Can An Instrument Measure ‘Emotions’ When We Sing?

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We know a happy song and a sad song when we hear it. It’s instinctive. Musically it has everything to do with pitch, timing, tempo, pauses and volume and all of those elements carry through to every musical style there is. We know when someone puts their heart and soul into a song, we can feel it, it can make us laugh, cry, calm down or jump for joy. But can we measure the emotions of a singer with an instrument? Can we quantify the amount of anger in a singers voice? How do you record joy?

These amazing researches wanted to know more. They wanted to measure emotions when we sing. How they did this was to gather singers to sing emotively, make sure a group of listeners agreed to the same emotions that were being sung, and record the singing with instruments to match the two groups.

Firstly, what they needed was to find is a group of singers to sing the same way. It’s no use getting a country singer with a jazz singer to do the same experiment, there’s too many variants. Who they found were a cohort of Opera singers, all male and highly trained to sing a simple scale and then asked to ‘project different emotional colors’. They were asked to ‘enact’ Anger, Calm, Contempt, Fear, Joy, Love, Neutral, Sadness and Tenderness.

Secondly, they needed a team of ‘listeners’ to objectively confirm what emotions where being sung. The listening team where all experts in the field of Opera.

Finally, the measurements. A Flow Glottogram – FLOGG is recording what the voice is doing and a Long-Term-Average-Spectrum – LTAS is recording what the sound spectrum is doing during singing.

For analysis purposes they grouped emotions into for categories: 1. Anger-Contempt 2. Joy-Love-Pride 3. Calm-Tender-Neutral and 4. Sad-Fear. They confirmed that we are really good at identifying these emotions. That makes sense.

Analyzing emotions Expression in Singing via Flow Glottograms, Long-Term-Average Spectra, and Expert Listener Evaluation. John Sundberg, Glaucia Lais Salomao, and Klaus R. Scherer, Stockholm, Sweden, Geneva, Switzerland, and Munich, Germany. Journal of Voice. 2020

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