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Monday, October 8, 2012

The Science Behind Bad Singing

Bad Singing image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog
Why are some singers naturally gifted and others tone deaf? That's what researchers in Montreal and Warsaw wanted to find out. In a new study published in the Journal of The Acoustical Society of America called Singing Proficiency in the General Population, Isabelle Peretz, Jean-Francois Giguere and Simone Dala Bella tested the singing abilities of 62 non-musicians in Quebec.

They asked random individuals to sing a verse from a song called "Gens du Pays," which is a common French birthday song. The verse of the song was chosen because it has 32 notes, a vocal range of less than an octave and a stable tonal center, according to the researchers.

What they tested for in each performance was:
  • pitch stability
  • the number of pitch interval errors
  • pitch deviation
  • timing errors
  • tempo consistency
What they found was that most of the untrained singers were actually pretty good at carrying a tune. Their timing was good, but their pitch wasn't as accurate as professional singers. The interesting thing was that when asked slow down, the untrained singers pitch improved greatly, almost to the point of being as good as a pro.

But there were a small minority of really bad singers, who claimed that they were "tone deaf." It turns out that they were anything but. When tested, they were actually remarkable good at hearing pitch deviations, they just were bad at executing them.

Probably the biggest problem with recording a vocal is pitch. If this study holds true, the simple act of slowing the vocalist down to go over the part might be a quick and easy way to improve a performance.

Anybody care to try this and report back?

If interested, you can check out another similar study here.


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Jef Knight said...

That's been my observation also.

I have some pretty good vocal training and having been a guitar, bass and vocal coach myself I always found it odd that the vocal coach "pros" always advocate singing fast. It's kind of odd because "best practice" for musical training is always 'play it slowly until it's perfect then speed it up'.
I've used that technique with a number of pitchy singers and it works fine, except, sorry to say, with the egoy ones who are already awesome.


Tommy Kib(odeaux) said...

I'll give it a try.. How much slower? I can analyze in Melodyne and see the accuracy change.

Gary said...

Practicing slow is an interesting idea and I don't recall ever hearing that before, despite having worked out of a vocal instruction book and having studied with about 4 different teachers, off & on, over several yrs. However, re: timing: I've been gigging for 52+ yrs (20+ yrs full-time) and problems with rhythm & meter is, by far, the most common thing I've encountered with amateur singers (and even some who are not supposed to be amateur, especially in country music).

Buck Baran said...

For vocals and instruments: using a metronome, practice as slow as you have to so you don't make mistakes. Then gradually increase the tempo.


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