowel)
Speakers formant
  • More like at 3500 Hz than 3000
  • Property of speaking voices judged to be good
  • Seen in some singing voices, especially in styles
    that are more like speaking (e.g. country)

Lab 4 and Assn 3 Singers formant
  • Looking at own voice and at recordings to see if
    there is a singers formant
  • trying to increase singers formant in own voice
  • Emphasized looking at /o/, /u/, where higher
    formants are expected to be weak so any
    enhancement will be unambiguous

6. Vowel formants and F0
  • Average formant frequencies for different English
  • a strong soprano voice matches F0 (H1) to F1,
    while a weak voice has no formant near F0
  • Good illustration of this on DVD the good voice
    and the bad voice samples
  • Sundberg says that tuning F0 to F1 can add up to
    30dB to the sound level
  • other strategies in other ranges Pavarottis
    tenor tuning of F1 to H2 in chest voice, F2 to H3
    or H4 on high notes

When F0 is above F1
  • F0 gt F1 for many soprano notes
  • F1 cannot match F0, so H1 cant be boosted by a
  • vowel qualities are indistinct because F1 is not
  • trained singers tend to adjust the vowel quality
    so that the F1 moves up, in the direction of F0

F1 and F0
  • F1 is raised by opening the mouth more, or
    shortening the vocal tract (e.g. smiling)
  • YouTube videos of Queen of the Night aria singers
    and their mouth contortions on the high notes

Sundberg F1 tuning when F0gtF1
The soprano challenge
  • A few years ago a study of this effect,
    explicitly testing what Sundberg had said, got a
    lot of publicity
  • http//
  • They found that a trained soprano singing above
    about 440 Hz tuned every vowels F1 to the F0,
    where formants were determined by reflection

Dani and Shri at USC MRI study of vocal tract
adjustments that cause these formant shifts
Assn 4 F1 tuning
  • Happy Birthday when sung from F4 to F5 not a
    good match between F0s and F1s
  • Assignment was to write new lyrics that would
    give a better match to my vowel formants in this
  • Full credit for nonsense, but a prize promised
    for best meaningful lyrics
  • Some wild-card vowels allowed where F0 was not
    near any F1 of mine

The winner
  • Yay today yay hurray
  • yay today yay is in
  • Today (na-me) is a-age
  • (A-a-age), spring chickin.

Lab 5 a total bust
  • Tried to watch video en masse in CLICC
  • Had planned to make EGG recordings

Guest lecture
  • Gerry Berke from Head Neck Surgery on their
    research on neuromuscular control of F0, on vocal
    pathology, and on care of the voice

7. Consonants
  • 2 chapters each in Miller, Nair, on different
    aspects of consonants in singing
  • Miller oral agility for rapid consonant

7. Consonants
  • Voiced vs. voiceless consonants
  • Effects of voiceless consonants on melodic line
  • Effect of C voicing on vowel F0
  • Lyricists choice of consonants already affects
    the song, independent of artists interpretation

Sondheim lyrics example
  • Bernadette Peters, Not a day goes by

Consonant resonance
  • Nair More vs less sonorous (vowel-like)
    consonants (consovowels) as seen in the
    narrowband spectrogram
  • Consonant duration
  • Using consonant articulation artistically, e.g.
    for emotion

Example lyrics articulation
  • Bernadette Peters again, 2 clips

Example lyrics articulation
  • Melinda Doolittle vs. Gregorian chant

Lab 6 and Assn 5 consonants
  • Listening to, looking at, and making consonants
    in different ways

8. Vocal warm-ups
  • Titze explains warm-up exercises in terms of
    bringing all systems up gradually
  • Acoustic loading for respiratory warm-up
  • increase the acoustic loading on the vocal folds
    with humming, trills, singing into a straw - lets
    the vocal folds vibrate with more abduction, and
    with overall lower Ps for an easy start
  • increase F0 so that Ps must increase
  • Fun with straws

