Extended vocal technique

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Vocalists are capable of producing a variety of extended technique sounds. These alternative singing techniques have been used extensively in the 20th century, especially in art song and opera. Particularly famous examples of extended vocal technique can be found in the music of Luciano Berio, John Cage, George Crumb, Peter Maxwell Davies, Hans Werner Henze, György Ligeti, Demetrio Stratos, Meredith Monk, Giacinto Scelsi, Arnold Schoenberg, Salvatore Sciarrino, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Tim Foust, Avi Kaplan, and Trevor Wishart.

Timbral techniques[edit]



Spoken text is frequently employed. The Italian term "parlando" has a similar meaning.



Sprechgesang is a combination singing and speaking. It is usually heavily associated with Arnold Schoenberg (particularly his Pierrot Lunaire which uses sprechgesang for its entire duration) and the Second Viennese School. Schoenberg notated sprechgesang by placing a small cross through the stem of a note which indicates approximate pitch. In more modern music “sprechgesang” is frequently simply written over a passage of music.


Singing is produced while a singer is inhaling. This technique combined with exhaling and other techniques can produce a continuous stream of voice that is widely used in extreme metal styles like death metal, it is also employed in other styles to create a strained or even humorous effect.[citation needed]



A vocal technique allowing the singer to sing notes higher than their modal vocal range.

Glottal sounds[edit]

A "frying"-type sound may be produced by means of the glottis. This technique has been frequently used by Meredith Monk.


Yodelling is performed by rapidly alternating between a singer's chest and head voice.


A long, wavering, high-pitched vocal sound resembling a howl with a trilling quality. It is produced by emitting a high-pitched loud voice accompanied with a rapid back-and-forth movement of the tongue and the uvula. Ululation is practiced in certain styles of singing, as well as in communal ritual events, used to express strong emotion.


Vocal tremolo[edit]

A vocal tremolo is performed by rapidly pulsing the air expelled from the singer's lungs while singing a pitch. These pulses usually occur from 4–8 times per second.[citation needed]

Vocal trill[edit]

A vocal trill is performed by adding singing vibrato while performing a vocal tremolo.[clarification needed]




By manipulating the vocal cavity, overtones may be produced.[1] Although used in the traditional music of Mongolia, Tuva, and Tibet, overtones have also been used in the contemporary compositions of Karlheinz Stockhausen (Stimmung),[2] as well as in the work of David Hykes.[3]


By carefully controlling the configurations of the vocal cords, a singer may obtain "undertones" which may produce period doubling, tripling or a higher degree of multiplication;[citation needed] this may give rise to tones that fairly coincide with those of an inverse harmonic series. Although the octave below is the most frequently used undertone, a twelfth below and other lower undertones are also possible. This technique has been used most notably by Joan La Barbara.[1].However, undertones may be generated by processes that include more than the vocal folds.[citation needed] For instance, the ventricular folds (also called the false vocal folds) may be recruited, probably by solely aerodynamic forces, and made to vibrate with the vocal folds, generating undertones, like those found, for instance, in Tibetan low-pitched chant.[citation needed]


By overstressing or by asymmetrically contracting the laryngeal muscles, a multiphonic or chord may be produced.[citation needed] This technique features in the 1968 composition Versuch über Schweine by the German composer Hans Werner Henze. In voice pathology, there are various descriptions of somewhat similar effects, such as those found in patients with diplophonia, a condition that produces a "double voice", i.e., two or even more simultaneous pitches.[citation needed]




Buccal speech[edit]

A form of alaryngeal speech that has a high pitch that can be used for speaking and singing. It is most familiar as the voice of Donald Duck.

Non-vocal sounds[edit]

Besides producing sounds with the mouth, singers can be required to clap or snap their fingers, shuffle their feet, or slap their body. This is usually notated by writing the appropriate word over a note. These gestures are sometimes written on a separate one-line staff as well.[citation needed]

Artificial timbral changes[edit]

Inhalation of gases[edit]

Inhaled helium is occasionally used to drastically change the timbre of the voice. When inhaled, helium changes the resonant properties of the human vocal track resulting in a very high squeaky voice. In Salvatore Martirano's composition L’s GA the singer is required to inhale from a helium mask.

Conversely, an unnaturally low voice may be achieved by asking the singer to inhale sulfur hexafluoride. This technique is less popular than helium inhalation, in part because of the inherent risk of the gas displacing oxygen in the lungs.[4][failed verification]

Artificial vocal enhancement[edit]

Amplification, such as microphone or even megaphone, possibly with electronic distortion of the voice, is frequently used in contemporary composition. Through the use of various electronic distortion techniques, vocal enhancement possibilities are nearly unlimited. A good example of this technique can be found in much of the music written and performed by Laurie Anderson.

Singing into the piano[edit]

There are a number of pieces which require a singer to lean over a (sometimes amplified) piano and sing directly into the strings. If the strings are not damped, the effect is to start audible sympathetic vibrations in the piano. By far the most famous piece to use this technique is Ancient Voices of Children by George Crumb.[citation needed]

Notable performers using extended vocal techniques[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ David Pariser and Enid Zimmerman, "Learning in the Visual Arts: Characteristics of Gifted and Talented Individuals," in Handbook of Research and Policy in Art Education, edited by Elliot W. Eisner and Michael D. Day (Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004): 388. ISBN 978-0-8058-4972-1.
  2. ^ Gregory Rose and Simon Emmerson, "Stockhausen 1: Stimmung". Contact, no. 20 (Autumn 1979): 20–25, citation on 20.
  3. ^ Charles Madden, Fractals in Music: Introductory Mathematics for Musical Analysis, InMusic (Salt Lake City, Utah), no. 1 (Salt Lake City: High Art Press, 1999): 85–89, 95. ISBN 978-0-9671727-5-0.
  4. ^ "Sulfur Hexafluoride". Hazardous Substances Data Bank. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved 26 March 2013.
  • Blatter, Alfred (1980). Instrumentation/Orchestration. New York: Schirmer Books.
  • Read, Gardner (1969). Music Notation. 2nd ed. Boston: Crescendo Publishing Co.
  • Edgerton, Michael Edward (2005). The 21st-Century Voice: Contemporary and Traditional Extra-Normal Voice. Lanham: Scarecrow Press.- ISBN 978-0-8108-5354-6
  • Fuks, Leonardo; Hammarberg, Britta; Sundberg, John (1998): "A self-sustained vocal-ventricular phonation mode: acoustical, aerodynamic and glottographic evidences", KTH TMH-QPSR 3/1998, 49–59, Stockholm

External links[edit]