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Musical theater and opera singing - Why so different?: A study of subglottal pressure, voice source, and formant frequency characteristics
KTH, School of Computer Science and Communication (CSC), Speech, Music and Hearing, TMH.
2008 (English)In: Journal of Voice, ISSN 0892-1997, E-ISSN 1557-8658, Vol. 22, no 5, 533-540 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

The considerable voice timbre differences between musical theater (MT) and western operatic singers are analyzed with respect to voice source and formant frequencies in five representatives of each singer group. Audio, subglottal pressure (P(sub)), and electroglottograph (EGG) signals were recorded while the subjects sang a sequence of [pae:] syllables starting at maximal vocal loudness and then gradually decreasing vocal loudness. The task was performed at each of two fundamental frequencies (F(0)), approximately one octave apart. Ten equally spaced P(sub) values were then selected for each F(0). The subsequent vowels were analyzed in terms of flow glottograms derived by inverse filtering the audio signal, which also yielded formant frequency data. Period time (T(0)), peak-to-peak pulse amplitude (U(p-t-p)), and maximum flow declination rate (MFDR) were measured from the flow glottograms while closed quotient Q(closed) (T(cl)/T(0)) was determined in combination with the differentiated EGG signal. Also the relationship between the first and the second harmonic in the spectrum (H(1)-H(2)), the amplitude quotient (AQ), that is, the ratio between U(p-t-p) and MFDR, and normalized AQ, that is, AQ normalized with respect to period time was calculated as well as the sound pressure level. The results showed that both the MT and the opera singers varied their P(sub) systematically, approximately doubling P(sub) for a doubling of F(0). For a given value of P(sub), the MT singers produced higher values of MFDR, U(p-t-p), and Q(closed), and lower values of H(1)-H(2), indicating a weaker fundamental. Further, the MT singers showed higher formant frequencies and did not show the opera singers' characteristic clustering of F(3), F(4), and F(5).

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2008. Vol. 22, no 5, 533-540 p.
Keyword [en]
musical theater singing, opera, subglottal pressure, inverse filtering, EGG, voice source, formant frequencies, closed quotient, H-1-H-2
National Category
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-6462DOI: 10.1016/j.jvoice.2006.12.007ISI: 000259313800003ScopusID: 2-s2.0-50249117740OAI: diva2:11181
35th Annual Symposium on Care of the Professional Voice Location: Philadelphia, PA Date: MAY 31-JUN 04, 2006 Available from: 2006-11-29 Created: 2006-11-29 Last updated: 2011-08-22Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Why so different? - Aspects of voice characteristics in operatic and musical theatre singing: Aspects of voice characteristics in operatic and musical theatre singing
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Why so different? - Aspects of voice characteristics in operatic and musical theatre singing: Aspects of voice characteristics in operatic and musical theatre singing
2006 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other scientific)
Abstract [en]

This thesis addresses aspects of voice characteristics in operatic and musical theatre singing. The common aim of the studies was to identify respiratory, phonatory and resonatory characteristics accounting for salient voice timbre differences between singing styles.

The velopharyngeal opening (VPO) was analyzed in professional operatic singers, using nasofiberscopy. Differing shapes of VPOs suggested that singers may use a VPO to fine-tune the vocal tract resonance characteristics and hence voice timbre. A listening test revealed no correlation between rated nasal quality and the presence of a VPO.

The voice quality referred to as “throaty”, a term sometimes used for characterizing speech and “non-classical” vocalists, was examined with respect to subglottal pressure (Psub) and formant frequencies. Vocal tract shapes were determined by magnetic resonance imaging. The throaty versions of four vowels showed a typical narrowing of the pharynx. Throatiness was characterized by increased first formant frequency and lowering of higher formants. Also, voice source parameter analyses suggested a hyper-functional voice production.

Female musical theatre singers typically use two vocal registers (chest and head). Voice source parameters, including closed-quotient, peak-to-peak pulse amplitude, maximum flow declination rate, and normalized amplitude quotient (NAQ), were analyzed at ten equally spaced subglottal pressures representing a wide range of vocal loudness. Chest register showed higher values in all glottal parameters except for NAQ. Operatic baritone singer voices were analyzed in order to explore the informative power of the amplitude quotient (AQ), and its normalized version NAQ, suggested to reflect glottal adduction. Differences in NAQ were found between fundamental frequency values while AQ was basically unaffected.

Voice timbre differs between musical theatre and operatic singers. Measurements of voice source parameters as functions of subglottal pressure, covering a wide range of vocal loudness, showed that both groups varied Psub systematically. The musical theatre singers used somewhat higher pressures, produced higher sound pressure levels, and did not show the opera singers’ characteristic clustering of higher formants.

Musical theatre and operatic singers show highly controlled and consistent behaviors, characteristic for each style. A common feature is the precise control of subglottal pressure, while laryngeal and vocal tract conditions differ between singing styles. In addition, opera singers tend to sing with a stronger voice source fundamental than musical theatre singers.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: KTH, 2006
TRITA-CSC-A, ISSN 1653-5723 ; 2006:23
operatic singing, musical theatre singing, voice source, subglottal pressure, flow glottogram, inverse filtering, formant frequencies, amplitude quotient (AQ)
National Category
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-4198 (URN)987-91-7178-518-3 (ISBN)
Public defence
2006-12-08, Sal F3, KTH, Lindstedtsvägen 26, Stockholm, 14:00

QC 20100812

Available from: 2006-11-29 Created: 2006-11-29 Last updated: 2015-06-02Bibliographically approved

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