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Speech consists of three main types of sound :

vowels where the mouth is more or less open e.g. i e a o u

plosives where the air is blocked and suddenly released e.g. p t d k

and fricatives where air is forced through an narrow gap creating noise

 e.g. sh ss f

This audio track uses fricatives only  but with the noise more deliberately tuned than in normal speech. The Islington Noise Choir are here performing a well known Christmas Carol which has four phrases each produced by a different noise gap ascending the vocal tract.

The first phrase uses noise from the epiglottis (which we use for whispering)

The second phrase uses noise created by the back of the tongue such as the German/Scottish ch in ich and loch.

The third phrase uses noise from the front of the tongue sh

The fourth phrase uses noise created by the lips- a breathy whistle.

Click on the diagram to hear the performance


This next recording was made at a recent rehearsal where the Islington Noise Choir were branching into the symphonic repertoire. As in the previous piece each phrase is produced in a different way: whispering, German/Scottish ch, sh, th, f and finally a breathy whistle. They were joined by a new member who provided a bass sound by tuning the noise of a rolled r made the flapping tip of the tongue.

Click on the picture below to hear their rehearsal.


To find the harmonic series on piano and guitar click here

To hear the harmonics series brought into focus by virtuoso overtone singer Anne-Marie Hefele click here

To read about the mathematics of the vibrating string click here

The skill of whistling is very similar to tuning the resonance of the voice to make vowels. When we speak we control voice pitch and resonance independently. Some singers refine this independence by whistling and singing two different melodic lines simultaneously. Click here to hear this extraordinary skill demonstrated in this extract from The Whistling Woman BBC Radio 4 broadcast on the 23 February  2013

Both speech and singing are elaborations of our innate emotional and contact calls. An essay Cry, Speak, Sing, Whistle discusses the similarities and differences between these elaborations and considers their role in society. Click on the title to read or download (CC0).