Author Topic: Vocal Range and Vowel Sounds  (Read 3808 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

amdg

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 194
  • Karma: 19
Vocal Range and Vowel Sounds
« on: July 21, 2011, 01:20:39 PM »
Hey, Everyone:

Got a question that maybe someone can shed some light on for me.  In writing for voices, using English texts, I'm wondering at what point certain vowel sounds are more difficult to produce effectively.  I'm pretty comfortable knowing the ranges of the various voices -- that information is widely available.  But I know also that the vowels in English may be a little tricky.  Some are open where the throat muscles are more relaxed (pardon the teminology if that is not quite the right word) while others require a tightening of the muscles and can get a bit pinched.

So I'm curious as to where in the various ranges the comfort level of producing the more closed vowels occurs.  I'm guessing that requiring a soprano to sing the word "bit" on high C for very long would end in disaster.  But where does one draw the line -- generally speaking, of course.  (There are always exceptions in these areas.) 

Does anyone know where I can find this information?  Or perhaps someone is familiar enough with this subject to offer some guidance?  I'm sure some of the less experienced composers around here could benefit from this information.

Thanks.
Brian

Michel.R.E

  • Administrator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 4,153
  • Karma: 235
  • M.Mus (composition) Finale 26, NP3, GPO5
    • Les Éditions du Dos Blanc
Re: Vocal Range and Vowel Sounds
« Reply #1 on: July 21, 2011, 02:45:51 PM »
difficult in high register:

i = bit
I = ride
ee = feed
oo = foot
OO = food


awkward in ANY register:
diphthongs = how
schwahs = denial,

words containing prominent "R" sounds = our (a diphthong + "R" = VERY ugly word to sing), power



generally speaking, singers arrange vowels so that they are understandable AND singable. an "oo" sound might not actually be sung the way it is spoken, only the clear vowel part of a diphthong might get the major part of the singing.

English is among the more difficult languages to sing. it contains a rather unacceptably high proportion of "masticated" sounds (sounds produced entirely within the mouth, with the mouth closed).
Think of a simple word like "sister". A phrase like "Her sister warned him against going there" is a nightmare to sing.
« Last Edit: July 21, 2011, 03:28:00 PM by Michel.R.E »
"Writing music to be revolutionary is like cooking to be famous: Music’s main function is not revolution. – Alan Belkin "

"Saying something new about something old is still saying something new. – Jamie Kowalski"

amdg

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 194
  • Karma: 19
Re: Vocal Range and Vowel Sounds
« Reply #2 on: July 22, 2011, 12:18:25 PM »
Thanks, Michel.  That's most informative.  I had always heard about the difficulty in singing in English.  I guess I'm used to it myself -- though no one would ever in a million years accuse me of being able to sing.  For some reason I tend to sing Mary had a little Lamb in about eight different keys simultaneously!! 

I wonder, would you mind clarifying where we consider the upper registers of the voices to begin.  Is it a fourth, fifith, third below the upper limit?  Again, just a ballpark number is fine -- as there are individual exceptions, of course.

Thanks again for your help.
Brian 

Michel.R.E

  • Administrator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 4,153
  • Karma: 235
  • M.Mus (composition) Finale 26, NP3, GPO5
    • Les Éditions du Dos Blanc
Re: Vocal Range and Vowel Sounds
« Reply #3 on: July 22, 2011, 12:55:15 PM »
the ranges differ depending on the level of your singers.

For example, the semi-professional group I worked with many years ago (300 singers, opera repertoire, always did concerts with symphony orchestra), you could count on at least half, if not more, of the sopranos having an easy high C. So to them, it didn't seem "high" until they got to the A above the staff.

But just to give you an idea, the entire baritone section (these weren't tenors, but actual baritones, around 40-50 in number. they made up half the bass section) could VERY easily sing you a high G (in bass clef, that's the one three ledger lines above the staff). We even had a high A to give in one opera. And yes, these were choral parts. Not falsetto. Full voice.

But these types of ranges are VERY rare outside of professional groups.

I'd generalize that notes start becoming "high" about a 3rd to a 4th below the maximum range of the section. But, again, this is very much a generalization.

Most amateur choruses, the sopranos' highest comfortable note is an A above the staff. They usually cannot sustain long stretches of sung material in that range.

For the altos, well, I've seen some really awful alto sections ;)
But I'd say the E top of the staff.

For tenors, the G above the staff, and for basses, the D above bass clef.

The best thing is if you are writing for a group in particular, you should talk to the director about the relative ranges. Some groups have really good womens' voices, while others have stronger men. And again, some have certain sections that are stronger - for example, strong sopranos and basses, but weaker altos and tenors. Writing for voices is VERY hit and miss, in my opinion.
"Writing music to be revolutionary is like cooking to be famous: Music’s main function is not revolution. – Alan Belkin "

"Saying something new about something old is still saying something new. – Jamie Kowalski"

amdg

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 194
  • Karma: 19
Re: Vocal Range and Vowel Sounds
« Reply #4 on: July 22, 2011, 03:34:34 PM »
Many thanks, Michel.

