Singing in Unison

(Last Updated On: February 27, 2021)

The term unison has been used in all aspects of human endeavor. In the musical realm, the usage of unison terms is slightly different and contextual. And we must also bring into cognizance the fact that unison is not the same with harmony. Furthermore, to operationalize these, it would be essential to understand the term from its fundamental level in music. Unison in this context would refer to the sameness of different pitches. 

Harmony, from the other side of the fence, is related to when there are dissimilarities between the pitches, it is the distinct notes that can sound good while combined. This definition excludes octaves that are essentially neither in unison nor harmonious. To have a better idea of this, it would be better to say that pitches in harmony vibrate at different or fragmental rates in comparison to one another, while pitches in unison are known to vibrate at the same rates.

The creation of musical pitch is traceable to the regular vibration of the air. For young people within the range of 20-20,000 cycles per second, it is possible for someone to hear the vibration of that pitch without the issue of hearing impairment. The musical pitch frequencies, however, differ in the sense that it is narrower in scope, ranging between 25-4200 Hertz. 

At the apex level of this range is the manifestation of overtones that energize the sounds to project its tuner character or timbre. Against this background, therefore, we shall be looking at the definitions of unison proper from the musical context. We shall also see the difference between singing in harmony and singing in unison, and the unison singing techniques that you need to learn would be properly demystified.

What is Unison in Music?

From the musical context, the definition of unison cut across the different aspects of music. Unison in musical parlance would mean two or more musical parts that sound the same pitch or sounds within an octave interval, mostly at the same time. 

The dimension of unison in orchestral music would be the playing of either a note or different notes at the same time, which form a melody by various musical instruments, which could either be at the different octave or the same pitch. For instance, if a cello player and a double bass are playing either at the different octave or same pitch, it is called unison. 

To paint a more precise scenario on the orchestra environment, the string players play in unison in a string musical section, where the violin players are divided into two groups in order to perform a passage, let’s say that contains a full chord. The first group can be further divided into groups of two, which are inside and outside players.

While in the first group of sub-group, one violin player may be the inside player, most likely closer to the audience can be playing the top note of the chord. While the other subgroup in group one of the violin player would be playing the middle note, and the second group may play the bottom note. As soon as these violins cease playing on a different note, then there might be an indication of unison.

However, in singing, unison can be referred to as a situation whereby two or more people are involved in singing, and the singing is said to be on the same note. In the case, whereby there is a musical accomplishment of the song being sung, to achieve unison, it means the instrumentalist(s) or instrumental accomplishment is expected to be on the same note with the singers. In essence, if a singer refused to sing accordingly, then we would say that the concept of unison has been defeated in that context.

Moreover, from the above-painted scenario, once could deduce that to sing in unison is to say several people sing either in tandem or sing simultaneously. This could also be synonymous with a univocal way of singing. There are different aspects of unison, as mentioned earlier in this piece. If in any musical performance, the notes that were sang were in tandem or unison, then such music is called monophonic. 

Furthermore, in a case whereby two voices or beyond sing different notes, it is called part singing. And in the case whereby the singing notes are from different pitches, but having the same rhythm, this could be called homophony. And if the case is that, each of the singers is singing from different lines, regardless of the timing of the melodies, such is called polyphony.


Difference Between Singing in Harmony and Singing in Unison

From the foregoing, you must have been able to have a hint of what differentiates singing in harmony from singing in unison. Melody and octave are two of the musical terms that distinguish unison from harmony.

Exploring the differences that are embedded in the two is to paint a fictional picture of having a plate of rice without anything and another plate of rice where was have it garnished by vegetables, fruits, and assorted drinks, all served on a sit. Unison would be likened to the first analogy with nothing but a plate of rice, and the latter refers to where you have different combo forming the meal.

Bringing this to a more practical sense, try to relate with your church songbook, where you will found out that while singing a song from the book, the whole church sing on one note, that is in unison. You will further discover that the songs are rendered in one united sound. You might also need to observe that; there is variation in the octave in which the male and female sing while singing from the church songbook, but, they are all singing on the same note. In another way round, you can also think of that your favorite song and feel of the melody as what propelled you to love the song. Most of the time, songs are being arranged using the top voice, mostly referred to as soprano, which also has the tendency to change, which contains the melody. 

The melody part of those songs you sing is the portion of those songs with no accomplishment of anything. But, also notice that from your favorite song, those parts that come with the melody are called the harmony parts. The harmony parts could bass or alto or both. There are three main harmony parts, and the genesis of this typology is traced to the compound s of harmony (chords) is connected to three notes, and this consequentially births the word triad while talking about harmony. Hence, it would not be wrong to say; harmony is depth and richness embellished. However, singing of melody and the ability to sing one’s mind out bring about strength and direction.


Techniques of Unison Singing

Numerous techniques can be employed in singing in unison, and some of them would be discussed in this section.

Emphasis on the Text

Paying rapt attention to the text rather than only focusing on the note.

Many of the singers, while they sing, focus more on getting the notes right and stay on their part, with little or no attention to the text in the song they sing. Some of them would rough the lines throughout without taken time to understand the powerful experience that underlies the letters in the song. 

While singing, you must pay attention to the texts, the way you sing, and how others sing it, the easiness in the command lines of the melody, because there lies the beauty of unison. The teaching of the meaning and historical experience is highly desirable, if not important, and time spent on this worth it. This is just to tell you that knowing what we are saying while singing is very important if unison is to be enhanced.

Making chorus Effect 

This is another technique of unison that you need to learn. This occurs in the setting whereby others are singing on the same notes, with some iota of fluctuation often called ‘batimento’ in conventional Spanish music. This involves a minimal up-tuning or down-tuning, which would lead to a kind of similar waves, which are sometimes boosting or canceling each other several with split seconds. This occurrence is well summed in English with the word “rattling.” These effects are found to be potent in making the whole sound gain expression and richer. This is what we understand to be the chorus effect, where all the singers sung in the same notes with just an octave apart.

Moreover, in playing or singing in octaves, there is an effect that is produced. The manifestation of this effect is found in its ability to make the sounds bigger. This effect, however, must not be misconstrued for being louder. You must need to not that even when the parts are played quietly, the effect still occurs. One can also say that the effect could be a product of the reinforcement of the lower-octave instruments’ higher harmonics by the higher octaves instruments. Setting a typical context for this effect is to make reference to the orchestra settings. This is mostly found in a setting whereby strings are playing a melody, and there is the need for it to be heard over the bass, then cellos and the basses would be played at the same octave, which would eventually produce a reinforced baseline.

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