Singing voice

Singing is a enjoyable activity for both the performer or singer and the audience. The singing voice is something that leads to many discussions, sometimes extremely passionate, about the most expressive, touching or vibrant style of singing, the better singers with the richest voices and the better vocal domain or the most effective teaching methods. But no one can answer those questions because they depend on many factors such as the cultural environment or personal preferences.

What is singing?
According to the definition provided by the dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy: “to sing it is to produce melodious sounds forming words or without forming them” (RAE, consulted electronically 22nd ed.). But it is necessary to explain the term “melodious sound”. Melodious, according to this edition of theThomas_Rowlandson_-_The_Opera_Singers_-_Google_Art_Project RAE dictionary, means: “gifted with a sweet and pleasant melody to the ear”.

However, there is no agreement on what is a “sweet and pleasant to the ear” melody. Think about two completely different styles as opera and rock. Does a rock singer produce a “sweet and pleasant to the ear” melody? So what are the most suitable styles for producing a “sweet and pleasant to the ear” sound? If the sound doesn’t produce a good feeling in the audience, what does it mean? Maybe those performers are not considered as singers? And, the most important, what is “sweet” or “pleasant”? Does art have to be “sweet” or “pleasant”?

Singing is art. And art is expression. Nobody can impose a feeling. And regarding to the concept of melodious sound, it may depend on the socio-cultural environment. Here we have a few examples of what some cultures consider “sweet and pleasant to the ear” although could be surprising for other cultures.

Singing is what we listen to in Peking Opera, of course, but it’s another concept of opera, quite different from Western opera:


This is Kargyraa traditional singing style:


In Sardinia, we find the famous cantu a tenore:


And what about the traditional Inuit singing style?


Or the Xhosa tribe singing style:

What’s wrong with our definition of singing? The subjective considerations should not have place in a neutral definition of singing. The consequence would be to relegate or despise those different styles. Perhaps we should update the definition and understand singing as the production of sounds musically modulated by the voice. It’s essential to understand “musically” not as a synonym of “nice”. Musically comes from the word “music”, the art of combining sounds to convey emotions through rhythmic, harmonic, melodic and timbral elements. In this sense, all the subjective considerations will be removed from the definition of singing voice.

This post was written by Pilar Lirio

Citar este post
Instituto Español de la Voz (2015, 30 septiembre). Singing voice. Sottovoce. Recuperado 17 de abril de 2024, de

4 comentarios en “Singing voice

  1. Gillyanne Kayes

    Nice post Pilar! I totally agree that we need to redefine definitions of singing. Perhaps it is good to start by thinking about the core elements of musical sounds: pitch, duration, volume and timbre and how these are matched to the core elements of vocal function (respiration, phonation, resonation and articulation). This already gives us so many variables and any of them results in sung musical sounds.

    1. Instituto Español de la Voz Autor

      You are completely right, dear Gillyanne. It’s time that voice teachers take control and start to research. I have a lot of knowledges to offer, but we need to study science in order to talk with scientists as equals and to direct teams not only to be involved in investigations as guinea pigs. Singing voice has a lot of information not only for singers but for neuroscientists, language specialists, speech therapists… And the Institute want to bring researchers together, collect information from books and papers and help to understand the singing mechanism better. Thanks for your interesting comment!


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