9. EGG
  • Ch. 13 in Nair (1999) The Use of the
    Electroglottograph in the Voice Studio by D.
    Miller and H. K. Schutte
  • one of the primary aims of training the
    classical singing voice will be to establish the
    habit of complete and abrupt closure, at least in
    mezzo forte and forte
  • Seeing this in the EGG waveform

Falsetto vs chest voice on i little contact in
Lab 7 and Assn 6 EGG
  • We made individual EGG recordings of students
  • Assn 6 on EGG analysis

Lab 7 webpages
  • The course requires a term project, which is
    presented as a webpage visible to the whole class
  • This year the webpages were by default on
    Googlepages (linked from, but not on, the ecampus
  • In-class instruction on using Googlepages by our

10. Aerodynamics
  • Normal breathing about .5 liters 12
    times/minute, with active inspiration and passive
  • Muscles of expansion external intercostals,
  • As in speech, in singing expiration is actively
    controlled, first by holding it back, then by
    increasing it
  • Muscles of contraction internal intercostals, abs

Breathing in singing
  • Trained singers take much longer breaths, and
    more total air in a breath. More of the air in
    the lungs is exhaled by professional singers.
  • Trained singers have lower airflow rates in
    singing than do untrained singers, but the same
    airflow rates in speech.
  • Trained singers thus have more efficient
    phonation they use less air to get strong vocal
    fold vibrations.

Sundberg airflow vs. pitch
sound level (S), subglottal pressure (P) and oral
airflow (A) from a professional singers
ascending scale, showing that pressure increases
a lot as pitch increases, even when airflow is
fairly constant and sound level increases only
Air pressure in singing
  • Classically trained singers have lower subglottal
    pressures than do untrained singers, and these
    pressures are lower in speech as well as singing.
  • In singing, subglottal pressure is higher for
    louder phonation and for higher pitches A
    doubling of subglottal pressure gives about a
    doubling in loudness, and subglottal pressure
    also about doubles when F0 doubles.

Sundberg Ps vs. pitch
the clear relation of loudness, pressure and
pitch in these quicker triads
The flow glottogram
  • Ug, from inverse filtering of Uo signal

2 key aspects of the flow glottogram
  • the maximum amplitude of the flow is directly
    proportional to H1, the amplitude (in the source,
    not in the output) of the fundamental component
  •     and this affects the perceived strength of
    the voice, though not necessarily its overall
    loudness, which instead depends on the strongest
  • the maximum closing rate is proportional to the
    amplitudes of the overtones

Breathy phonation
  • the glottis is somewhat abducted without complete
  • so some air flows through continuously, and the
    maximum flow is quite high
  • high airflow a strong H1 in the source
  • High airflow also high-frequency noise
  • Slower closing rate lower-energy higher
    partials, which are then covered by noise

Pressed phonation
  • The glottis is more adducted than normal
  • So stronger lung pressure is needed to get
  • But the small and brief glottal opening means
    that little air flows through
  • Lower Ug means a weaker H1
  • Closing is usually more abrupt, so higher
    partials are stronger

Sundbergs flow phonation
  • The sweet spot the most abducted glottis that
    will still give complete closure
  • Most abducted, to give highest flow and thus
    strongest H1
  • H1 in flow phonation can be 15 dB or more greater
    than in pressed phonation
  • Complete closure, to reduce glottal noise and to
    strengthen higher partials

Loudness control with
  • a. phonation the right amount of vocal fold
    adduction (Sundbergs flow phonation)
  • b. the vocal tract formant tuning, singers
  • c. lung pressure higher pressure and higher
    airflow through the glottis. The power of the
    glottal source increases by 6 dB for every
    doubling of the lung pressure

Lab 8 aero
  • Pressure and flow recording by each student
  • Did they show the relation of Ps, Uo, and F0
    (with relatively fixed loudness) as in the
    Sundberg example figures?

Exam week project presentations
  • During the scheduled exam period, students gave 5
    minute overviews of their projects to the class,
    displaying their webpages, which were not due
    until the end of that day