Classical singers judged by actions not voice

20 August 2013, 10:22

Never mind the quality of the singer's voice, audiences judge performances on what they see rather than what they hear, according to a new study.

When it comes to classical singing, actions are louder than words; a new study suggests audiences judge performances according to a singer's stage presence, rather than their voice.

Dr Chia-Jung Tsay of University College London gave 886 volunteers recordings of top three performances in international singing competitions, measuring their responses to video-only recordings, audio-only recordings, and recordings with both sound and pictures. Passion, drama, and emotion - some of the key aspects of a successful performance - were more easily picked up in a singer's facial expressions and actions than their voice.

The participants held a wide range of musical abilities, from musical novices to professional performers. Only 20.5% correctly identified the competition winners from their voices alone, compared with 46.6% who guessed correctly based on silent videos.

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the results highlight our natural dependence on visual cues, and how visual information has a powerful effect on our day-to-day lives.

Dr Tsay said: “It’s unsettling to find – and for musicians not to know – that they themselves relegate the sound of music to the role of noise.”