Mixdown Magazine Article

The cardinal rule as a singer is to sing in tune all, if not most of the time.If you feel like you sing some notes off key, out of tune or you are pitchy, don’t worry – you are not alone. Even the very best vocalists have at times, had trouble with this. I remember, as a teenager seeing one of my favourite singers in a very well known, world wide touring band (whose name I will not mention). The lead singer sounded flat, pitchy and even lazy. It was disappointing to say the least, but it reiterates that everyone, even professionals can have pitch problems.

What are some of the reasons why people sing pitchy or out of tune?

The number one reason why singers occasionally sing out of tune is because they are unable to hear themselves. Some of these reasons can be because:

*You are trying to sing over the top of the band or music that is too loud.
*You cannot hear the chord based instruments or music as a reference for the point of key.
*You cannot hear yourself adequately through the fold back speakers or your in ear monitors.
*You have a cold, flu or virus that is preventing you from hearing sounds correctly.  This can also inhibit the usual control you have over your vocal chords that help you to hit correct pitch.

Another  reason you could be having trouble is that you are having difficulty hearing what key you’re supposed to be singing in.
*This will require pitch training using scales played on a piano specifically designed to improve your ear, musicianship and pitch.

Here are a few helpful hints and tips to improve your ability to sing in tune:

1. Hearing yourself is the most important skill and asset a singer can have. I am going to stress the word hearing here. You want to hear yourself sing, not listen! You listen to someone speak and you want to hear your voice sing. Listening takes a lot of concentration. Have you ever listened to an hour lecture? Even on a subject that you’re interested in, it is difficult to stay focused and listen for the entire time. A singer must always be paying attention to the music, the beat, the key the song is in, to your own voice and make it all blend together.  Start by closely listening, without singing along, to the singer in your favourite song. Then hum or nar nar along exactly to the melody. When this is down 110% then move along to singing the song with the lyrics precisely.

2. Mimic the exact same sound as what you hear. You can do this with anything – the sound of a car engine, the ring of a door bell, someones quirky joke, anything to start practicing your pitch. Start practicing by gently humming along to your favourite song – this is a fantastic way to start honing your ear. Really focus on copying the exact same sound (tune) as the singer. Then begin singing along with the same tune and try to stay in key for the entire song.

3. Remember, please pick songs that suit your vocal range and abilities. Don’t go off and start singing really high songs if your voice does not fall naturally in this range. Pick songs that feel comfortable and natural for your voice. This will greatly improve your ability to sing in key or in tune.

4. Pitching scales are a great way to learn exact pitch to musical notes. This includes scales counting with numbers.  Doing this will teach you to visualise the sound going higher and lower via a sequence of numbers, kind of like going up and down a ladder for your voice.

5. Pitch testing is a good way to continually challenge yourself throughout your entire range. This is done by playing different scales and notes randomly on the piano within your vocal range. This will test you, improve your musicianship and keep your ear sharp and focused.  A good singing teacher should provide the correct techniques to give you the vocal ability, confidence and courage when doing key changes. This means that if you lose your way when singing a song and become pitchy you will have the skills required to self correct and find your way back to the right tune.

6. Fold-back not loud enough? Then this means you can’t hear yourself sing through the PA when you do a gig. As a performer this is embarrassing and frustrating but can be easily avoided. Purchasing some in-ear monitors is the only way to be certain that you will hear yourself clearly and adequately at all times. Ensure that your band is not too loud and drowning your voice out on stage. Be sure that you have always got proper fold back that is working. Ask for more if from the sound engineer through the fold back if you cannot hear yourself properly. Please also rehearse in the same fashion.

7. Don’t be lazy!  A lot of flat notes can easily be corrected simply by articulating the proper vowel placements. The basic rule is to open the mouth more when singing up high (like going to the dentist), and to relax your mouth a little when singing in a lower key.

8. Use correct breath support when singing. Many untrained singers forget about this resulting in lazy, sliding or flat notes. Remember to always use diaphragmatic support throughout your entire vocal range but especially when singing high notes.

9. Practice, practice, practice or as I say perfect practice makes a perfect performance.

To summarize:

*Hear yourself singing clearly and adequately at all times.
*Pick songs in a key that best suit your vocal range.
*Support all notes correctly using your diaphragm.
*Don’t be lazy
*Perfect practice makes perfect performance.

Until next month Rock On!

By Peter Vox