Grady, M. L., & Gilliam, T. M. (2020). Effects of three common choral performance movement conditions on acoustic and perceptual measures of choral sound. Journal of Research in Music Education, 68(3), 286-304.
What did the researchers want to know?
How does singer movement affect choral sound and perceptions of choral sound?
What did the researchers do?
Grady and Gilliam audio-recorded a non-auditioned, mixed-voice university choir performing a 16-measure excerpt (Klebanow’s arrangement of “Erev Shel Shoshanim”) under three conditions: standing still, slight swaying (up to 2 inches in any direction), and full-body swaying (“natural swaying that could exceed 2 in. in any direction and include a shifting of weight between feet” (p. 290)). Two weeks later the singers were invited to participate as “singer-listeners,” which 19 of the 29 choir members agreed to do. In addition, the researchers invited 16 “expert listeners” with graduate degrees in music education or choral conducting and experience in choral teaching/conducting to participate. The singer-listeners and expert listeners were asked to rate the overall choral sound and expressiveness of each of the three audio recordings (heard in random order and blinded to condition) and to rank them in order of preference. In addition, the researchers acoustically analyzed the sound of each recording for timbre (“spectral energy”) and pitch.
Acoustical analysis showed significant differences in spectral energy between all three conditions, with full-body swaying showing a the highest mean and no movement showing the lowest. Acoustical analysis also showed that the slight sway condition resulted in the smallest overall pitch deviation, with no movement resulting in the largest overall pitch deviation.
In terms of singer-listeners’ perception of overall choral sound, the average rating was lowest for the no-movement performance and highest for the full-body swaying performance. Although the lowest average rating from expert listeners was also for the no-movement performance, expert listeners rated the slight-swaying performance as having the best choral sound. When rating expressiveness, expert listeners gave the highest average rating to the full-body swaying performance and lowest to the no-movement performance. Singer-listeners also gave the lowest average rating to the no-movement performance but the highest rating to the slight-swaying performance. However, the only statistically significant difference was between expert listeners’ ratings of overall choral sound for slight swaying versus no movement.
When asked to rank the three recordings in order of preference, singer-listeners most preferred the full-body-swaying performance while expert listeners preferred the slight-swaying recording. Both groups ranked the no-movement performance as least preferred.
What does this mean for my classroom?
Many music educators require their students to stand still while singing because they believe this makes the choir’s performance more visually appealing. However, the results of this study indicate that requiring students to stand still can be detrimental to their pitch, expressiveness and overall choral sound. The researchers also asked the singers to comment on their experiences in each of the three conditions, and the singers remarked “that the full-body swaying helped them feel ‘more free’ and ‘breathe easier’ and that ‘anxiety/tension was reduced’” while they “were ‘stiff’ and ‘tight’ during the no-movement condition, with a ‘tendency to hold and clutch’” (p. 299). Teachers might reconsider the requirement that students stand still while singing and experiment to see whether and what kinds of movement might have the best effect on singers’ sound and experience of singing.
McCabe (2006) found benefits of movement for beginning instrumentalists.