The Affect of Piano Accompaniment on Pre-Adolescents' Pitch Accuracy During a Vocal Warm-Up

April 10, 2012 / By: Darcy A. Morrissey

The intent of this investigation was to examine pre-adolescents’ pitch accuracy during a vocal warm-up and the affect of piano accompaniment on the students’ pitch accuracy. The sub-problem of this thesis was: When learning a new vocal warm-up, would students match pitch more accurately if they learned: from an a cappella voice model; with a voice model singing the melody with piano harmonizations; or with a voice model singing the melody with piano harmonizations in James Jordan’s warm-up method? 

A vocalise on the syllable “mah” on the notes 8-5-3-1-3-5-8-5-3-1, modulating up by a half-steps six times at 120 mm was selected from the Northwest American Choral Directors Association Middle School Honor Choir audition requirements.  Data were collected in two separate recording sessions with fourth- to seventh-grade females from Amabile—an auditioned training choir within Northwest Girlchoir located in Seattle, and Bellevue, Washington.  The recording sessions followed four consecutive rehearsals in which subjects were divided into three groups. These groups sang together with their designated recording where they learned and practiced the same warm-up in their designated warm-up method: Group 1: Gordon/Jordan/Schenenberger intonation and piano harmonization with vocal model; Group 2: vocal model and piano harmonization; Group 3: a cappella vocal model). On the fifth rehearsal, the subjects sang the learned exercise a cappella as a solo for the recording.

The resulting singing samples were scored on a five-point scale, by three experienced children’s choir conductors.

Results of this study suggest that the most commonly employed method of warming up a choir—playing basic harmonizations underneath the choir’s singing warm-ups—is the least effective method for pre-adolescent females to attain accurate pitch accuracy.  The data also indicates that accompaniment techniques must be carefully considered, since the Jordan method of undulating dominant and tonic notes at higher frequencies produced better pitch accuracy than the basic piano harmonization accompaniment.  Finally, a cappella warm-ups yielded the highest pitch accuracy scores, therefore choral conductors should consider this result when forming their warm-up plans for rehearsal, particularly if pitch accuracy is a high priority to the conductor and/or the choral ensemble has faulty pitch accuracy.