Science lesson: How singers make themselves heard above a huge orchestra

Science lesson: How singers make themselves heard above a huge orchestra


norman lebrecht

July 08, 2016

From an Australian study in Scientific American:

Although singers can generate very loud sounds, how can they compete with a large and enthusiastic symphony orchestra?

One strategy is to maximize their sound output at frequencies above 2,000 Hz. This is because an orchestra is typically loudest around 500 Hz, with the sound level dropping off quickly at higher frequencies. Furthermore, the ear is most sensitive around 3,000 to 4,000 Hz. To this end, singers often modify the resonances of their tract to produce a characteristic “vocal ring” that considerably boosts the sound output in this frequency range. This is of more value to lower pitched voices than to sopranos.

Ah, but how? Read on here.


joan sutherland norma


  • David Boxwell says:

    Waltraud Meier says she visulaizes a long string from her throat to the back of the hall and produces sound accordingly. Which is awesome!

  • Neil van der Linden says:

    Of course some of the best composers writing for voice and large orchestra, like Wagner, Mahler and Richard Strauss, knew how to play with the fortes and mezzofortes coming from the orchestra at the right moment. Which made the Tristan and the Götterdämmerung doable, while Salome is even suitable for a lyrical soprano.

  • Esther Roth says:

    Very Interesting..I have sung with chamber orchestras..I did sing with a full orchestra once and I am told that my High C did worked’s quite nicely…I was in my early 20’s at the time….I am 84 now still singing as my voice teacher said I would…No more high C’s….

    • MWnyc says:

      Licia Albanese still had her highest notes far into her 90s. She said they were the only notes she had left.

  • Sue says:

    This man knows how to make it possible!! Watch and learn:

  • Robert Hairgrove says:

    “How singers make themselves heard above a huge orchestra?”

    In addition to learning how to project, it helps tremendously to have a good conductor who can keep the “huge orchestra” down in volume until it is needed.

  • MWnyc says:

    Unfortunately, all too many singers make themselves heard over or through an orchestra by singing off-pitch.

  • Derek Williams says:

    The skill of the orchestrator is paramount.