Have you listened to the latest American Idol contestants or watched a Katy Perry video? There seems to be one thing missing from these singers’ voices: tone.
So what is tone? And why does it matter?
Tone is color and texture of a sound. For example, an instrument produces a different range of “colors” than the human voice. The metallic brightness of a flute sounds very different than the warmth of a skilled soprano singer, though each may have similar pitch ranges.
Many of today’s singers unconsciously create a thinner metallic sound by singing though their nasal passages rather than singing from the diaphragm or core. While singing from the nasal passages can often create power in the voice, the warmth in the tone disappears.
An American Idol contestant singing from her nasal passages, demonstrating power but lacking a warm tone
Many vocalists also rely on “auto tune,” a computer program that automatically corrects a voice’s pitch after a recording session. When this program is used, it can be very difficult to recreate the human element of a rich warm tone and as a result an electronic thinner sound is created. To the average listener it can be very subtle and often go unnoticed, but when songs are slowed down and the instrumentation is taken away the technology used to “clean up” the song becomes obvious.
Listen for Katy Perry’s electronic sound and the use of “auto tune”
As technology continues to change the sound of today’s pop music, masking the true essence of the human voice it is important to be aware of vocal skills such as breath control, pitch and tone. One example of and artist who naturally exhibited all of these skills without the use of an auto pitch program was Karen Carpenter.
Karen Carpenter’s pure tone with no “auto tune”
Even though there are numerous performers today who use auto-tuning, there are those who refuse. Fiona Apple is a prime example of someone stays away from the “Botox of the music industry” and exhibits a natural warm tone similar to Karen Carpenter.
While I enjoy listening to the flawless pitch of Katy Perry songs, and the power behind the vocals of the American Idol contestants, I prefer the natural warm tones and subtle nuances that Karen Carpenter and Fiona Apple bring to their songs.
Just another way to listen to music.