The Instrument and its Repertoire: The Voice
How does singing work?
Singing is an activity which requires the assistance of multiple components of the body. A common misconception is that the only body part used in producing sound is the vocal box or the larynx, although singing requires the use of multiple muscles and tissues.
There is a membrane located below the Larynx which is called the Vocal cords, or vocal folds. As air pressure builds up against them, the folds snap together and a sound is created, the volume and pitch of the sound is determined by the speed at which this membrane snaps together.
Above the Vocal cords is the Larynx which rests in the neck and is made of four parts: The skeleton, the intrinsic muscles, the extrinsic muscles and the mucosa. The Job of these parts is to alter the shape, position, and tension of the vocal cords and bring them close together or spread them further apart.
Another component which assists in singing is the resonators which include the tongue, palate, oral cavity, nasal cavity, sinus cavity, chest cavity, pharynx and more. The vocal cords only produce a buzzing sound, whereas the resonators are responsible for vocal quality and are necessary to create both speech and music. The resonators are also responsible for the placement of the voice which is highly important for singers. One of the methods of finding good placement whilst singing is to smile, this raises the cheekbones up which allows the sound to enter and resonate inside the area called the mask.
The nasal cavity, teeth/lips and upper pharynx are the three components which make up the mask; this is where the head voice sits. The oral cavity, soft palate and middle pharynx is where the chest voice lies, although more of the chest voice singing resonates in the upper chest cavity and the lower pharynx. Overall the resonators are highly important for the quality of sound produced when singing.
The final important element of singing is the diaphragm which acts as the power source for singing. The most important role of the diaphragm is to generate a force of controlled air stream between the vocal folds which is essential for sound to be produced. When you begin singing, you start by taking a breath in which causes the muscles of the larynx to bring the vocal cords together. The Vocal cords then stay together until enough breath is built up and a burst of air escapes through the cords. So when a person runs out of breath, the vocal cords are then drawn back together. This shows how sound is produced by pressure changes created when jets of air pass through the moving vocal cords.
Overall singing is an activity which requires the use of many components that each plays an important role in both the strength and quality of the sound.
Genres of singing
There are many different forms and styles of Vocal music, these different styles are placed under a certain genre. The large genres that are associated with vocal music include Art music, popular music and traditional music. Within these genres there are also many sub-genres.
This form of vocal music is considered to have been descended through traditional music. Vocal Art music can be heard in many languages and the characteristics usually include lyric poetry and simple piano accompaniment. Art Music is often thought to focus on formal styles, detailed notation and very technical which requires the complete attention of the audience. Although in the modern day, Art music uses a range of other ways of notation to accommodate for the explorative nature of this genre.
There are many sub- genres associated with popular music such as jazz, hip hop and rock which themselves have sub genres. For example within Jazz there is scat singing which requires the vocalist to improvise using melodies and rhythms to sound like an instrumental solo using their voice. In the modern day Hip Hop is one of the most popular sub genres of music that is listened to by many people. Within this style there are other genres including rapping which is the rhythmic delivery of rhymes over a beat or accompaniment. Rock vocal music requires the singer to have a grungier tone contrasted to the clear tone required for Traditional vocal music. Popular vocal music generally doesn’t focus on the artistic qualities of the voice but more on simplistic melodies that will be suited to large audiences.
This involves vocal sub-genres such as Choral numbers and Folk Music. The characteristics of this genre are not over- extending the range of vocals and usually are based around a certain culture. They use a range of expressive techniques and meaningful lyrics that usually represent a historical or personal event.
Aural analysis- “Both Sides Now” By Joni Mitchell
Pitch, texture and Tone Colour
- The main melodic role is an alto female voice
- The accompaniment is made up of a string ensemble that includes violins, violas and cello’s, also as the song continues a snare drum is introduced.
- The sound of the accompaniment is very light, soft and airy which contrasts with the female vocalist who has a deep, rich and clear voice.
- The string instruments produce their sound by bowing which produces a smooth, legato and connected sound.
- The vocalist uses a variation of rubarto and accentuations on specific lyrics and notes which affect her overall tone colour.
- The Tonality is Major
- The Melody mainly moves in steps
- The accompaniment also moves in steps
- The accompaniment is very repetitive and doesn’t change throughout the excerpt, the violins melody is made up of four notes that are bowed. The other string instruments have harmonies which compliment the violins melody and are also bowed, these harmonies are made up of sustained notes.
- The female vocalist uses repetition within the verse.
- The strings heard within this piece sound as though they are one layer of sound as they are all very legato, smooth, bowed and connected. The other layer of sound is the female vocals.
