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Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2009 Jul;1169:99-107. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.04558.x.

Singing proficiency in the majority: normality and "phenotypes" of poor singing.

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1
Department of Cognitive Psychology, University of Finance and Management in Warsaw, Warsaw, Poland. sdallabella@vizja.pl

Abstract

Recent evidence indicates that the majority of occasional singers can carry a tune. For example, when asked to sing a well-known song (e.g., "Happy Birthday"), nonmusicians performing at a slow tempo are as proficient as professional singers. Yet, some occasional singers are poor singers, mostly in the pitch domain, and sometimes despite not having impoverished perception. Poor singing is not a monolithic deficit, but is likely to be characterized by a diversity of singing "phenotypes." Here we systematically examined singing proficiency in a group of occasional singers, with the goal of characterizing the different patterns of poor singing. Participants sang three well-known melodies (e.g., "Jingle Bells") at a natural tempo and at a slow tempo, as indicated by a metronome. For each rendition, we computed objective measures of pitch and time accuracy with an acoustical method. The results confirmed previous observations that the majority of occasional singers can sing in tune and in time. Moreover, singing at a slow tempo after the target melody to be imitated was presented with a metronome improved pitch and time accuracy. In general, poor singers were mostly impaired on the pitch dimension, although various patterns of impairment emerged. Pitch accuracy or time accuracy could be selectively impaired; moreover, absolute measures of singing proficiency (pitch or tempo transposition) dissociated from relative measures of proficiency (pitch intervals, relative duration). These patterns of dissociations point to a multicomponent system underlying proficient singing that fractionates as a result of a developmental anomaly.

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