The influence of listeners’ singing experience and the number of singers on the understanding of sung text

Philip Fine, Jane Ginsborg, Christopher Barlow

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Published conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review

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An important aspect of perceiving sung music is understanding the
words. Previous research has suggested several factors affecting the intelligibility of sung text. This study investigates two of those factors: the
number of singers and the singing expertise of the listener. We expected
more singers to cause greater variability in the acoustic signal and be
harder to comprehend. Listeners who are themselves experienced singers
are more likely to be attuned to factors affecting singers’ diction and were
expected to be better than non-singers at understanding the sung text.
Forty eight participants, half accomplished singers and half self-reported
non-singers, listened to four 8-bar unaccompanied songs twice (in order
to test for familiarity) and wrote out the texts as they heard them. Two
performances were given by a soloist, two by a trio of singers in unison.
Participants were significantly better at understanding the words on the
second hearing than the first, and singers significantly better than nonsingers overall. There was no effect of the number of singers. Hence familiarity and singing experience both benefited sung text understanding.
An effect of the number of singers may be more apparent when comparing a soloist with a choir.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInternational Symposium on Performance Science 2009
EditorsAaron Williamon, Sharman Pretty, Ralph Buck
PublisherAssociation Europeen des Conservatoires
ISBN (Print)978-94-90306-01-4
Publication statusPublished - 2009


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