Singing is the act of producing musical sounds with the voice, which is often contrasted with speech. A person who is singing is called a singer or vocalist. Singers perform music known as songs that can either be sung a cappella (without accompaniment) or accompanied by musicians and instruments. Singing is often done in a group, such as a choir. Nearly anyone who can speak can sing, since in many respects singing is merely a form of sustained speech. It can be informal and just for pleasure, for example, singing in the shower or karaoke; or it can be very formal, such as singing done professionally as a performance or in a recording studio. Singing at a high amateur or professional level usually requires a certain amount of innate talent and a great deal of regular practice, and/or instruction. Professional singers usually build their careers around one specific musical genre and undergo voice training, provided by a voice teacher or coach throughout a career.
In its physical aspect, singing has a well-defined technique that depends on the use of the lungs, which act as an air supply, or bellows; on the larynx, which acts as a reed or vibrator; on the chest and head cavities, which have the function of an amplifier, as the tube in a wind instrument; and on the tongue, which together with the palate, teeth, and lips articulate and impose consonants and vowels on the amplified sound. Though these four mechanisms function independently, they are nevertheless coordinated in the establishment of a vocal technique and are made to interact upon one another. During passive breathing, air is inhaled with the diaphragm while exhalation occurs without any effort. Exhalation may be aided by the abdominal, internal intercostal and lower pelvic muscles. Inhalation is aided by use of external intercostals, scalenes and sternocleidomastoid muscles. The pitch is altered with the vocal cords. With the lips closed, this is called humming.
The sound of each individual's singing voice is entirely unique not only because of the actual shape and size of an individual's vocal cords but also due to the size and shape of the rest of that person's body. Humans have vocal folds which can loosen, tighten, or change their thickness, and over which breath can be transferred at varying pressures. The shape of the chest and neck, the position of the tongue, and the tightness of otherwise unrelated muscles can be altered. Any one of these actions results in a change in pitch, volume, timbre, or tone of the sound produced. Sound also resonates within different parts of the body, and an individual's size and bone structure can affect the sound produced by an individual.
Singers can also learn to project sound in certain ways so that it resonates better within their vocal tract. This is known as vocal resonation. Another major influence on vocal sound and production is the function of the larynx which people can manipulate in different ways to produce different sounds. These different kinds of laryngeal function are described as different kinds of vocal registers. The primary method for singers to accomplish this is through the use of the Singer's Formant; which has been shown to match particularly well to the most sensitive part of the ear's frequency range.
Within speech pathology the term vocal register has three constituent elements: a certain vibratory pattern of the vocal folds, a certain series of pitches, and a certain type of sound. Speech pathologists identify four vocal registers based on the physiology of laryngeal function: the vocal fry register, the modal register, the falsetto register, and the whistle register. This view is also adopted by many vocal pedagogists.
Vocal resonation is the process by which the basic product of phonation is enhanced in timbre and/or intensity by the air-filled cavities through which it passes on its way to the outside air. Various terms related to the resonation process include amplification, enrichment, enlargement, improvement, intensification, and prolongation, although in strictly scientific usage acoustic authorities would question most of them. The main point to be drawn from these terms by a singer or speaker is that the end result of resonation is, or should be, to make a better sound.
There are seven areas that may be listed as possible vocal resonators. In sequence from the lowest within the body to the highest, these areas are the chest, the tracheal tree, the larynx itself, the pharynx, the oral cavity, the nasal cavity, and the sinuses.
Head voice can be used in relation to the following:
However as knowledge of human physiology has increased over the past two hundred years, so has the understanding of the physical process of singing and vocal production. As a result, many vocal pedagogists, such as Ralph Appelman at Indiana University and William Vennard at the University of Southern California, have redefined or even abandoned the use of the terms chest voice and head voice. In particular, the use of the terms chest register and head register have become controversial since vocal registration is more commonly seen today as a product of laryngeal function that is unrelated to the physiology of the chest, lungs, and head. For this reason, many vocal pedagogists argue that it is meaningless to speak of registers being produced in the chest or head. They argue that the vibratory sensations which are felt in these areas are resonance phenomena and should be described in terms related to vocal resonance, not to registers. These vocal pedagogists prefer the terms chest voice and head voice over the term register. This view believes that the problems which people identify as register problems are really problems of resonance adjustment. It should be noted that this view is also in alignment with the views of other academic fields that study vocal registration including: speech pathology, phonetics, and linguistics. Although both methods are still in use, current vocal pedagogical practice tends to adopt the newer more scientific view. Also, some vocal pedagogists take ideas from both viewpoints.
