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The Effect of Different Preparatory Conducting Gestures on Breathing Behavior and Voice Quality of Choral Singers

      Summary

      Objective

      The breathing technique is a determining factor for the singer's sound quality and consequently crucial for the choral sound. However, very little is known about possible influences of the conductor's preparatory gesture on the way choral singers inhale before the beginning of a piece (respectively every subsequent phrase). The conducting literature does not discriminate between out- and inward preparatory gestures and even describes them as equivalent, but previous studies suggest that singers assign different types of inhalation to different preparatory gestures. It may therefore be assumed that the type of preparatory gesture has a direct influence on the singer's inhalation and tone production, and the aim of this study is hence to examine possible effects of two contrasting preparatory gestures on the singer's inhalation type and the resulting tone quality.

      Methods

      In our within-subjects study design, 18 healthy choral singers (9 male/ 9 female) were recruited to participate in a laboratory experiment. The participants were asked to sing a tone suitable for their voice register in response to different video stimuli. These consisted of two conducting-videos, each showing a different preparatory gesture, and two control conditions with an animated bar and an arrow indicating the desired breathing type. The singers reacted to 10 sets of videos, each set consisting of the four stimuli in randomized order. For evaluation of the breathing behavior and vocal output during the different experimental conditions, chest wall kinematics of upper rib cage, abdominal rib cage and abdomen were measured via 3D motion capture and voice samples were recorded. The obtained data were filtered and compared using the repeated measures analysis of variance and post hoc Tukey test for significant results. The level of significance was set at P < 0.05.

      Results

      The results of the study show significant differences in volume of the abdomen between the two different gestures (F1,17 = 24.04, η2 = 0.59, P = 0.0001), which can be validated by the two control measurements (F1,17 = 21.12, η2 = 0.55, P = 0.0002). An outward preparatory gesture evoked an abdominal breathing type while an inward-upward movement led to an inhalation with a higher portion of clavicular breathing. Furthermore, significant differences in timbre and loudness of the produced tone could be observed. The maximum sound pressure level of the outward preparatory gesture was significantly higher than in case of the inward-upward movement (F1,17 = 20.4, η2 = 0.56, P = 0.0004).

      Conclusions

      In contrast to the existing conducting literature, which does not discriminate between out- and inward preparatory gestures, the results of this study show that the conductor's choice of trajectory direction and form of the preparatory gestures elicit spontaneous, gesture-specific reactions in singers’ breathing behavior as well as the corresponding loudness and sound quality.

      Key Words

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