Off-Beat Phrasing and the Interpretation of the Singer’s Tone of Voice

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Both music and lyrics are thought to affect the emotional meaning of a song, but to date it is not exactly clear how and to what extent music does so. Possibly, timing is an important factor. Both singers and composers often create off-beat onsets of important linguistic events, such as the first stressed syllable in a phrase (henceforward: phrase onset). However, off-beat events are more difficult to process, which is hypothesized to cause a foregrounding effect, which would affect the interpretation of the singer’s state of mind, his or her intentions, and the meaning of the words. An online listening experiment was created to test this hypothesis. Thirty participants listened to 27 piano-accompanied sung sentences, consisting of five or six syllables, some of them statements, some of them questions, imperatives, or incomplete sentences. In nine of them the phrase-onset was on-beat, in 9 it was early and in the remaining 9 it was late. After each sentence participants rated 10 items concerning the way words, music and singer are perceived. Three factors emerged from a factor analysis on these ratings. Regressions on these factors show that they are hardly affected by timing. Surprisingly, also sentence type did just marginally affect one factor. This indicates that music is more important in communicating aspects of meaning such as sincerity, self-security or compellingness.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of ICMPC15/ESCOM10
EditorsR Parncutt, S Sattmann
Place of PublicationGrax
PublisherCentre for Systematic Musicology, University of Graz, Austria
Number of pages6
Publication statusPublished - 2018


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