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One of the most common problems beginning singers face is learning to sing on pitch. But learning how to sing in tune is not always easy, even when if you have an amazing musical ear.
But why is that? “I know I have a good ear”, you may say, “but why can’t I sing in tune?”
If you have a hard time hitting the right notes, know that singing off key doesn’t necessarily mean you’re tone deaf.
There are lots of reasons you may not sing on pitch. For many people, the reason you’re singing flat is totally physiological.
Before we talk more about learning to sing in tune, keep in mind this article is talking mostly about adult learners that are having a hard time singing on pitch.
The most common reason a vocalist is singing flat has to do with what the vocal folds (cords) are doing, rather than the ear.
Singing on key is actually a very complex task for the vocal cords. As a matter of fact, just to sing the note A4, the vocal folds must be opening and closing 440 times per second to hit the correct pitch!
That’s because the vocal folds sing a pitch by stretching or shortening to increase or decrease the vibrating length of the instrument. Increasing or decreasing the length raises or lowers the resulting pitch. Confused yet? Read on.
The vocal folds work in the same way as the rubber band. A vocalist sings a given pitch by unconsciously stretching or shortening the vocal folds to the point that the speed of the vibrations produces the pitch they want to sing.
Now, if all this scientific stuff is happening and I’m not even thinking about it, how do I learn to sing on pitch?
Simply put, most pitch problems are the result of the vocal cords being the wrong length or depth for the desired pitch.
If I’m trying to sing an A3 in my chest voice and my vocal cords are too thin and stretched for the thickness required to hit it, will my pitch be higher or lower than the A3? Since the vibrating length of the instrument is too long, my pitch will be higher and I will sing sharp.
As a voice teacher, we have a name for when the cords are too thin and stretched in the chest voice range. We call this light chest and it’s a huge barrier to singing low notes on pitch.
If I’m trying to sing a high C4 and my vocal folds are thicker than the stretch required to hit it, will my pitch be higher or lower than the sound I want? Since the vibrating length of the instrument is too short and thick, my pitch will be lower and I will sing flat.
As voice teachers, we call this abundance of thickness in the cords vocal weight.
As we’ve seen, singing flat is the result of the vocal folds being uncoordinated for the particular note that you want to sing.
So here are some tips on how to sing on pitch.
Try singing scales with a wide range (bigger than an octave) on a heady vowel such as “ooh” or “ee”.
These vowels tend to direct towards more head voice and hence more stretch in the vocal folds.
A great exercise that I love to do for a song is find the passage where I’m singing flat and sing the melody on “Goo” or “Gee” to help my folds find the perfect configuration for those notes.
When I feel comfortable singing the melody on “Goo” or “Gee” and I’m sure that I’m on pitch, I switch back to the original melody and lyrics and am always shocked to find that I am singing on pitch.
If for some reason you’re sure that you’re singing the incorrect pitch, go back to the “Goo”s and “Gee”s until you find the correct pitch again and repeat.