Indie-Pop Voice: How a Pharyngeal/Retracted Articulatory Setting May Be Driving a New Singing Style


  • Colin Jones University of British Columbia
  • Murray Schellenberg University of British Columbia
  • Bryan Gick


Different genres of singing may be characterized in part by singers’ articulatory settings (Gick et al., 2004; Bateman,2003; Nair, Nair & Reishofer, 2016). Bateman (2003, p. 122), for example, notes that pop singing is often characterized by horizontal expansion and vertical compression of the lips, while jazz uses labial protrusion. The articulatory settings associated with a given singing style are known to have noticeable, systemic effects on the acoustics of the singer’s pronunciation (e.g. Ophaug, 2010).

Recently, a new singing quality has emerged, sometimes called “indie-pop voice” (e.g. Ugwu, 2015). Initial popular descriptions focused on characteristic vowel pronunciations and unusual front-rising diphthongs, usually before coronal consonants. Careful observation suggests that, while the details and degree of these characteristics vary from artist to artist, they have in common a pervasive pharyngeal voice quality. We consider the possibility that a distinctive articulatory setting is used by “indie-pop”singers, which may be responsible for the observed effects on sung pronunciation.

For the present study, we selected 8 contemporary pop artists, and took spectral measurements of the vowels from their successful songs, and from spoken interviews. Preliminary results reveal a high F1 across the “indie-pop" vowel space (particularily the front vowels), a strong correlate of pharyngealization. We also observed lower F2 in most vowels (particularily high-back), a correlate of retracted tongue-root (Aralova, 2011). Low-back vowels were exceptions to this, possibly because an articulatory setting with retracted tongue could be redundant with the low tongue position inherent to these vowels. Global tongue retraction may also explain the unusual diphthongs: the greater distance between the tongue’s vocalic position and a coronal target for the following consonant could lead to an audible transition.


Author Biographies

Colin Jones, University of British Columbia

Department of Linguistics

Murray Schellenberg, University of British Columbia

Department of Linguistics

Additional Files



How to Cite

Jones C, Schellenberg M, Gick B. Indie-Pop Voice: How a Pharyngeal/Retracted Articulatory Setting May Be Driving a New Singing Style. Canadian Acoustics [Internet]. 2017 Aug. 14 [cited 2024 May 19];45(3):180-1. Available from:



Proceedings of the Acoustics Week in Canada

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