The Effects of Singer Head Position on Listener Preferences and Perceptions of Vocal Timbre


  • Amelia A. Rollings Western Kentucky University


Some vocal pedagogy textbooks encourage singers to keep the head level with the ground (e.g., McKinney, 1994; Miller, 2004). However, other vocal pedagogy texts and articles recommend singers employ a slightly lowered head position (Davids & LaTour, 2012) or a slightly elevated head position (e.g., Austin, 2013). The purpose of this study was to determine the effect, if any, of 3 extreme alterations in the head position (lowered, neutral, elevated) of a classical female singer on long-term average spectra (LTAS) data and listener (N = 30) preferences and perceptions of vocal timbre. A singer participant performed a portion of an aria 2 times in each of the 3 different focal point conditions that required her to adjust her head position. Listener participants compared 14 pairs of recordings and completed a questionnaire that asked them to select the amount of difference they perceived in vocal timbre between the two recordings in each set and to select the recording they most preferred.
Primary results indicated that (a) when the singer performed in an elevated head position, LTAS relative mean signal amplitude increased, and when the singer performed in a lowered head position, LTAS relative mean signal amplitude decreased with individual harmonic amplitude differences ranging from 0.51-4.18 dB; (b) listeners most often heard “a little difference” when comparing recordings of the singer performing her aria in different head positions, but some listeners erroneously heard a difference in two sets that compared the same recording; (c) listeners most preferred the vocal timbre of the singer in the first performance of the neutral head position condition (neutral 1) followed by neutral 2 and lowered 2, elevated 2, lowered 1, and elevated 1; and (d) listener preferences appeared to follow LTAS relative mean signal amplitude as listeners preferred the recording with the midmost relative mean signal amplitude compared to those recordings with the highest and lowest relative mean signal amplitudes.

Author Biography

Amelia A. Rollings, Western Kentucky University

Amelia Rollings holds a Ph.D. in Vocal Pedagogy from The University of Kansas and a M.M. in Voice Performance and Pedagogy from The Pennsylvania State University. Operatic and oratorio roles include the soprano soloist in Verdi’s Requiem, Third Norn in Wagner’s Götterdämmerung, Lady Billows in Britten’s Albert Herring, Magda Sorel in Menotti’s The Consul, and Witch in Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel. Musical theatre roles include Pirelli in Sweeney Todd, Bellomy in The Fantasticks, and Saraghina in Yeston’s Nine (with the Intermezzo Foundation in Brugge, Belgium).

An active researcher in vocal pedagogy, she has presented her research in such refereed venues as The Voice Foundation Symposium, The International Phenomenon of Singing Symposium, The Singing Network, The Pan-American Vocology Association Symposium, The Fall Voice Conference, and The Ohio State Voice Forum. Her primary research interests include musical theatre and contemporary commercial music (CCM) vocal pedagogy, group voice teaching, historical voice teacher certification and education, and the effects of shoe heel heights, head position, jaw opening and other aspects of body alignment on acoustic and perceptual measures of singing efficiency. Her most recent publication on the effects of high-heeled shoes can be found in the Journal of Voice, the world’s premiere peer-reviewed voice medicine and research journal ( 

Dr. Rollings maintains an active voice studio and teaches both individual and group voice lessons in a variety of vocal styles. Dr. Rollings also completed a voice practicum experience focused on the habilitation and rehabilitation of the singing voice through the University of Kansas Medical Center, under the supervision of laryngologist, Dr. J. David Garnett. Dr. Rollings regularly works with singers recovering from vocal fold pathologies. Dr. Rollings teaches workshops and master classes across the country and maintains active voice studios in Kentucky, South Carolina, Kansas, NYC, and online via Zoom. 

Dr. Rollings is a member of the Musical Theatre Educators’ Alliance, the Pan-American Vocology Association, and the National Association of Teachers of Singing. She currently serves on the PAVA Credentialing/Specialization Committee and serves as chair of the PAVA Feasibility Sub-Committee.