Experiments with Choirs – Practice and Pitfalls

Seaton, Richard; Sharp, D.; Jones, A. and Pim, D. N. (2016). Experiments with Choirs – Practice and Pitfalls. In: Proceedings of the Institute of Acoustics, Institute of Acoustics, St. Albans, pp. 362–373.


This paper presents work in progress with choirs in their normal rehearsal venues to discover why they do not maintain pitch regularly when singing a cappella music.

Following an extensive survey of choral practitioners which gathered evidence of pitch drift in a cappella choral singing, a series of experiments was undertaken with amateur choirs around the United Kingdom. For each choir, data was collected over twenty rehearsals by a member of the choir using equipment supplied by the Open University. The data collected included recordings of a specially composed work, acoustic and environmental measurements, singers' attendance and a summary of each rehearsal by the conductor. In addition, singers were asked to take part in a listening test which measured their ability to discriminate pitch differences between two notes.

Preliminary findings shown that pitch drift varies from week to week, and the drift is in the flat direction despite the singers who responded to the survey being able to better discriminate small pitch differences in the flat direction than the sharp.

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