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School of Music

CSML Intelligibility Research

Do you ever listen to songs but can't understand the words?

Have you misheard a lyric from a song?

A number of studies have been conducted in the CSML exploring the intelligibility of vocal music. On average we've found that people mishear one out of every four words they hear sung. However, different styles of music can be better or worse when it comes to intelligibility. We've found that people can understand about 90% of the words they hear when listening to Jazz, Country, and Musical theater. In contrast, when listening to Classical music people mishear as many as half the words!

We've identified several problems that generally lead to poor intelligibilty. One thing is high singing. When singers, especially female singers, sing really high it becomes really difficult to understand what they are saying. Another thing that throws people off a lot is using archaic or unusual vocabulary: if you write a song and use the word 'thou' people will probably mishear you! Use 'the' instead if you want to be understood.

Harmony and Intelligibiltiy, at COSI

Thanks to participants volunteering at the COSI museum in Columbus, we've been gathering data on how the number of singers changes the intelligibility of singers. Are choirs harder to understand than single singers? Are four singers better than eight singers? These are the questions we're seeking to answer. Results will be posted my July 2014.