We all enjoy hearing a great singer in a live setting, but have you ever wondered why? It turns out that human beings are hard wired to enjoy good singing, but the explanation is more complicated than that. We won’t get overly technical, but we will cover some of the science that explains how we determine a good singer from a bad one. In the day of electronic music and over-production, good singing is still necessary and valuable. Here’s why.
Music is based on nature. You can learn about this by studying the intervals between notes in a scale. It’s easy to visualize these on a piano keyboard. Students of music get very deep in this topic, but we can cover some of the basics without getting crazy. The chords that are used in music are made up of three or more notes played at the same time. The distance between these notes has everything to do with whether or not the notes will sound good together. Interestingly enough, the notes have basic mathematical relationships between each other.
That’s because the way a note sounds is based on its musical frequency. When you play a guitar string, it vibrates. The number of times it vibrates in a single second determines the note that your ear hears played. A note that is exactly one octave above another note is exactly 2x the frequency of the original note. Chords made up of notes that represent smaller intervals have nice round number relationships between their relative frequencies.
That’s getting pretty complex. All you need to understand is that notes that sound good together do so because of natural harmonic and mathematical relationships. If you want to know how and why, check out the Ken Tamplin Vocal Academy. For the untrained ear, if two notes don’t go together, you know immediately because the resulting sound sounds chaotic and grating. This is true even when one of the tones is a human voice.
When people sing well, their voices harmonize with the music or other voices they are singing with. The frequencies of the individual sounds involved are harmonious and uncomplicated. When people don’t sing well, they create very complex mathematical relationships between frequencies – not nice to listen to.
People inherently understand how to hear order and chaos in music. So do many animal, especially birds. Studies on finches have proved that these birds experience pleasure when they hear bird songs sung in tune, and that they try to mimic good singing as they grow up from chicks.
Good singing is comforting to listen to. It tends to have a relaxing effect on the listener because we intuitively know that the person singing isn’t going to mess up (causing an unpleasant, chaotic sound). It’s a feeling of trust and of safety. When a singer isn’t as strong, part of us is always waiting for the mistakes knowing we have to brace ourselves for something unpleasant. Good singing isn’t always given its proper due in the 21st century, but there are still deep mental reasons why it’s important for people to listen to and understand.