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Author Topic: QotW - 08.03.30 - Apparent loss of vocal accent when singing  (Read 29354 times)

Offline techmind

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I'm no speech-scientist, but I think to answer this question we have to think about what constitutes an "accent". I would suggest that the way you modulate both the pitch and rhythm of your voice go a long way to defining an accent.
In singing, the pitch is constrained by the tune, ironing out much scope for individuality. Similarly the rhythm is largely determined by the music, forcing some conformance.
Of course, the way you pronounce certain vowel sounds probably goes beyond my simple explanation of accent... but since singing is mostly a group activity I would suggest that social pressure to conform with the other singers helps to curtail deviation from the majority of the group.

In the past I have played with writing computer-programs to analyse the acoustic content of speech, particularly in separating the fundamental pitch from the amplitude of the fundamental and its harmonics. I've been able to take a voice recording (e.g. of a newsreader on the radio) and replay it at constant pitch - this procedure turns "speech" into "plainsong". Similarly I've been able to reconstruct the speech in such a way that the replayed pitch follows the original pitch only "lazily" (i.e. apply a low-pass filter to the pitch function) which makes the speaker sound tired.


« Last Edit: 01/04/2008 18:55:59 by BenV »


 

Offline Make it Lady

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Being a bit of a lovey, I often sing on stage with a bunch of people from the south of England. I have a strong nothern accent and NEVER compromise in order to try and fit in, however one director told me that I had to sing in a southern accent (sing Darnce instead of dance) or get off the stage. I told him that I would stay on stage but I would not sing the words that offended him. He was very shocked, little Hitler.

I think anyone that puts on an accent in order to sing should be shot.
 

Offline thedoc

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My question is about accents.  I’ve noticed that many people when they speak in a language that is not their native tongue have strong accents.  However, when they try to sing a song in the same language their accent seem to diminish.  There are exceptions for this but it seems to be generally true no matter what their native language is or what language they try to sing in.  Why is that?
Asked by Archana, North Carolina

                                          Read this Question from our Podcast
 

Offline thedoc

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Here's the answer - from Professor David Howard, University of York

In answer to the question which relates to accents, what you hear when people sing as opposed to when they speak, I think the answer to this lies in the way people are trained to sing. We learn vowel sounds, particularly in singing, in a way that allows us to project them to a loud audience. That means that the front of the mouth needs to be more open than it is in speech so it’s a bit like a megaphone.  The vowels take on a different sound in terms of their timbre which is really what accent is. Therefore the vowels are being placed in a position for singing which is not the same as speech.

The other way of thinking about it is that the-certainly the Opera tradition of singing, certainly the Bel Canto tradition of singing come very much from the Italian school of vowels. Singers are encouraged to make their vowels very clean, very Italian-like: “Spagheeetti.” When you do that, no matter what language you start in, you will aim towards the vowels that have that clean, slightly Italian sound. Even if it’s not Italian they do merge to a sort of fund-vowel quality which rather removes the accent variation which in terms of mouth movement is really very small.
« Last Edit: 14/04/2008 16:57:24 by BenV »
 

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Offline neilep

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What a great question !...here's some food for thought !

http://www.thenakedscientists.com/forum/index.php?topic=1500.0

 

Offline JP

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I have no idea what the answer is, but this reminds me of a great quote by the physicist Sir Edward Appleton,
"I don't mind what language an opera is sung in so long as it is a language I don't understand."
 

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Offline techmind

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My question is about accents.  I’ve noticed that many people when they speak in a language that is not their native tongue have strong accents.  However, when they try to sing a song in the same language their accent seem to diminish.  There are exceptions for this but it seems to be generally true no matter what their native language is or what language they try to sing in.  Why is that?
Asked by Archana, North Carolina

                                          Read this Question from our Podcast

I began this thread two days earlier days ago at:
http://www.thenakedscientists.com/forum/index.php?topic=13448.0;topicseen

Mods: please can you merge the threads?
(it seems us mortals can't begin QotW threads in their correct sub-forum)

...and what happened to the date for this thread? "01.01.70"(!)
« Last Edit: 21/03/2008 20:38:17 by techmind »
 

Offline neilep

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As far as I understand when a thread is merged with another all the posts from each thread are merged in date order !

