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2.2: Human Voice as Instrument

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    51249
  • The human voice is a natural musical instrument and singing by people of all ages, alone or in groups, is an activity in all human cultures. The human voice is essentially a wind
    instrument, with the lungs supplying the air, the vocal cords setting up the vibrations, and the cavities of the upper throat, mouth, and nose forming a resonating chamber. different pitches are obtained by varying the tension of the opening between the vocal cords.

    In the Western tradition, voices are classified according to their place in the pitch spectrum, soprano, mezzo soprano, and alto being the respective designations for the high,
    middle, and low ranges of women’s voices, and tenor, baritone, and bass for men’s. A counter tenor or contra tenor is a male singer with the range of an alto. These terms are applied not only to voices and singers but also to the parts they sing.

    The range of an individual’s voice is determined by the physiology of the vocal cords. However, because the vocal cords are muscles, even the most modest singing activity can
    increase their flexibility and elasticity, and serious training can do so to a remarkable degree. Singers also work to extend the power of their voices, control pitch, and quality at all dynamic levels, and develop speed and agility.

    Vocal quality and singing technique are other important criteria in the classification of voices. A singer’s tone color is determined in part by anatomical features, which include
    the mouth, nose, and throat as well as the vocal cords. But the cultivation of a particular vocal timbre is also strongly influenced by aesthetic conventions and personal taste. A tight, nasal tone is associated with many Asian and Arabic traditions, whereas opera and gospel singers employ a chest voice with pronounced vibrato. Even within a single musical tradition there may be fine distinctions based on the character and color of the voice. For example, among operatic voices, a lyric soprano has a light, refined quality and a dramatic soprano a powerful, emotional tone.

    Most music for the voice involves the delivery of words. Indeed, speech itself, which is characterized by both up and down pitch inflections and durational variations of individual sounds, could be considered a primitive form of melody. The pitches of normal speech are relatively narrow in range, neither a robot-like monotone nor extremes of high and low, but even these modest fluctuations are important in punctuating the flow of ideas and communicating emotion. The setting of words to music involves the purposeful shaping of melodic and other musical elements and can invest a text with remarkable expressive power.

    Vocal music is often identified as sacred or secular on the basis of its text. Sacred music may be based on a scriptural text, the words of a religious ceremony, or deal with a religious subject. The words in secular music may express feelings, narrate a story, describe activities associated with work or play, comment on social or political situations, convey a nationalistic message, and so on.

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