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Thread: Voice type and timbre

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    Senior Member Dim7's Avatar
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    Default Voice type and timbre

    When tenor and bass both sing the exact same pitches, you can still often guess which singer is tenor and which is bass. Tenor's voice has lighter, thinner quality than bass's. So the "darkness" and "thickness" of the voice seems to be pretty closely linked to how high or low voice the singer has. This seems to be the same thing as with string instruments for example; you can play the exact same note on two strings but they sound different because the other one is thicker which affects the timbre also. In the same way larger vocal folds cause darker timbre than smaller ones. Does this meen that so-called "dramatic tenors" are always simply lower tenors, perhaps just bit too high-voiced to be baritones? Or can there be two tenors who have equally high voices but the other one has darker, more dramatic quality? But how this could be possible if the size of the vocal folds determine both the timbre and the range?

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    Senior Member Ignis Fatuus's Avatar
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    Timbre is affected by many factors.

    Do you know the physics of timbre? If not it might be worthwhile looking at the wikipedia articles on "timbe" and "harmonics" etc.

    Put simple, when you sing or play one note, you can also here many high notes, called harmonics. The varying volumes of these harmonics are what makes a note sound the way it does, it's the different between a piano sound and a clarinet sound. Clarinets, for example, accentuate only the "odd" numbered harmonics.

    Everyone has a different voice box, with different harmonic characteristics. Therefore everyone has a different "tone".

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    Senior Member Dim7's Avatar
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    Yeah I've read that article and I understand that harmonics are a major factor on timbre. So two equally high-voiced tenors can have different timbres, one "darker" and one "brighter", because of slightly different shape of the vocal folds?

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    Senior Member Ignis Fatuus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dim7 View Post
    Yeah I've read that article and I understand that harmonics are a major factor on timbre. So two equally high-voiced tenors can have different timbres, one "darker" and one "brighter", because of slightly different shape of the vocal folds?
    Well not just a major factor. Harmonics ARE timbre. Timber/tone colour is the interpretation your brain makes when it heres a pitch and its harmonics.

    I'm not a singing expert. I don't know all the physical factors that effect the tone but we all know that lot of it is technique which suggests it's not just the vocal chords you are born with. Your throat is a little like the tube of a wind instrument, so I would imagine altering the shape of the throat will alter the tone.

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    Senior Member Dim7's Avatar
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    Hmm I recall reading somewhere that while timbre was basically just about harmonics, there were some other minor factors. Perhaps I recall incorrectly...

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    Senior Member Ignis Fatuus's Avatar
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    It depends on the precise definition you use. If you play in a big hall, there will be reverberation, which you *might* consider to be part of the timbre. I don't. I think of the sound coming out of the horn, to be it's timbre, and then reverberation is an effect applied to the timbre after the fact.

    But these are just details. By and large, the way an instrument *sounds* is completely down to the relative volumes of the overtones, and the way these overtones vary with time. In theory, you could create the sound of any instrument using only sine wave. And that's exactly the technique that some insturment-simulation software uses these days (Pianoteqq). But in practice, for non-keyboard instruments, the behaviour of the harmonics is just too complex for us to model at the moment. (Let alone voices)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dim7 View Post
    When tenor and bass both sing the exact same pitches, you can still often guess which singer is tenor and which is bass. Tenor's voice has lighter, thinner quality than bass's. So the "darkness" and "thickness" of the voice seems to be pretty closely linked to how high or low voice the singer has. This seems to be the same thing as with string instruments for example; you can play the exact same note on two strings but they sound different because the other one is thicker which affects the timbre also. In the same way larger vocal folds cause darker timbre than smaller ones. Does this meen that so-called "dramatic tenors" are always simply lower tenors, perhaps just bit too high-voiced to be baritones? Or can there be two tenors who have equally high voices but the other one has darker, more dramatic quality? But how this could be possible if the size of the vocal folds determine both the timbre and the range?
    Being a formally trained classical singer and singing with a choir as well as having sung with various choirs in the past, there is an obvious difference between a tenor and a bass range. While it sounds like Tenor and bass sing the same pitches, they never do. Tenors are never physically capable of singing a bass range and a bass range can't sing a tenor range anymore than I as a first lyric soprano could even begin to sing a bass range-which for me is physically impossible.

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