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The Impact of Volume on Vocal Performance

by Jeremy Butler

There are a number of vocal qualities that may be manipulated in the construction of a performance: principally, volume, pitch, and timbre (a French word, pronounced “TAM-burr”). Just as in a musical performance, these qualities may be organized for specific affect. The meanings of volume are varied. Loudness may signify strength, or it may signify shrillness or terror. Softness may signify meekness, or it may signify a control so total that speaking loudly is not necessary. As usual, context determines meaning.

In one clip, David Caruso's performance in NYPD Blue illustrates how he frequently lowered his voice to command respect--whether talking to a hostage taker or to a judge. In contrast, Alyson Hannigan, as Willow Rosenberg, in Buffy the Vampire Slayer relied on soft speech to signify her meek nerdiness. In this clip, she shyly asks the boy she has a crush on if he'll spend time with her. In later episodes, when Willow becomes a witch, her vocal performance transforms.

Vocal Performance & Volume

Alyson Hannigan's low voice signifies shyness.

from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1998)
Creator: Joss Whedon
Posted by Jeremy Butler