The layman, a competent judge of singing voice
How do listeners perceive whether a singer is in tune or not? It is challenging to define it objectively. In spite of the difficulties involved, Pauline Larrouy-Maestri, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute and a scientific collaborator with the department of psychology of the University of Liege, has succeeded in doing so. By quantifying objective criteria for judging singing accuracy with the help of computer programs, and by comparing the subjective judgements of music professionals and laymen, she succeeded in evaluating the perception of accuracy among the two groups. This research greatly alters the commonly-held idea that music professionals are better equipped to judge voice accuracy.
Identification of objective criteria
Between music studies at the Royal Conservatory of Mons and a Master’s in logopedics obtained at ULB, the way was almost paved for Pauline Larrouy-Maestri. Attracted by scientific research, she met Dominique Morsomme, head of the Voice Therapy Unit at ULg, and began a thesis on the perception of singing accuracy. “I wondered what led us to decide whether a song was accurate or not. There are many television programmes which expose us to this kind of voice evaluation but nobody really knows how to identify the factors involved in deciding if singing is accurate or not”.
The computer against the experts
Once the computer programme was developed, a database needed to be created. The speech-language pathologist took her study to the streets and, with the help of students, recorded 166 volunteers who agreed to sing “happy birthday”. This is a simple piece which everybody knows. This sample included men, women, young people, elderly people, shy people and others who love to sing…“The only condition, says the researcher, “was that they did not have a trained voice. I wanted the sample to be exclusively made up of people who had not formally learned to sing”.