The contemporary use of the term chest voice often refers to a specific kind of vocal coloration or vocal timbre. In classical singing, its use is limited entirely to the lower part of the modal register or normal voice. Within other forms of singing, chest voice is often applied throughout the modal register. Chest timbre can add a wonderful array of sounds to a singers vocal interpretive palette. However, the use of overly strong chest voice in the higher registers in an attempt to hit higher notes in the chest can lead to forcing. Forcing can lead consequently to vocal deterioration.
However, most classical music systems acknowledge seven different major voice categories. Women are typically divided into three groups: soprano, mezzo-soprano, and contralto. Men are usually divided into four groups: countertenor, tenor, baritone, and bass. When considering voices of pre-pubescent children an eighth term, treble, can be applied. Within each of these major categories there are several sub-categories that identify specific vocal qualities like coloratura facility and vocal weight to differentiate between voices.
It should be noted that within choral music, singers voices are divided solely on the basis of vocal range. Choral music most commonly divides vocal parts into high and low voices within each sex (SATB). As a result, the typical choral situation affords many opportunities for misclassification to occur. Since most people have medium voices, they must be assigned to a part that is either too high or too low for them; the mezzo-soprano must sing soprano or alto and the baritone must sing tenor or bass. Either option can present problems for the singer, but for most singers there are fewer dangers in singing too low than in singing too high.
Within comtemporary forms of music (sometimes referred to as Contemporary Commercial Music), singers are classified by the style of music they sing, such as jazz, pop, blues, soul, country, folk, and rock styles. There is currently no authoritative voice classification system within non-classical music. Attempts have been made to adopt classical voice type terms to other forms of singing but such attempts have been met with controversy. The development of voice categorizations were made with the understanding that the singer would be using classical vocal technique within a specified range using unamplified (no microphones) vocal production. Since contemporary musicians use different vocal techniques, microphones, and are not forced to fit into a specific vocal role, applying such terms as soprano, tenor, baritone, etc. can be misleading or even inaccurate.
Vocal pedagogy, is the study of the teaching of singing. The art and science of vocal pedagogy has a long history that began in Ancient Greece and continues to develop and change today. Professions that practice the art and science of vocal pedagogy include vocal coaches, choral directors, vocal music educators, opera directors, and other teachers of singing. Typical areas of study include the following:
All of these different concepts are a part of developing proper vocal technique.
Although these four processes are often considered separately when studied, in actual practice they merge into one coordinated function. With an effective singer or speaker, one should rarely be reminded of the process involved as their mind and body are so coordinated that one only perceives the resulting unified function. Many vocal problems result from a lack of coordination within this process.
Since singing is a coordinated act, it is difficult to discuss any of the individual technical areas and processes without relating them to the others. For example, phonation only comes into perspective when it is connected with respiration; the articulators affect resonance; the resonators affect the vocal folds; the vocal folds affect breath control; and so forth. Vocal problems are often a result of a breakdown in one part of this coordinated process which causes voice teachers to frequently focus in intensively on one area of the process with their student until that issue is resolved. However, some areas of the art of singing are so much the result of coordinated functions that it is hard to discuss them under a traditional heading like phonation, resonation, articulation, or respiration.
Once the voice student has become aware of the physical processes that make up the act of singing and of how those processes function, the student begins the task of trying to coordinate them. Inevitably, students and teachers, will become more concerned with one area of the technique than another. The various processes may progress at different rates, with a resulting imbalance or lack of coordination. The areas of vocal technique which seem to depend most strongly on the student's ability to coordinate various functions are. :
There are three factors that significantly affect the ability to sing higher or lower:
McKinney says, "These three factors can be expressed in three basic rules: (1) As you sing higher, you must use more energy; as you sing lower, you must use less. (2) As you sing higher, you must use more space; as you sing lower, you must use less. (3) As you sing higher, you must use more depth; as you sing lower, you must use less."
These stages must be under conscious control by the singer until they becomed conditioned reflexes. Many singers abandon conscious controls before their reflexes are fully conditioned which ultimately leads to chronic vocal problems.
Vibrato adds richness to the tone. Faster vibratos are possible without perceived "damage" to the note as the frequency of the note increases. Slow vibrato is necessary for low frequencies in order to allow the full waveform to propagate before altering its frequency.
Vibrato is the result of proper breath support. Some singers use vibrato as a means of expression. Many successful artists have built a career on deep, rich vibrato ability. Pop and R&B Divas Whitney Houston and Soul legend Patti LaBelle often uses vibrato in their voices to express emotion.
Vocal music is probably the oldest form of music, since it does not require any instrument besides the human voice. All musical cultures have some form of vocal music and there are many long standing singing traditions throughout the world's cultures.
Singing may positively influence the immune system through the reduction of stress. One study found that both singing and listening to choral music reduces the level of stress hormones and increases immune function.