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date: 22 February 2020

(p. v) Preface

(p. v) Preface

Singing has been a characteristic behavior of humanity across several millennia. Chorus America (2009) estimated that 42.6 million adults and children regularly sing in one of 270,000 choruses in the US, representing more than one in five households. Similarly, recent European-based data (Bartel and Cooper 2015) suggest that more than 37 million adults take part in group singing. On a much smaller scale, an in-depth case study of one small area of inner London recently discovered 51 adult amateur singing groups, representing a diverse cross-section of social groupings and musical genres (Parkinson, private correspondence). However, if we take into account the common practice of singing in schools, as part of collective events and regular music classes, these numbers increase exponentially in terms of the proportions of the total populations who sing. In England, for example, Sing Up—a government-funded initiative to promote regular and positive singing experiences for children—estimated that 98 percent of primary schools were taking part by 2012, embracing 17,000 schools and over four million children. Furthermore, extending the age focus to a younger phase, findings from early years and pre-school research indicate that singing by parents and caregivers is virtually ubiquitous in family settings in many countries of the world, irrespective of ethnicity and language group (see Chapters 21–24 this volume). In addition, towards the other end of lifespan, despite the physical and mental challenges of aging, older people can continue to participate in and enjoy singing, especially in groups, and often with considerable health benefits, e.g. promoting more efficient lung function and social inclusion (Skingley et al. 2011; Davidson and Garrido, Chapter 46).

The Oxford Handbook of Singing has been designed to be a comprehensive resource for anyone who wishes to know more about the pluralistic nature of singing. In part, the narrative adopts a lifespan approach, pre-cradle to senescence, to illustrate that singing is a commonplace behavior which is an essential characteristic of our humanity. In diverse ways, singing as self-expression, catharsis, communal art activity, and as a component of personal and social identity from early childhood onwards has been a locus for systematic scientific enquiry and personal commitment for each of the main and section editors and our authors over many years. The multidisciplinary components of our collective narrative, embracing different strands of the arts, humanities, and sciences, seek to marshal focused evidence which, at the same time, is underpinned by each author’s sense of their own individual and emotional engagement in a particular aspect of the act of singing.

(p. vi) The chapter contents have been clustered into eight main sections, embracing fifty-three chapters by seventy-two authors drawn from across the world. Each chapter seeks to illustrate and illuminate a particular aspect of singing.

In Part 1, Chapter 1, Kayes provides insights into the underlying human anatomy and physiology of singing, of how singing is a physical act that requires significant coordination of many components in the human body in order to provide (a) singing’s energy source from the lungs, (b) a vibrating sound source in the larynx, and (c) the subsequent frequency shaping of vocal sound into the environment. At the same time, the following two chapters (Stadelman-Cohen and Hillman, Chapter 2; Rubin and Epstein, Chapter 3) collectively recognize that certain behaviors are antithetical to the healthy voice function that underpins successful singing, particularly in the longer term, and describe the nature of common vocal threats, as well as how these might be addressed. The final chapter in this section (Lã and Gill, Chapter 4) links the information about the physical act of singing into sung performance.

Part 2 builds on the Handbook’s opening chapters to provide insights into how the body’s physical activity relates to the psychoacoustics of singing, of the nature of sung sound, and what we experience when we hear or listen to someone sing. Watson (Chapter 5) details the breath mechanism for singing, while Herbst, Howard, and Švec (Chapter 6), and Story (Chapter 7) review the evidence for how the voice source (larynx) is energized by the breath, and spectrally shaped and dampened by the nature and action of the vocal tract. Sundberg (Chapter 8) extends this discussion to explain the underlying vocal acoustic characteristics that lead us to experience differences between singing styles, such as between Western classical (high art) and various popular music. These adult-focused analyses are contrasted by Sergeant (Chapter 9), who discusses the acoustics of children’s singing related to age and gender. The narrative focus then shifts to the particular sonic features that relate to how we perceive singing (Howard and Hunter, Chapter 10) and the impact of the local physical environment on the shaping of our perceptions (Jers, Chapter 11).

