Singing & Choirs

Training in the use of natural temper requires attention to specifics that can be subsumed under five headings:

  1. Notation.
  2. Pitching intervals.
  3. Vocal training.
  4. Repertoire.
  5. Psychic aspects.

The first major difference is that there are eight notes per octave in the natural scale versus seven in the modern equal-tempered (ET) scale. This requires a name for the new note, but it is best to consider the sixteen-note chromatic scale formed by the Fifth Octave of the Natural Harmonic Sequence in reassigning nomenclature.

The five "black notes" of the modern keyboard are enharmonic accidentals of the C Major scale - that is, each has two names. In the ET scale, the names A# and Bb refer to the same note, as do C# and Db, D# and Eb, F# and Gb, and G# and Ab. In other scales this is not always true, and is a source of confusion for students of early music.

The sixteen notes of the Fifth Octave of the Natural Harmonic Sequence can serve as a chromatic scale, replacing the twelve notes of the ET scale. The eight notes of the Fourth Octave can serve as a diatonic scale, replacing the seven of the ET scale. Table 1 shows a recommended nomenclature to accomodate this change. Because the Perfect Fourth is an important interval that composers may wish to retain, it is suggested that the letter F be used to designate it in the key of C. The even harmonics then form the diatonic scale, with the note F being an anomaly that may or may not be present in any given composition. The solmization name SE is given to the additional eighth note of the natural scale as a logical derivation from the existing names.

When singing or playing the natural scale, this additional note will result in changes of rhythm that take some getting used to, but which soon seem quite normal.

Equal temperNatural temper

Pitching Intervals
The intervals of the natural scale not only differ from those in the equal-tempered scale, they differ from each other, as shown in Table 2. The intervals between semitones in the ET scale are all identical, and the usual approach is therefore to acquire familiarity with semitones, and with tones formed from double-semitone intervals.

When working with the natural scale, the technique advocated by Kodaly is strongly recommended (see "Let us sing correctly" in the Book List. Here are some useful excepts:

"Most singing teachers and chorus masters believe in controlling the pitch of the voices by the piano. But singing depends on the acoustically correct 'natural' intervals, and not on the tempered system. ... The beginner's first steps in the endless realm of notes should be supported not by any instrument of tempered tuning and dissimilar tone-colour, but by another voice. ... In fact, those who always sing in unison never learn to sing in correct pitch. ...The 'C-major-scale-method' is the enemy of correct singing. Every interval must be memorized separately ... not fitted together as the steps of a scale. Those who try to sing the larger intervals by climbing up the scale will find them but slowly and vaguely. The scale will sound correct only when its 'pillars' are established in advance, and these 'pillars' are the notes of the Pentatonic Scale: C-D-E-G-A."

The book contains a series of exercizes to implement these essential recommendations, and the exercizes can easily be adapted to the natural scale.

Vocal training
Standard techniques of vocal training can be applied when working with the natural scale, but some additional considerations may be useful. The accepted metrical measure today is the crochet, a note usually assigned a single beat. The minim then has two beats and the semibreve four. What is seldom known today is that medieval music made use of even longer notes, the breve (Italian for 'brief'), the long and the large. Two semibreves made a breve, two or three breves a long, and two or three longs a large. From this can be seen how different was the character of much of the music of earlier times. Because singing was used as a form of prayer and meditation, as still can be done today, it is often desirable to sing far more slowly and with far more attention to each instant of time than is the case in most modern music. it is often thought that meditation consists in allowing the mind to drift into pleasant reveries, when in fact the reverse is the case. Martial arts are another and most effective form of meditation, the aim being to maintain a mental state of alert concentration and detatchment in which every flow and nuance of movement is consciously and deliberately observed by the awakened mind. So, too, with slow, accurate singing; the mind must be maintained continually alert in order not to drift off-note, and to move fluidly and precisely between notes, with an accuracy of pitch and intonation seldom found in modern singing.

The above considerations emphasize the importance of breath control and economy. In order to sing notes that are long sustained, deep breaths must be taken and the air used with maximum economy in order to 'last the distance'. Those acquainted with yoga and similar disciplines will understand the value of deep breathing and the concomitant bodily control that is developed.

Because the natural scale has never been used before, it has no associated repertoire. However, many traditional tunes and choruses can be adapted to it, and this is perhaps the best approach to its use, especially if those so chosen are familiar. If the words and original melody of a song are well-known to choristers, they can focus their attention on the new intervals required by the new scale without being troubled by unfamiliar words and progressions. The exercizes of Kodaly mentioned above can serve as the basis for simple, original compositions as familiarity with the new scale develops.

It is also worth noting here something of considerable psychological interest. During their private practice, singers and musicians often try to understand just what it is that attracts them to a particular phrase or snippet of melody. One often finds that these arouse peculiarly intense and poignant emotions, and equally often that this is only temporary - some weeks later, the same phrase or snippet may seem mundane, even trite, and it takes a recognizable effort of an an indescribable type to reawaken such responses. A reading of early literature will encounter similar observations by choristers of old, but often with a notable peculiarity - that whereas we today usually find such responses to multinote melodies and complex chording, those earlier singers often did so to very simple musical structures. An old manuscript may record a monk's fascination with a cadence, an interval, or a single chord, and this was undoubtedly due to a more detailed focussing of attention on the basic elements of a song or harmony, where we today tend to gloss over the elements in favour of their flow. This difference can serve as a useful focus of attention for choristers in understanding the psychological effects of their music and in perfecting their techniques.

Psychic aspects
Finally, because a principal reason for adopting the natural scale is to investigate its psychological and psychic consequences, choristers can benefit from learning more about the psychic makeup of the human mechanism. The page describing the experiment proposed by the teK Project contains more information about this.