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University chips help the lady sing better

Posted on 4 June 2003

The old phrase 'wired for sound' takes on a new meaning at the University of York as academics begin to investigate whether computers can help make singing lessons more effective.

Professor David Howard and the media engineering research group at the University are looking at whether technology that gives real-time visual feedback can help students and teachers during singing lessons. They will use newly-developed voice analysis and display techniques in a Windows software programme especially constructed for this purpose.

Professor Howard said: "During singing lessons, the teacher gives the students images or 'psychological hooks' to rely on to enable them to develop their voices, such as: "Sing on the point of the yawn," or "Sing as if an orange is stuck in your throat." Another is: "Sing as if you are smelling a beautiful rose." The students in turn have to rely on these 'hooks' in performance, and these in turn rely on the ear and previous experience of the teacher. There are many possibilities for mis-interpretation to occur.

"We believe that the computer can provide meaningful and easily understandable feedback for both teacher and student, and they are very willing to embrace new technology in their work."

Professor Howard has received a £51,000 grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Board to evaluate the usefulness of putting computerised voice displays into singing lessons and practices. He will be studying the extent to which teachers and students will accept and use technology in the studio; how easy and unobtrusive the technology is to use; what data the technology produces; and how it can be integrated into lessons. He will also look at whether it might be perceived as a threat by either teacher or student.

A panel of leading singing teachers, drawn from across the UK, will be established at the outset to guide the experimental phase of the work, and two teachers, plus two volunteer students will use the computer technology. When the necessary data has been collected, the panel will help to make final recommendations on using technology in the singing studio.

Professor Howard is an acoustics expert and has made a special study of singing. Another of his recent projects involved examining the relative tunefulness of the fans of the Premiership clubs at home games. He found that Southampton FC had the most tuneful following, while Bolton Wanderers were most off-key, with a pitch that 'moved around wildly'.

Notes to editors:

  • The Media Engineering Group has nine full-time staff and 35 research associates and graduate students dedicated to sound and vison engineering. It was launched in November 2002.
  • The work of the group will have an impact on the development of television editing, computer games, audio systems, and many other aspects of 'new media'. It includes a Visual Systems team exploring visual media technology, the Interaction Lab which studies what makes a computer media experience seem 'real', and the Music Technology team which ranges from synthesizing the sounds of bygone buildings to new types of specialised audio production equipment.
  • Professor Howard was asked to give expert evidence recently during the trial of the Who wants to be a millionaire? cheat.

Contact details

David Garner
Senior Press Officer

Tel: +44 (0)1904 322153