Does this answer your question ?.........lol ( I think Not)
 

Offline arioso

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QotW - 08.03.30 - Apparent loss of vocal accent when singing
« Reply #8 on: 11/04/2008 02:32:49 »
I'm a singer and voice teacher trained in the Italian school. I'm afraid I quite disagree with the gentleman whose reasoning you played on the air. He answered an entirely different question than was asked. The question asked was "Why do people in general seem to lose their accent when they sing?" In actuality, he answered the question "Why do trained singers seem to sing without an accent?" To make matters worse, he didn't even answer that question correctly.

The caller implied that most singers are trained in the bel canto (Italian) school of singing and that they therefore make all their vowels "clean" and Italian like "Spa - ghe - ti." Rubbish. First, there are many schools of voice training--not insignificantly the German and English schools. Secondly, bel canto does not encourage singers to pronounce everything like Italian. Most singing styles emphasize tone production, and not diction. Every self-respecting singer and voice teacher strive to make words sung in a particular language sound like... that language.

The caller also suggested that this sort of purposeful homogenization occurs because trained singers work for some unified timbre. Timbre describes the essential color or quality of sound. It's what makes an oboe sound different than a trombone. A singer can modify the timbre of his or her voice only slightly by the way they open their vocal tract. Timbre is mostly the product of the shape and size of the instrument. In other words, you're mostly born with the timbre you're going to get. If that's the case, how do all of the people in a given area sound similar (have the same accent), despite the fact that people from all countries come with voices having varied timbres?

It's the question that your caller didn't answer. A large portion of what we think of as an accent relates to the way we pronounce our vowels. (Consonants play a role too, but to a lesser degree. Also, singing is temporally 95%+ made up of vowels. Just try holding a note on the letter 't' to see what I mean.)

Many dialects differ from one another in their pronunciation of diphthongs and triphthongs (vowels that have two or more sequential sounds). In American English, for example, the vowel in the word "wide" begins with an "ah" quality, but very quickly moves to an "ee." In many British English dialects, the "ah" is very intense and long-lasting, with just a tiny "ee" at the end. In some British English dialects, you're more apt to hear something like an intense "oh" followed by a short "ee." When singing, we tend to dwell on the initial sound of diphthongs, which makes the first and second examples sound very similar. The third would still sound different, however.

Finally, many people use a non-rhotic 'r' when singing, even if they use a rhotic 'r' in speech. (The rhotic 'r' is the sound common in the United States in the middle and west of the country. Non-rhotic 'r' is used in Britain, New England, the southern US, and most parts of the world primarily influenced by British English.) There's little that'll make an American's accent seem to disappear as quickly as losing that rhotic 'r'.

So to summarize briefly: We seem to lose our accents when singing because singing tends to distill the vowel sounds in speech, in particular, stretching out those parts of the vowels that we have in common. Losing the piratey "arrrrrr" doesn't hurt, either.
 

Offline BenHermer

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QotW - 08.03.30 - Apparent loss of vocal accent when singing
« Reply #9 on: 19/04/2008 17:24:32 »
To me it would seem that the answer would be;

When we speak in another language we are thinking about the words and forming the sentences in our minds and then speaking those words (e.g. a reatime translation from our native language). When we sing, more often than not we are just copying sounds from another source, in this case a song.

You dont have to have any understanding of the sounds to copy them, hence when we copy sounds they sound the same as the original source (well kinda, not my singing!!).

When my french teacher says something for me to repeat, generally it sounds the same (accent wise) as his, when I speak the same words, in a shop for instance, my english accent becomes prominent again because I translate from my language (and accent!) into French.

Could be the answer, but just my opinion without any knowledge of the subject!
 

Offline backgroundwhitenoise

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QotW - 08.03.30 - Apparent loss of vocal accent when singing
« Reply #10 on: 21/09/2008 21:52:04 »
One more suggestion for the phenomenon of accents vanishing is quite a few singers start their singing in a choir. (not all, but I'm sure they would form a majority, so please don't bust my butt if you didn't) Now a good choir will pronounce the words the same, it often takes much practice but choral directors find it worth the work. Now if you grew up learning to sing one way, you will most likely continue that style on through their life.

 

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QotW - 08.03.30 - Apparent loss of vocal accent when singing
« Reply #10 on: 21/09/2008 21:52:04 »

 

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