The Colours of the Voice: How and why different registers have their own sound and feel (part 2 of 3)

In part 1, we discussed how the voice is made up of various registers, connected by transition points we call bridges. Each have their own colour, sound and feel. But learning about the idiosyncrasies of the voice is hard without some context to place it in. So let’s consider some other instruments first.


Part 2: Instrument idiosyncrasies

Every instrument has it’s own idiosyncrasies. Things they do well, and things they don’t. There are always quirks that you need to learn to exploit each instrument fully.

EXAMPLE 1: The Piano

Consider the piano. Up high on the piano, one can play a very dense chord with a LOT of notes very close to each other, and it will sound good. But do the same thing down low, it’s a disgusting mess. Why is this?

Up high, the interaction between any two respective notes create pleasing but relatively mild consonance and dissonance. No two notes are capable of being massively jarring to the ear, so one can use more notes to slowly stack up small amounts of these qualities. This leads to very dense but very beautiful chords.

But, if I try to deploy this same chord at the lowest end of the piano, I will fail colossally. Dense chords that work up high sound appalling down low on the piano. Just two poor note choices can lead to extraordinary levels of undesirable dissonance. Note choices have to be exact and minimal in the lower portions of the keyboard. That said, down low is where the thickest and richest sounds can be found, but done using very few but choice notes.

The middle of the piano is a blend of the two. How useable or playable any chord is depends on the notes in the chord and the exact location of the chord on the keyboard. Even shifting the chord up or down two/three notes on the keyboard can make it more/less useable. To figure this out takes years of time and experimentation, plus taste and preference.

This is the general trend of the colours of the piano. There are certain idiosyncrasies and rules about the piano telling you what works and what doesn’t that you can’t escape from. It has nothing to do with how good a piano player you are – it just IS this way.

But maybe you don’t play piano, so let’s think about the guitar. The same principles apply, but different rules bear out.

EXAMPLE 2: The Guitar

The guitar (typically) has 6 strings, tuned from low to high. Each string is tuned around half an octave higher than the one below it (NOTE: does this sound familiar? it should, given each bridge in the voice is roughly half an octave higher than the one below it). Just like piano, chords played higher can be denser than chords played lower. So that rule is similar.

But there are other idiosyncrasies on guitar. Some strings are plain flexible metal strings, and others have a core that is then wrapped with windings. Such strings sound different. Higher strings sound thinner and brighter; lower sound thicker and darker. There is a greater amount of texture on lower notes, but harmonic clarity on upper notes.

On guitar, due to duplication of notes, one can play the same melodies with the exact same pitches in different places to get totally different timbres. Want a brighter instance of the melody? Play it on one of the highest 2 strings. Want a darker instance? Play it on some of the lower strings.

In contrast, the piano does not have duplicated notes, so no such idiosyncrasy is available to exploit.

Now we’ve grasped the idea of instrument idiosyncrasies, let’s return to the voice…


Continue to Part 3: The idiosyncrasies of the voice

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