Music Theory
Arranging
Ethnomusicology
Acoustic Composition
1 of 2

How can you hear the differences in these timbral expectations?

Let’s start by reviewing the steps outlined in the previous topic:

  1. Identify the elements, if any, that don’t match with your timbral expectations.
  2. Focus on these new timbres and sounds, let them become familiar.
  3. Listen for how these timbres work together to create the timbral signature for this style.

That seems easy enough in the abstract, but let’s practice with a few examples. Here’s a recording of a funerary chant sung in Burkina Faso.

Burkina Faso is a landlocked country in West Africa that is bordered by Mali, Niger, Benin, Togo and Ghana, and the Ivory Coast.

Here’s a step by step example of how you can implement our listening guide:

  1. Identify the elements, if any, that don’t match with your timbral expectations.
    • The percussive bell sound is a little shrill/piercing
    • The vocal performance is very different sounding than popular and classical vocal technique, it’s not shouting, but the technique sounds more nasally and covered.
  2. Focus on these new timbres and sounds, let them become familiar.
    • Upon closer listen, there are some drums in addition to the bell, and the singing alternates between two vocalists and group singing.
  3. Listen for how these timbres work together to create the timbral signature for this style.
    • The vocal performance of the secondary line is lower in pitch and is in a register of the performers voice that sounds almost like chanting or perhaps mumbling.
    • The group singing is harmonized and is serving as a response to the calls of the duet.
    • The percussion is slightly polyrhythmic and provides a steady structure that supports the music.

That was fun! Let’s do it again.

This is a recording of the Eagle Song of the Hopi Indians in Arizona from 1906.
  1. Identify the elements, if any, that don’t match with your timbral expectations.
    • The recording quality is pretty low, but that’s to be expected with older recordings
    • The singing sounds shaky, there is a notable use of glissandi between notes.
    • The drum is playing a constant rhythm, but the accents aren’t always predictable.
  2. Focus on these new timbres and sounds, let them become familiar.
    • There is some alteration between individual and group singing.
    • Some of the glissandi in the vocals is more of a very wide vibrato than a vocal trill
    • The drum seems to serve as a time keeper for the group.
    • All of the vocalists appear to be male
  3. Listen for how these timbres work together to create the timbral signature for this style.
    • The vocal vibrato widens as the notes are higher and creates a more intense sound.
    • The drum accents appear to serve as a cue of some sort to differentiate between individual and group singing.