Choral director introduces new software

Overtone Analyzer measures singers sound and pitch

Thomas Southall

It’s magical just to pop in headphones and listen to a very good singer like Adele. How does she do it? Better yet, can anyone make their voice sound like molten gold perfection? It’s just a matter of vibrating your vocal chords, right? Much like any form of art, it’s not that simple.  There is a group of students on campus who train constantly to improve their sound and to showcase their talent and one professor has found something that will help them go above and beyond with their singing skills.

Mark Konewko, the director of Marquette Choral Program, came across a software program at the American Choral Director Association Convention last spring. A master class provided at this convention taught students the techniques of singing while using a certain audio software to develop the singer’s formant.

A formant, which is about 2,000 to 3,000 hertz, is a more subtle aspect to vocal production that relates to the frequency component and how the sound of a voice is distributed over several frequencies.

“Most people don’t think you can hear, but it really develops the quality of the sound of the singer,” Konewko said.

The software is called Overtone Analyzer, a computer program developed by a Berlin-based company called Sygyt. The software was designed to visualize, measure and record vocals.

“(Formant is) another way of addressing tone quality in choir. The software shows a visual representation of the (formant),” Konewko said.

Brynn Lee, the president of the Marquette Chorus and a junior in the College of Communication, recounts the time when she and her choral mates first encountered the software and its purpose.

“Dr. Konewko sang into it himself and while he played back the recording, he explained the phenomenon of overtones and fundamentals,” Lee said. “Then he recorded us singing a song and showed us where are problem areas were, when our vowel sounds are not pure, the fundamental is not as strong. He then had each vocal section sing one at a time to see where our weaknesses and strengths were.”

According to Konewko, students have been responding well to the software program. Overtone Analyzer really opened the eyes of the chorus members.

“Something that I learned from this software is that whichever pitch we hear is not just one pitch,” said Sawson Shimi, external communications Chair for the choral group and a sophomore in the College of Nursing. “It’s actually a combination of different harmonics to produce one sound that the human ear can hear. I found this absolutely amazing!”

The interface Overtone Analyzer uses is very colorful. To the right of the screen is an upright piano. When a sound is recorded, different colors appear lining up with the notes on the piano. Zooming in to each note can show how flat and how sharp the note was produced. But the software can display other data as well.

Both students and teacher are really appreciating the application and the impact it will have on their singing quality and they are looking forward of its use in the future.

“It’s like inspecting each and every brick before building a house to make sure it will work,” Shimi said.  “It’s a software that will break down into every detail of our voices and pitches as a group in order to make sure the overall sound is the best it can be.”