alexa Intonation drift in a capella soprano, alto, tenor, bass quartet singing with key modulation.


Journal of Speech Pathology & Therapy

Author(s): Howard DM

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Abstract OBJECTIVES/HYPOTHESIS: When a soprano, alto, tenor, bass (SATB) quartet sings unaccompanied, or a capella, the members of the group will tend to make use of non-equal-tempered intonation to govern their tuning. If the music they are performing visits different keys and they do maintain non-equal-tempered tuning, then the pitch center will have to shift from its starting point, which is a necessary consequence of the physics behind the use of a non-equal-tempered tuning system. The implication of this shift for tuning in a capella singing is that it is not possible both to maintain accurate non-equal-tempered tuning and to stay in pitch throughout music that modulates in key. METHODS: To test this notion, a set of four-part exercises were written by the author that visit several different key chords in sequential progression. In each case, the starting and finishing chords were either identical or exactly an octave apart. Mean fundamental frequency values for each note were measured using four electrolaryngographs (one per singer), and the f0 data were normalized and plotted with respect to equal-tempered tuning to enable any overall tuning shift to be observed. RESULTS: The results indicate that singers do (1) tend to non-equal-tempered tuning and (b) do consequentially shift their intonation with modulation. CONCLUSIONS: These data indicate that pitch drift is potentially a necessary part of staying in-tune. Further work is required to identify items in the choral repertoire for which this effect is likely and then to inform the choral conducting and singing communities appropriately. This article was published in J Voice and referenced in Journal of Speech Pathology & Therapy

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