It may come as a surprise to some of you, but the human voice is not capable of singing a pure note. If the pitch pipe sounds say, a Bb and you sing the note you hear, it cannot be a pure Bb that you produce. This is no criticism of your ability to sing, it is just a fact of life, or physics’, that we all have to face. The note you sing may well be a Bb (fundamental), but due to the unique shape of your vocal tract after the vocal folds where the note is initiated, your Bb will be accompanied by a number of differing harmonics. I.E the fundamental Bb will be ‘coloured.’ What is more it will be coloured in a way that is unique to you, because of your unique vocal tract.
I bet that ever since you started to use a telephone, you were almost instantly, capable of recognising the voices of your immediate family and friends? This is because of the uniqueness of their natural voices.
I am always surprised when individuals almost proudly ‘claim’ to be ‘tone deaf,’ when they so evidently disprove that ‘fact’ with their ability to recognise differing voices.
Clearly, due to a combination of upbringing, physical abilities, age and possibly training, individual’s sense of pitch accuracy will vary. But the basics remain.
Given the above, you may then ask the question, “how on earth can groups like ours managed to produce such beautiful in-tune singing, with all this other stuff going on?”
Well, the simple fact is we have been taught or have in some other way learned how to control some of it, even though this control may have been a sub-conscious effort on our part.
You will have heard about matching vowel sounds, by altering your mouth shape?
Well, it is mainly the vowels in the lyric that carry the sound along with a few what are called ‘singable consonants’ But although we only have five vowels in our language, A, E, I, O &U, when we sing, we can utilise an additional number of ‘vowel sounds’ Some say ten and others twelve different vowel sounds*. If we then utilise the appropriate mouth shape and tongue position for each vowel sound in our singing, much of the above dissonant effects can be significantly reduced.
One further point of interest is that each of us can alter the harmonic overtones we produce, simply by adjusting our internal and external mouth shape and tongue position.
For example. Take a deep breath then produce a continuing note in your comfort range. Then start altering your mouth shape and tongue position. If you listen carefully, you will be able to hear yourself generating harmonic octaves, fifths, thirds, and sevenths. Just try it (when you are alone of course) and after just a little experimentation you may be surprised.
Nov 28th ‘21
* Our Society claims there are 12 vowel sounds we sing and they have produced explanations and examples of each one, but not covered in this ‘blog.’