- The strings role is to accompany the female alto singer who is the main melodic role.
- The texture is homophonic
- The texture doesn’t dramatically change throughout the excerpt, although as the verse turns into the chorus at the end of the excerpt, the dynamics are slightly increased which increases the texture.
Aural analysis- “Get happy” By Ella Fitzgerald
Duration, Dynamics and expressive techniques, structure
- During the first 60 seconds of this piece, the tempo changes quite dramatically and is very contrasting. The introduction consists of a jazz band playing a high energy, and fast tempo melody. This is then interrupted by an alto female singer singing in her higher register being accompanied by saxophones, the tempo is slow. This is then interrupted by the jazz band who a shorter version of the earlier melody heard in the introduction. The female singer then comes back in with a slow tempo although with a new melodic idea. Near the end of the excerpt, the singer holds a high note which leads into the chorus and increases the tempo.
- There is rhythmic repetition used both by the jazz band in the introduction and where the female vocals comes in and she sings the lyrics “ Halelujah”
Dynamics and expressive techniques
- The dynamics are loud in the beginning when the jazz band is the main melody, although they decrease when the tempo becomes slower. The accompaniment uses accentuations, pitch bends and slides and when there is a decrescendo when the female vocalist enters.
- The female vocalist uses Rubarto and vocal melismas throughout the excerpt.
- When the female vocalist enters she is quite loud which contrast to the accompaniment who are soft.
- The accompaniment plays a decreasing melody whilst at the same time decreasing the tempo and dynamics right before the female vocalist enters.
- The structure of the except involves an instrumentalist introduction followed by a verse.
- Throughout this excerpt there are only two sections which are contrasting in duration, dynamics and tone colour.
Aural analysis- “Love on Top” By Beyonce
Dynamics and expressive techniques, Pitch and structure
Dynamics and expressive techniques
- The dynamics are originally moderately loud, although they increase as the singer says the lyrics “bring the beat in” and the synthesizer is introduced with the drums. They stay loud throughout the entire verse although most of the instruments stop playing right before the chorus so the dynamics are decreased.
- During the beginning the female vocalist uses a form of scat singing where she sings “ba ba da ba ba ba da ba” She sings the melody very free and loose with slides and vocal gymnastics.
- The accompaniment uses a crescendo between the verse and bridging section to the chorus.
- The tonality is major and the melody within the excerpt moves in steps, although the next section (chorus) uses leaps.
- There is melodic repetition heard in the accompaniment by the electric guitar and synthesizer.
- The female vocalist uses her middle to higher range and uses melodic repetition throughout the verse.
- Within the excerpt there are three different sections:
Introduction: marcato tempo, moderately loud dynamics with vocals, synthesizer noises and rhythmic pulse.
Verse: Introduction of drums and different synthesizer melody, female vocals has the main melody, tempo hasn’t changed although the dynamics are slightly louder.
Bridging verse: This is the section right before the chorus and end of the excerpt. There is a new melody heard by the female vocalist and accompaniment, the dynamics increase until they completely stop for emphasis before the chorus and the tempo has slightly increased also
Aural analysis- "Girl in 14G" By Kristin Chenoweth
Tone colour, Duration, Texture
- An orchestra is the accompaniment which includes drums, chimes, French horns, trombones, flute, clarinet, piano, violin, viola, cello, and double bass. The main melodic role is a soprano vocalist who has a clear, defined voice.
- The female soprano speaks in tempo at the beginning of the excerpt in a very nasal American accent which is heard when she sing as well, this add to the comical aspect of the song. Overall the sound of the accompaniment changes due to the changing genres heard within the excerpt. In the first 1 minute of the song there is the genre of musical theatre and opera. The accompaniment changes to suit these genres when they occur.
- The accompaniment has high energy feel which contrasts to the dramatic, strong sound when it changes for the opera genre.
- The time signature is 4/4, although has a swing feel and the tempo is moderately fast.
- The tempo remains the same until the end of the excerpt when the genre changes to opera, the tempo becomes faster and the time signature is more strict and straight.
- There is a rhythmic pulse that is driven by the drums and piano playing on the off beat.
- There is rhythmic repetition used by the accompaniment and the female vocalist.
- The overall texture is quite thin as the song has a conversational tone to it supplied by the female vocalist. Although there are different layers of sound provided by different melodies and harmonies used by the orchestra.
- The complete orchestra stops right before the change of genre where they come back in and there is a thick texture due to the loud dynamics, fats tempo and dramatic feel.
- The texture is homophonic.