Scholarly Communications Project



Leslie Willson

Thesis submitted to the Faculty of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of

Master of Science


A. L. Wicks, Chair
William R, Saunders
Ricardo Burdisso

November 1, 1996
Blacksburg, Virginia


Ever wonder why two people can sing the same note with the same loudness, but sound completely different? Middle C is middle C no matter who sings it, yet for some reason Lucianno Pavarotti1s middle C sounds richer and more beautiful than Bob Dylan1s middle C, for example. But then again, what is beauty in singing? It is a completely biased and abstract concept. To some, Bob Dylan1s voice may epitomize tonal beauty, while to others his voice may be comparable to fingernails on a chalk board. Anyway, differences in tone quality, or timbre, are due to differences in the spectral characteristics in different voices. The Music Muse is a computer program designed to help singers train their voices by showing them the individual components of their voices that combine to produce timbre.

In paintings, many colors are combined to produce different hues and shades of color. The individual colors that make up the hue are difficult to distinguish. Similarly in music, harmonics with varying amplitudes combine to create voice colors, or timbres. These individual harmonics are difficult to distinguish by the ear alone. The Music Muse splits the voice up into its harmonic components by means of a Fourier transform. The transformed data is then plotted on a harmonic spectrum, from which singers can observe the number of harmonics in their tone, and their amplitudes relative to one another. It is these spectral characteristics that are important to voice timbre.

The amplitudes of the harmonics in a voiced tone are determined by the resonant frequencies of the vocal tract. These resonances are called formants. When a harmonic that is produced by the vocal cords has a frequency that is at or near a formant frequency, it is amplified. Formants are determined by the length, size, and shape of the vocal tract. These parameters differ from person to person, and change during articulation. Optimal tonal quality during singing is obtained by placing formants at a desired frequency. The Music Muse calculates the formants of the voice by means of cepstral analysis. The formants are then plotted. With this tool, singers can learn how to place their formants.

One of the difficulties of voice training is that singing is rated on a scale of quality, which is difficult to quantify. Also, feedback tends to be biased, and therefore subjective in nature. The Music Muse provides singers with the technology to quantify quality to a degree that makes it less of an abstract concept, and therefore more attainable.

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The author grants to Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University or its agents the right to archive and display their thesis or dissertation in whole or in part in the University Libraries in all forms of media, now or hereafter known. The author retains all proprietary rights, such as patent rights. The author also retains the right to use in future works (such as articles or books) all or part of this thesis or dissertation.
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