Technology in the singing studio: evaluation by users

David M Howard1, Graham F Welch2, Jude Brereton1, and Evangelos Himonides2

1 - Media Engineering Research Group, Department of Electronics, University of York, Heslington, York YO10 5DD, UK
2 - School of Arts and Humanities, Institute of Education, University of London, 20 Bedford Way, London WC1H 0AL, UK

Real-time visual displays have the potential to be useful in the context of vocal pedagogy. Previous experience with a real-time vocal pitch analysis and display system designed for primary school children in UK [1] indicated that it was very successful at enabling pitching skills to be developed and assessed, and that children as young as 6 could successfully use the system in pairs without teacher intervention [2]. This experience also demonstrated the importance of keeping the displays simple and ensuring that the users are clear about what is being displayed.

This work is now being extended into the professional singing studio in a project to investigate the usefulness or otherwise of computer displays in the singing studio. Specially prepared Windows-based software known as WinSingad has been written which makes available analyses plotted against time, which relate to: pitch, spectral ratio, larynx closed quotient and vocal tract area. These can be viewed singly, multiply or in combination. The purpose of the project is to determine whether or not displays such as these can be used in the professional singing studio to any useful advantage, and what are their advantages and disadvantages.

An action research methodology is being employed in which the researchers in conjunction with the students and teachers keep records of activities during lessons in order to evaluate their effectiveness or otherwise at a later date. Two experienced professional singing teachers are involved, one based in Guildford, the other in York. Control subjects are involved to provide an indication of current teaching techniques in the absence of technology, and a number of experimental subjects are making use of the technology on a regular basis. Lesson observations began during the late Summer of 2003, and are due to end around Easter 2004. Informal results to date suggest that the use of technology is being welcomed by student and teacher alike; indeed, one teacher is already making use of the software with other students who were not included in the original schedule. The ability to configure the displays easily via a simple user interface has been shown to be an essential feature of software being employed in such a situation. This paper will describe the system itself and how it is being employed, and also explore the action research outcomes in detail.

1. Howard, D.M., and Welch, G.F. (1993). Visual displays for the assessment of vocal pitch matching development, Applied Acoustics, 39, (3), 235 252.
2. Welch, G.F., Howard, D.M., and Rush, C. (1989). Real-time visual feedback in the development of vocal pitch accuracy in singing, Psychology of Music, 17, 146 157.

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