Fa-fa-fa-fa, de doo doo doo, de da da da, sha la la la lee: What is the optimal syllable in improvised singing?

Laura van Eerten, Dicky Gilbers, Wander Lowie

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademic


    The aim of this paper is to describe and account for the optimal syllable structure in improvised singing without lyrics. Improvised singing has an overall relaxed character and it is abstracted from meaning. Furthermore, singing in general involves an exaggerated articulation of speech sounds. Unmarked syllable structures with maximal contrasts are therefore expected in improvised singing. In this paper we report on an experiment in which musicians improvise on three melodies. The results show that the optimal syllable depends on the interaction of three influences: maximal contrast between constriction and release, accuracy and rate of the muscles of the relevant articulators and maintenance of voicing. The difference between
    optimal syllables in speech and singing can be found in differences in the weight of these influences. The syllable /da/ turns out to have the preferred syllable structure in improvised singing.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationWhere the principles fail
    Subtitle of host publicationA Festschrift for Wim Zonneveld on the occasion of his 64th birthday
    EditorsRené Kager, Janet Grijzenhout, Koen Sebregts
    Place of PublicationUtrecht
    PublisherUtrecht Institute of Linguistics OTS
    Number of pages10
    ISBN (Print)978-94-6093-999-0
    Publication statusPublished - 2014

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