Towards a Common Terminology to Describe Voice Quality in Western Lyrical Singing: Contribution of a Multidisciplinary Research Group
ABSTRACT Background in performance. In the field of lyrical singing, an extensive terminology is dedicated to voice quality description. Among the many terms, some are used with consistent meaning by virtually all voice specialists, whereas others, which are more metaphorical or aesthetic, have multiple meanings despite their frequent use. The descriptors used by voice specialists deal not only with perceived sound, but also with the production of sound. Background in acoustics. Acousticians do not have a specific vocabulary for describing vocal sounds. They often make use of terms related to timbre. Many studies conducted on the determination of physical criteria for voice-quality description imply a listening focused on voice spectral content and transient phenomena. Aims. Perception of voice quality is subjective and depends on the listener’s own experiences and expectations. However, a consensus on its verbal description can be found, in a similar way that a technical vocabulary exists for wine-tasting. Our aim is to elaborate a common terminology for voice-quality description in voice pedagogy, voice therapy and musical acoustics. Main contribution. This paper presents a three-year study conducted by a research group composed of musical acousticians, speech therapists, singers, singing teachers and choir directors. Three main perceptual angles have been considered: perception of vocal gesture or vocal technique, perception of sound, and perception of performance. The listening sheet related to perception of vocal gesture or vocal technique is presented here, and its relevance is perceptually tested. Descriptive terms and illustrative sound examples are given, which have been selected by their consensuality within the research group. The listening sheet related to perception of sound is also briefly described. Implications. The proposed listening sheets facilitate the perceptual and verbal description of voice quality in singing. They allow the listener to concentrate on a given aspect of voice quality, and provide voice professionals with a consensual terminology for expressing singing voice-quality perception. They may also be used as a tool for vocal pedagogy and aural training.