February 1, 2006 Keeping a beat or staying on-key can be acquired skills. Software engineers have designed a new software package to make that easier, turning your computer into a singing teacher. The system plots the sound waves produced by your vocal cords, allowing you to adjust them to the desired pitch in real time. The system is also being used to treat speech impediments and to help kids learn how to read.
TAMPA, Fla.--Want to learn to sing? Now, your computer can coach you to carry a tune.
Ashley West is learning to sing and her vocal coach is a computer program called Singing Coach.
Chief technology officer Ken Spiegel works behind the scenes with this new Singing Coach software. Spiegel, Vice President and General Manager of Electronic Learning Products, Inc. in Tampa, Fla., says: "Your vocal chords vibrate. They create a pitch and frequency that's measured by the computer." It's plotted in real-time on a graph and the goal is to stay in the blue box.
"It's great to see the box and visually stay in it," West says.
This software is not just about singing; it's also being used in schools to help kids improve their reading. A study revealed students who used the Singing Coach program for nine weeks improve their reading one to three grade levels. Susan Homan, a professor of literacy at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Fla., and study author, says, "I have never seen that kind of growth in such a short period of time."
Bekah Bychowski went up two grade levels in her reading skills. "I wasn't stuttering when I was reading books out loud in class."
The singing coach software is now being used in seven schools with kids from fourth grade to high school. There are three versions of the software including kids, family and a professional version. The cost ranges from $30 to $100.
BACKGROUND: Singing Coach software teaches how to sing or improve singing ability, and may even help children with cochlear implants improve their speaking skills.
HOW IT WORKS: The software includes a vocal range analyzer and a pitch tracking line that gives real-time feedback on singers' performances as they sing. This enables them to hear, note for note, exactly where their pitch, rhythm and tempo need to be corrected. The software is easy to install and requires no previous musical training or experience to use. It comes with 20 singing lessons and a high-fidelity headset with a built-in microphone for hands-free singing. At the end of each performance, the software "scores" the singer. Once a skill is mastered, the program graduates the singer to the next level. A more advanced version, Singing Coach Unlimited, offers access to more than 10,000 songs and also allows singers to compose their own songs, and compete with friends to see who can get the highest score.
WHAT IS PITCH: Sound waves are pressure waves. A vibrating object creates a disturbance in the surrounding air, much like a stone cast in a quiet pond will cause waves to ripple outward from the spot where the stone hit. All sound waves have wavelength and frequency. Objects that vibrate very quickly create short wavelengths and a high-pitched sound. Objects that vibrate very slowly create long wavelengths and a low-pitched sound. Frequency measures the speed of vibration in a unit called a Hertz (Hz), and 1 Hz is equivalent to 1 vibration per second. Pluck a string on a guitar, and it might vibrate 500 times per second, so the sound wave's frequency would be 500 Hertz. Pitch simply denotes those frequencies within the range of human hearing (from about 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz). The faster the rate of vibration, the higher the pitch; the slower the rate of vibration, the lower the pitch.
PITCH PERFECT: Perfect, or absolute, pitch includes two separate skills: the ability to name a musical tone once it is heard, and the ability to sing a named tone on command. It is sometimes confused with relative pitch: the ability to sing or play accurately given a starting note.
WHERE TO FIND IT: Singing Coach retails for $49.95; the Unlimited version retails for $99.95. Both are Windows-compatible and available at CompUSA, Fry's Electronics, J&R Music World, selected Target Stores, or by calling 1-888-378-5050. More information can be found online at www.carryatune.com.
Editor's Note: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.