Do you have trouble singing by yourself “on key”?

Do you love to sing with the radio or CD, or at church with the congregation? Do you find singing is easy as long as there is someone to follow? However, do you lack the confidence and ability to sing on your own, such as solo in the choir or on your own at a karaoke bar?

If this is you, you are not alone. In fact, you are part of a large majority of people. Singing can be easy as long as you don’t have to do it alone. There are steps that can be taken to strengthen your ability to sing on pitch by yourself, while at the same time coordinating your overall singing voice with flexibility and balance. This in turn builds your confidence to go on and tackle a song all on your own.

This needs to be done with a vocal coach. It’s difficult to correct your own pitch without someone helping.

Ear training and repetition are the foundation for pitch matching. You need to start close to the pitch of your speaking voice. This is called your “home base”. This will be your reference point at which you can return to as you learn to match higher and lower pitches. Once you can sing back your home base pitch easily and consistently, then it’s time to move to short scales. Depending on your ability, you may start with 3 note or 5 note scales, ascending and descending. Every singer is different. Again, this should be done with a vocal coach.

Lessons should be recorded so you can revisit your “home base” daily for practise. This is necessary so the brain can remember and the vocal cords will learn and memorize the coordination needed to match pitch.

A male voice will probably match easily at F or G below middle C. That’s a good place to start. Your coach should know that as you sing higher it becomes more challenging because your voice has to shift gears to handle the passagio around E flat. Therefore, all training in the beginning should stay below this bridge. For female singers this first passagio is around G or A flat above middle C.

Along with repetition of short scales starting in the home base area, your coach should be doing some ear training exercises where you need to listen and say whether a note is higher or lower than the one played.

With perservence you can learn to sing on your own with good pitch. I have helped many dedicated adults who always wanted to sing, but never felt good enough to sing on their own. These exercises build their confidence as each day they are able to find home base quicker and easier than the week before. They are able to memorize the melodic exercises of steps and jumps which soon turn into songs.

Were you labelled tone-deaf?

Teachers have learned a lot from the previous generation. We have learned that one of most detrimental things that can be said to a child is that they sound bad and they can’t sing. These children grow up into adults who have never experienced proper pitch matching in a song, and therefore have never really experienced the true joy of singing. They have been labelled tone-deaf.

Many children who have trouble singing on key are children with deep or lower speaking voices. Music played in elementary school is generally written in a key that takes the song up to and over high C. This can be challenging for children whose speaking voices are lower because their speaking voice is further away from their head voice.

When encountering a child who has trouble with pitch, it is necessary to first put songs in the key that is close to their speaking voice. This is where singing starts….at speech level. Then raise the key of the song by semi-tones with careful attention to the pitches that start getting higher than A above middle C. This is where their speech level must adapt to get the correct pitch. Do simple 5 tone scale exercises with them, and make sure they match the pitch. Give them lots of praise when they find the coordination that is necessary to find those pitches. Let them know when they are doing it correctly, so they know what they have to do …. over and over and over. Once they memorize the feeling of singing in their head voice, they will have much less trouble matching pitch.

The same theory goes for adults who have trouble matching pitch.  An adult needs to find the right teacher who can help retrain the vocal cords to stretch out and thin as they go higher in pitch. It will probably take longer to retrain an adult than a child simply because an adult has been in the habit of singing off key for much longer. Their vocal cords have not been experiencing the coordination necessary to match pitch and sing higher pitches.