Extended Composition Techniques for Choir

The voice may be treated as any other timbre in the orchestra, capable of producing colors well beyond the standard sung tones.

Here are some ideas for unique timbres vocalists may produce.  As always with contemporary methods, there is no standard notation so make your instructions as clear as possible to the performer.

-sing approximate pitches

-speak on assigned pitch level

-normal speaking voice


-murmur as low/high as possible (or at various relative pitches)

-gradually transition from one timbre to another (e.g., from speaking to singing)

-vocal glissando

-sing as low/high as possible

-shout/scream (use sparingly if writing for students/amateurs, who may end up damaging their voices)


-mocking laughter (expel breath as rapidly as possible while laughing)

-audible inhale/exhale

-use of isolated syllables/phonemes (rather than recognizable words)


-unvoiced sounds


-lip quaver (vibrate lips with finger while humming)

-vibrating lips

-flutter tongue between lips

-tongue clicks

-hiccup (inhale quickly)


-vocal rasp (spoken with raspy, gravelly vocal production)

-hiss on “s” or “sh” sound

-rolled “r”

-white sound (fortissimo “h”)

-hands cupped over/around mouth

-flare (very fast vibrato)

-uneven vibrato

-indicate with open mouth, half open mouth, or closed mouth

Check out my choral works (and other compositions) here.




  1. Some others, which I use sometimes for my compositions:

    -Tap on your cheek, keeping your mouth open and shut it more to deepen or highten the timbre.
    -Groaning, sexual noises.
    -Letting my boy of ten say “eeee” “eeee”. Very high pitched. [probably your ‘unvoiced sounds’]
    -Speak backwards (notate the words first so it is easier and practice using recordings which are played backwards, so you know what it must sound like)
    -Producing a hard ‘popping’ sound by hooking your finger in your mouth, closing it and extract your finger.
    -Letting someone else speak, while you cover their mouth (or uncover) for them. It can be hilarious and can give surprisingly good results. [basically your ‘hands cupped over/around mouth’ but done to someone else]
    -Something I was able to do when younger: throat speech, throat whistling, throat humming, etc. With closed mouth producing sounds with your throat. It takes a lot of practice and I was able to produce high pitched sounds and other strange sounds, without anyone knowing it was me. Very eerie!

    Regards Ivo, iamafreak.bandcamp.com

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