Apr 14, 2008

The Human Instrument

"When judged by its size, our vocal system fails to impress as a musical instrument. How then can singers produce all those remarkable sounds?"

Published in the December 2007 issue of Scientific American and the April issue of its French counterpart, Pour la Science (pages 40 to 47), this article by Ingo R. Titze is indeed very worthy of reading, especially since everybody can learn something from it (even the ones, like me, who already know how sound is produced by a human being).

"Wind instruments that approximate the pitches created by the human voice (trombones, trumpets, bassoons) typically contain much longer tubes."
Being such a freaks for the human voice, it had never really occurred to me that my favorite instruments might also be connected to that...

The French edition of this article also includes another fascinating one by French scientist Nicole Scotto Di Carlo (Université de Provence) whose main goal is to analyze Luciano Pavarotti's voice.
She introduces the concept of the "singing formant", in the range of 2500-3000 Hz that is the result of vocal tract's resonances, hence enabling opera singers to be heard over the orchestra (this range of frequencies is in the region of declining orchestral-sound energy, culminating around 450 Hz). My scientific background is always very appreciative of such rational explanations to understand well-known phenomenons.

Further reading:

"The acoustics of the singing voice", Scientific American, March 1977, pp82-91; illustrations there

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