In Part 3, the authors combine to provide insights into the psychology of singing, building from Kleber and Zarate’s (Chapter 12) detailed exposition of the neuroscientific research evidence into singing and the brain. The following chapters focus on diverse ways in which we might consider perception and singing. Sundberg (Chapter 13) reveals the nature of research into intonation in choral and solo singing, of the role of vibrato, and our perception of being “in-tune.” Coutinho and colleagues (Chapter 14) discuss the emotional power of singing, of emotional expression, and communication, while Himonides (Chapter 15) reports on the importance of context in what counts as our perception of singing quality. Wise (Chapter 16) explains why some adults believe that they are “tone-deaf” or unable to sing, building a theoretical standpoint from empirical studies of adults and children, while Dalla Bella (Chapter 17) reveals the scientific basis for the underlying reality of relative singing competence for the majority, bringing together neuroscience and commonplace singing behaviors. Welch and Preti (Chapter 18) offer a multidisciplinary perspective on the links between singing, intra-, and interpersonal communication and identity. Part 3 ends with Cohen and Ludke’s (Chapter 19) review of the impact of new technologies in gathering and analyses of singing data, illustrated by the development of a digital library as part of the international Canadian-led Advancing Interdisciplinary Research on Singing (AIRS) project.

Part 4 examines the development of singing for different age phases across the lifespan. It opens with a timely reminder by Walker (Chapter 20) of the customary scientific lens through which we view singing behaviors. He emphasizes that singing is socially and (p. vii) culturally located, and provides examples from diverse non-literate societies to ensure that we maintain a broad perspective on what counts as singing. The lifespan perspective opens with chapters by Woodward (Chapter 21), Trehub and Gudmundsdottir (Chapter 22), and Barrett (Chapter 23), who provide detailed accounts of the genesis of singing from pre-birth through to early childhood, and of the significance of carers and family in both exposing and nurturing singing development. Harding (Chapter 24) extends this with a more ethnomusicological perspective that compares and contrasts young children’s singing enculturation in two contexts—inner-city London (UK) and rural West Bengal (India)—while noting (as Barrett) the impact of the child’s inner creative world on the ways that they make sense of their exposure to local song repertoire. Welch (Chapter 25) considers singing as a developmental behavior as illustrated in research studies of school-aged children and adolescents. The challenges of adolescence in terms of physical changes in the voice mechanism and their impact on singing behaviors are examined in detail by Williams and Harrison (Chapter 26) for boys, and Gackle (Chapter 27) for girls. Each chapter reveals development trajectories that embrace characteristic phases of voice change and related vocal output. Parkinson (Chapter 28) then considers adult singing and investigates why adults choose to sing in community choirs, the benefits that are reported, and also how such perceptions are impacted by gender. Part 4 closes with Davidson and Murray (Chapter 29), who consider the vocal ecology of the older singer and offer principled advice on how to promote successful singing with this age group; the chapter also acts as a bridge into Part 5 of the Handbook.

Part 5 considers education with a focus on singing pedagogy. The eight chapters combine to embrace an overview of what counts as effective pedagogy when we seek to promote singing in others. Nix (Chapter 30) details the process of building a secure technique and of the need for the teacher to ensure that pedagogy is grounded in the science as well as the art of singing. Relatedly, but with a focus on a perception of singing disability—the “non-singer”—Knight (Chapter 31) reviews the literature for why such attributions exist, despite singing being a species-wide ability, and of how these can be addressed by the use of appropriate pedagogical strategies to provide access to a singing world. Callaghan (Chapter 32) examines the pedagogical requirements at the other end of the development spectrum in the nurturing of the would-be professional singer. The two chapters that follow build on this and examine in more detail how to support the mental preparation of the performer (Thomas, Chapter 33), as well as what might be experienced in the study of singing in a conservatoire context (King and Nix, Chapter 34). Then, Fisher, Kayes, and Popeil (Chapter 35) broaden the pedagogical perspective to non-classical vocal genres under the heading of contemporary commercial music (CCM), which includes pop, rock, jazz, folk, and musical theater singing styles. The authors argue that a knowledge of such genres is essential to ensure that our singing teachers have a pedagogical grounding that is sufficiently broad to meet the needs of the current wide variety of professional and amateur adult singers. Edgerton’s chapter (Chapter 36) explores the demands that the singing repertoire can make on singers and details a theoretical position of how an understanding of modern psychoacoustics can be used to adapt the voice mechanism to be more efficient and effective. In the final chapter of Part 5, Yang, Carter-Ényì, Radhakrishnan, Grimmer, and Nix (Chapter 37) discuss the vocal and pedagogical traditions of Chinese, African, and Indian sung genres, explore these different traditions, and review current trends in vocal pedagogy.

