Sprechstimme is German for "spoken voice" and is an underused vocal technique in modern music writing. It is often used interchangeably with the word Sprechgesang, but the two have subtle differences that matter a lot to music history buffs.
With sprechstimme, the technique is similar to spoken word along with music, emphasizing words but not doing much melodically with your tone.
A sprechstimme is close to a classic recitative, used to give backstory in free time, sung in the rhythm of ordinary speech with many words on the same note.
German composer Richard Wagner for example, had sprechstimme elements showcased in his works. In modern terms, some call it talk-singing.
Sprechgesang vocals take a more melodic approach when it comes to vocal delivery. There was a surge in popularity for this style in dramatic opera works, with a great example being Schoenberg's “Pierrot Lunaire”.
This form of singing in dramatic works blends really well with complex and chaotic melodic structures in the instrumentation.
While sprechstimme performances would be closer to monotone, sprechgesang adds a lot of energy to the melodic performance as well. Since there are no specific pitches to hit, it is largely up to the creative interpretation of the performer to make it sound like it flows well.
Schoenberg explained in a forward that the singer should immediately abandon the idea of a set melodic line by simply falling or rising.
''The goal is certainly not at all a realistic, natural speech. On the contrary, the difference between ordinary speech and speech that collaborates in a musical form must be made plain. But it should not call singing to mind, either."
While you may often hear examples of sprechgesang in music, including examples like Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off", sprechstimme isn't nearly used as much.
Rock bands have long used this method to give off a cool and laid-back vocal approach that blends well with the genre. U.K. bands like The Fall really made this sound work for them, as you may know, with their fan base!
I think sprechgesang also makes for really effective storytelling and emotional resonance in songs, especially songs with deep and relatable messages in them.
In an example where it feels more like spoken word poetry, R&B duo Floetry makes good use of the technique with songs like "Getting Late".
Sprechstimme and sprechgesang are definitely two precursors that inspired the art of hip-hop and rap. Rap is a blend of these techniques, jazz, blues, poetry, and West African griot traditions all in one.
While more classic era rap from the 90s is closer to the sprechstimme technique with near-monotone rhythmic delivery, more modern rap styles have formed, including "Sing rap" which is closer to the flow of the sprechgesang technique.
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