Discrimination functions: can they be used to classify singing voices?

M L Erickson, S Perry, S Handel
Journal of Voice 2001, 15 (4): 492-502
Researchers long have searched for invariant acoustic features that can be used to identify singing voice categories or even individual singers. Few researchers have examined how listeners perceive singing voice categories or individual voices. Timbre, the most studied perceptual dimension of the singing voice, is generally believed to vary systematically between singing voice categories but is often assumed to be invariant with an individual singer. To test this assumption, 2 mezzo-sopranos and 2 sopranos were recorded singing the vowel /a/ on the pitches A3, C4, G4, B4, F5, and A5. Trials of three stimuli were constructed. Two of the three stimuli in each trial were produced by the same singer at two different pitches (X1 and X2), while the third stimulus was produced by a different singer (Y). Three X1X2 conditions were created: (1) G4, B4; (2) C4, F5; and (3) A3, A5. For each singer and each condition, Y was varied across the three remaining singers and across all six pitches. Experienced and inexperienced listeners were asked to identify which stimulus was produced by the "odd" person. The ability to correctly choose the odd person varied greatly depending on pitch factors, suggesting that the traditional concept of an invariant timbre associated with a singer is inaccurate and that vocal timbre must be conceptualized in terms of transformations in perceived quality that occur across an individual singer's range and/or registers.

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