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The concept of the “singing voice” is associated with man’s ability to sing. The singing voice, unlike the speaking voice, has an exact pitch that can be held for a long time and that coincides with vowel sounds. A person begins to use his singing voice in childhood, depending on the development of his sense of pitch and his vocal apparatus. As a rule, a child’s singing voice reaches its full range (1½ octaves) by the age of 13. It is characterized by its bright, silvery timbre, similar to falsetto. Children’s voices, especially boys’, are used mainly in children’s choirs. At puberty a boy’s voice deepens by an octave, with accompanying changes in volume, range, and timbre and often the loss of the best singing qualities of the voice. Castration was practiced in Italy in the 17th and 18th centuries to preserve the superior singing voices of boys.
Singing voices may be categorized as nonprofessional (“untrained”) or professional (“trained”). Vocal training includes the adaptation and development of the singing voice in preparation for professional performance, stressing such qualities as clarity, beauty, power, the ability to draw out notes, broad range, flexibility, and endurance. These qualities are largely determined by natural gifts and the natural features of the. vocal apparatus, although they can be developed by training. The voice may be trained for opera and concert singing or for the performance of folk songs or variety music.
The qualities that define a singing voice are the beauty of its timbre and the ability to hold tones. An operatic or concert voice must be easily heard in large halls—it must carry well. Ringing, metallic voices tend to carry well. Fullness and softness are conveyed largely by lower overtones; a metallic, carrying quality is produced by high overtones. Both high and low singing formants, as well as vibrato (pulsation with a frequency of five to six times per second), determine the beauty and flowing quality of the voice.
An important quality for a singing voice is its strength. Operatic singing demands a powerful voice that can fill a large hall and be audible over the orchestral accompaniment. A voice has its natural registers, which are groups of sounds of like timbre that are produced by a single physiological mechanism. The tones of various registers have different sounds. The male voice has in its lower range a register produced in the chest and a falsetto register in its higher range. The chest register is distinguished by its great power and richness of tone. The falsetto is weak and poor in timbre. A female voice has three registers: the chest register produced in the chest; the central register, combining chest and head resonance; and the head register in the upper range, which sounds bright and open.
A professional singing voice must have a range of two octaves and must resonate evenly throughout the range. This is achieved by the use of mixed resonance.
Voices are categorized by timbre and pitch. There are six basic types of voices. The highest female voice is the soprano, the next highest is the mezzo soprano, and the lowest is the contralto. The highest male voice is the tenor, the lowest is the bass, and between them is the baritone. In each voice type the highest and brightest voices are called lyrical, and the lower, darker voices are called dramatic.
In most cases the use of the singing voice is combined with words. The poetic text in singing is conveyed expressively by distinct pronunciation and the ability to combine the singing voice with elements of speech intonation. Smooth, legato singing is the basis of the cantilena style, whereas vocal agility is required for rapid singing.
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L. B. DIMITRIEV