I don't have anything definite in mind right now in terms of an actual group to write for.  (The Gloria I wrote would simply be for congregational singing)  However, recently I've been thinking about how texts are set to music; and I am aware that there are certain difficulties attached to that type of writing.  Thanks for helping me along with some of this.

Brian

Michel.R.E

  • Administrator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 4,153
  • Karma: 235
  • M.Mus (composition) Finale 26, NP3, GPO5
    • Les Éditions du Dos Blanc
Re: Vocal Range and Vowel Sounds
« Reply #5 on: July 22, 2011, 04:19:54 PM »
yes, prosody is a very delicate matter.

A few things to look at:

Tonic accent:

In some languages there is a strong, definite, "tonic accent" which is actually accompanied by a slight vocal inflection.
Otherwise, most languages have what can pass for a tonic accent, which is a heavier emphasis on a main syllable within a word.

It is important to mark these before setting any text to music.
Rising when a word requires a drop, or dropping when a word requires a rise, are sure signs that the text + music will not work.

Musical emphasis is created by two distinct means:

1) rhythmic accent
2) melodic emphasis

the former is simple: if a word is accented on the 2nd syllable, then it is not advisable to pace that accented syllable on a weak beat in the music.

the latter is a tiny bit more subtle.
While the rhythmic accent might be properly placed, there may be moments where a melodic line rises on a weaker syllable, thus contradicting the natural "melodic" sense of the word.

You might emphasize a word such as "High-er" by actually rising on the weak syllable "-er". While the opposite would be effective for a word such as "Low-er". Rather obvious examples, but when you are setting text to music, this becomes quite an important task. One filled with pitfalls.

You will notice this when reading the works of particularly "musical" authors. There will be a sense that the chosen words seem to want to rise and fall of their own accord. Unmusical texts will be considerably more difficult, as they will have a melodic neutrality, and in the end will be far more difficult to set, and considerably less interesting as well.

An example that comes to mind immediately would be the writing of someone like Stephen King. While his books are maybe not the first thing one would consider as a text to set to music, there is a profound and powerful musicality to his writing.

Another wonderful example is "Inherit the Wind", the 1955 play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee upon which the film of the same name was based. This play is so musical that it is amazing that it has never been set to music.
"Writing music to be revolutionary is like cooking to be famous: Music’s main function is not revolution. – Alan Belkin "

"Saying something new about something old is still saying something new. – Jamie Kowalski"

vivies

  • Guest
Re: Vocal Range and Vowel Sounds
« Reply #6 on: January 27, 2012, 06:51:31 AM »
Yes the "ee" should be avoided in the high register. But the "oo" seems to be ok. Professional singers do not have real problems..

flint

  • Sr. Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 487
  • Karma: 88
  • Crazed weasels in a man costume
Re: Vocal Range and Vowel Sounds
« Reply #7 on: January 27, 2012, 04:24:31 PM »
Yes the "ee" should be avoided in the high register. But the "oo" seems to be ok. Professional singers do not have real problems...
As a bass-baritone, let me tell you that "ooo" is my nemesis at loud volumes... it's very easy to get a yodel!
"Music is like wine; the less you know about it, the sweeter you like it." - Robertson Davies

Jamie Kowalski

  • Guest
Re: Vocal Range and Vowel Sounds
« Reply #8 on: January 31, 2012, 12:18:52 PM »
There is another reason why certain vowel sounds don't work at higher notes: formants.

We can distinguish one vowel from another because of peak resonant frequencies. For the most part, the lower three peaks are enough to completely represent the sound of a vowel. Here are some approximate values (in hertz):

ee - "beet": 270, 2300, 3000
oo - "boot": 300, 870, 2250
i - "bit": 400, 2000, 2550
e - "bet": 530, 1850, 2500
u - "bug": 640, 1200, 2400
a - "bag": 660, 1700, 2400

Note that these values are the same for men and women, and do not change for different sung pitches.

So here's the problem. The most important formant is the lowest, but vocal ranges go much higher than these values. Middle C is the highest note that can actually contain the lowest formant in "ee." It's above this frequency that the vowel actually begins to change regardless of a singer's abilities. Since the shape of the formant response is a curve, the vowel is slowly mutated as you go up the next octave or so. Once you are past the end of the curve, the vowel cannot physically exist. Not even when constructed artificially with a synthesizer.

Thankfully, we do get by without the lowest of the formants due to expectation and context.


Michel.R.E

  • Administrator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 4,153
  • Karma: 235
  • M.Mus (composition) Finale 26, NP3, GPO5
    • Les Éditions du Dos Blanc
Re: Vocal Range and Vowel Sounds
« Reply #9 on: January 31, 2012, 12:23:17 PM »

Thankfully, we do get by without the lowest of the formants due to expectation and context.

and some deft "faking" and modification of the vowel sound by a good singer to promote an "as close as possible" effect.
"Writing music to be revolutionary is like cooking to be famous: Music’s main function is not revolution. – Alan Belkin "

"Saying something new about something old is still saying something new. – Jamie Kowalski"