Sunday, 9 March 2014

Why singing out of tune is not always so bad

Bob Dylan can't sing or can he?
When a singer hits the wrong note, whether at a karaoke bar or a concert, you can be sure that some portion of the audience can't help but cringe. Poor pitch accuracy is a salient indicator of an inexperienced performer. Yet there are other times when singing off pitch or bending the voice may actually improve an audience’s perception of the performance. 
In a study published last week in Frontiers in Psychology, we examined 12 professional male vocalists while they sang melodies with a range of different emotions. Vocalists with more years of acting experience sang the first note of their melody with greater pitch inaccuracy. More years of acting experience was also related to higher levels of jitter (fine-grained pitch perturbations). 

In a second experiment, listeners rated the same recordings for their emotional genuineness – whether they thought the performer was truly feeling the emotion they were singing. Vocalists with more acting experience were rated as more genuine (A), while recordings with greater pitch inaccuracy (B), more jitter, and a higher harmonics-to-noise ratio were rated as more genuine.

The level of singing training had no effect on audience perception. These results suggest that vocalists with more acting experience – but not singing training - may sacrifice pitch accuracy and certain aspects of voice quality to improve an audience’s emotional perception of the performance. So the next time you hear a performer sing out of tune, ask yourself whether they "can" or "can't" sing. Steven Livingstone and Frank RussoRead the full article at Frontiers (Open Access).


1 comment:

  1. Interesting, indeed. As a producer, I regularly struggle with the expectation of vocals performances to be Auto-Tuned to perfection, just because we can and it's now what people expect to hear. Often I find myself providing resistance to clients who want every note "fixed". I understand that it sounds good on one hand, but I've always felt like making things too perfect just sucks the life out of great performances.

    Some people say the music today isn't as good as it used to be. I doubt that's true, but I've always believed that recordings containing genuine performances (usually older) have more power to move the listener. How gratifying to see my intuitions supported by actual evidence :)