In Part 6, the Handbook’s focus shifts to examine the collective “choral” voice. Geisler and Johansson (Chapter 38) provide an introduction by discussing choirs as musical and (p. viii) societal phenomena. The authors draw on their Scandinavian-based Choir in Focus network to explore the variety of theoretical and disciplinary approaches that have been used to study choral activity. The remaining chapters illustrate this variety, beginning with Hill’s chapter (Chapter 39) on the youth choir, drawing on empirical data collected as part of an interview study with singing teachers of youth choirs, composers, and conductors. She examines each of these perspectives in turn to tease out the distinctive nature of choral activity that characterizes this age group. In contrast, Day (Chapter 40) takes a cultural, historical, and musicological perspective by investigating the development of the so-called English Choral Tradition, a unique English singing style that arose from a particular confluence of socio-cultural and historical events. The next chapter by Durrant and Varvarigou (Chapter 41) provides theoretical and practice perspectives on choral conducting, and implications for the art of choral rehearsal, including gesture and communication. This is followed by Davidson and Faulkner’s study (Chapter 42) of the theoretical links between group singing and social identity, illustrated by three case studies from Iceland and Australia. Then the choral focus shifts to a scientific understanding of how choirs address the challenge of keeping their unaccompanied singing in tune. Howard (Chapter 43) explains through a series of experiments how it is possible to predict likely shifts in pitch during sung performance. Finally, Jansson (Chapter 44) looks at the under-researched area of the conductor and examines the choral singers’ perspective from a more holistic theoretical perspective of what counts as effective choral leadership.

Part 7 offers some examples of the growing research literature on the wider benefits of singing. It opens with Clift and Gilbert’s (Chapter 45) review of the encouraging recent research evidence into how singing is likely to have a beneficial effect on lung function and breathing for people with respiratory illness. This is followed by Davidson and Garrido’s (Chapter 46) evidence-based model of how singing can address our psychological needs through supporting our sense of relatedness, competency, and autonomy, as exampled by research into older people singing in a group context. Theorell (Chapter 47) examines the evidence for what he terms the biology of singing and illustrates the beneficial aspects of singing, such as through changes in endocrine and immunological function. Boyce-Tillman (Chapter 48) explores therapeutic approaches to singing and draws on examples from orate singing traditions to demonstrate how singing can strengthen people physically and emotionally.

Part 8 reports on the importance of technology and its development in the modern era for our understanding of singing. Technology provides core tools that are integral to many of the data-collection approaches that underpin the evidence base for the Handbook. It is fitting, therefore, to make the technology more explicit in the final Part of the Handbook. The opening two chapters by Schutte (Chapter 49, Chapter 50) rehearse scientific and clinical milestones in voice technology over the past two hundred years. He traces the design and development of diverse tools to reveal the nature of our vocal physiology, e.g. related to the structure and function of the larynx. Then, Himonides (Chapter 51) expands this literature to consider the use of modern digital technologies for the recording, archiving, and analysis of singing. It is complemented by Nair, Howard, and Welch’s chapter (Chapter 52) on how voice analyses can be used practically in the voice studio to develop the singing competency of students. The last chapter of the Handbook (Chapter 53) focuses on future perspectives and is divided into seven sections, each of which offers insights into the value of technology to reveal distinctive aspects of the singing voice. Pabon reports on the use of the Voice (p. ix) Range Profile, Howard discusses Hearing Modeling Spectrography and 3D Printed Vocal Tracts, Ternström reviews research into voice synthesis, and his colleagues in Stockholm, led by Askenfelt, discuss their studies of masterclass teaching at a distance. In the final two sections, Kob reports on virtual acoustics and Eckel considers the voice in computer music composition.

In summary, The Oxford Handbook of Singing has been conceived through various research-based disciplinary perspectives and draws from the natural, clinical, and social sciences (including psychology and education) with rich insights from the arts and humanities. Together, these elements combine to provide a holistic understanding of singing’s multifaceted nature and also of its importance in what makes us human.

Bartel, R. & Cooper, C. F. (2015). Singing in Europe. Retrieved from

Chorus America (2009). The Chorus Impact Study. Washington DC: Chorus America.Find this resource:

Skingley, A., Clift, S.M., Coulton, S.P., and Rodriquez, J. (2011). The effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of a participative community singing programme as a health promotion initiative for older people: Protocol for a randomised controlled trial. BMC Public Health 11: 142. Available from: (p. x) Find this resource: