Mariah Carey does not squeak |

Wednesday 19 June 2024

Mariah Carey does not squeak

Singers such as Mariah Carey have long been accused of "whistling" to hit seemingly impossible high notes. It had been thought that to get the highest notes singers adopt style of singing similar to the way mice and rats make their high-pitched squeaks. In normal singing, the vocal folds in the voicebox vibrate to make the sound - but in rodents they are held still to create a pipe-like shape that makes the whistle.

But now, new research into opera singers suggest that even though high treble notes sound like whistling - and are even known as "the whistle register" - the sopranos are singing in a conventional way.

Professors Christian T Herbst of the University of Vienna and Matthias Echternach from the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich found that the high-frequency sounds of operatic sopranos are produced with the same principle to speech and most other forms of singing.

And they say, although they have not studied her in person, it's probably the same for shrill pop singers such as Mariah Carey too, whose pitch is among the highest known in pop music.

The study, in the journal Scientific Reports, looked at nine professional operatic sopranos were asked in a laboratory and put an endoscope - a thin tube with a video camera on the end - down their nose while they sang the G6 note. The research showed that, depending on the sung pitch, the vocal folds in the throat vibrate and collide 1,000 to 1,600 times per second - depending on the required sound's frequency.

This is "in stark contrast" to the alleged (but now refuted) "whistle" mechanism, which would have "required for the vocal folds to be immobile during voice production", the authors say. They add that the "default" mechanism of voice production in humans and most mammals also applies to the upper pitch ranges of operatic singing.

Frequency is the number of times per second that a sound wave repeats itself. Low frequency sounds are at the lower limit ofnormal human hearing. Those that are audible are low-pitched hums or drones produced by everything from factories, machinery and transport to household items such as fridges and boilers.

At a low enough frequency, sound can only be felt and not heard at all. High frequency sounds are high-pitched noises such as ringing and whistling. Frequency is sometimes referred to as pitch, although there is a slight difference between the two. Frequency refers to the physical waveform, while pitch refers to how high or low noise sounds to our ears.

However, the authors, using a computer model to simulate the highest pitches, found that singers can only produce their highest frequencies with a greatly increased tension in the vocal folds, supported by high expiratory air pressures. The authors write "the commonly used term 'whistle register' does not reflect the physical principle of a whistle with regard to voice generation in high pitched classical singing".

Professor Herbst added: "This finally debunks a long-standing myth," adding, "it is remarkable that such extreme sounds can be produced with a rather common voice production mechanism - this is only possible with outstanding muscular fine-control of the singers' vocal instrument."

Lead author Matthias Echternach added that it is still not clear why only some sopranos can get to the highest frequency notes. He said: "It is truly amazing how some female singers can generate the extremely high tensions in their vocal folds that are required to produce these high-pitched sounds without incurring any vocal health issues. Why some singers succeed while others don't must remain open for now."

He added that while he had not studied Mariah Carey - who can hit notes even higher than G6 - he thought it "unlikely" that she would be different to the opera singers. He had studied Georgia Brown, the Brazilian singer who is in the Guinness Book of Records as having the world's highest singing voice.

He said: "What we can say, is that at least up to these extreme pitches of G6 classical singers do not exhibit a whistle mechanism. For higher pitches, like Georgia Brown or Carey we cannot exclude such a whistle. However, even here, it appears rather unlikely because of the rather strong energy of overtones. We tried to analyse Georgia Brown some years ago: Up to pitches of A6 it was also oscillation and no whistle. Unfortunately, she was not able to sing higher pitches with an endoscope in her throat."

(Daily Mail)

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