Pitch, in baseball, where the ball and the bat meet in order for a home run to happen is like a human voice and a music note together in the right spot in a song is crucial to be able to sing in tune.
In singing, the phrase “on pitch” or “in tune” is where everything begins. It is the foundation and most fundamental possession a singer or someone who wants to sing must have. I have a friend that has a very rare quality deep bass voice but can’t carry a tune. I told him he can even apply for a radio broadcasting career with his unusual voice quality. Someone with a quality sounding voice doesn’t mean a worthy singer unless he is able to sing a melody line in tune, to begin with.
We hear the word “pitchy” a lot in singing competitions on TV, meaning, the singer’s voice is not hitting the intended notes of a song.
There’s a difference between “off-key and off-pitch”, but we won’t discuss them here. People use them interchangeably to mean something is “off”, which we will do the same for our discussion. Aside from the two I just mentioned, out of tune, flat, sharp are also being used.
After learning the qualities of a good singing voice, you definitely need to learn to sing on pitch.
Some Reasons for Being Off-Pitch
Before we dive into my 3 recommendations, I’d like to talk about why people are off-pitch when they’re
singing. Most of us have at some point been “pitchy” once or a couple of times before, whether we’re aware or not. Even professional singers go off pitch because of too many things going on while singing. For instance, when its a fast tempo music with a lot of words and runs in between. There are so many things to think about, the words, timing, rhythm, intonation, vibrato, technique, too high or too low and so on and so forth.
Professional singers are aware (hopefully) that they went off-pitch and they recover and correct themselves when needed, especially on slower and longer notes.
Whether you are a seasoned singer or a budding singer, other causes of being off pitch is cold, fatigue, tight or constricted jaw, neck, tongue, preventing tone resonation and “lift” in the vocal tract to its potential, making it sound flat or sharp.
The most common reason for beginners, in my opinion, of being off-key is when someone is not able to differentiate between what is spot on and what is off internally inside his brain. The result then is that individual would not be able to fine-tune since he won’t know exactly whether to go up or down the intended pitch to match it.
Here are my three recommendations for a budding singer to learn how to sing on pitch on his own, without having to pay a voice teacher. Don’t worry, anyone can learn this and how to sing good.
1. Sing Acapella with Single and Series of Notes
Pick a note within your vocal range on the piano or any musical instrument you may have. Concentrate on the tone and memorize it in your head, making sure the sound linger long enough before singing it back. Hum or sing “ah” to match that sound and listen to the pitch similarity or difference between your voice and the instrument.
If you know and feel that your voice and the tone from the instrument are already in unison (the same pitch), do this exercise:
With your voice, intentionally slide up or down against the tone from the instrument, then back again to match it, but constantly concentrating your focus on the base tone. You hear stringed musicians do this (sliding the tone to the intended pitch) all the time when they tune their instrument. This will help train your hearing whether your voice is microtone lower or higher, recognizing pitches and adjusting them when you need to.
Then repeat this process with other notes on the keyboard or any other instrument you have.
When you feel comfortable singing single notes, move on to a series of notes, like the notes C, D, E (Do, Re, Mi). Keep expanding as you progress to add more notes of the musical scale – C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C (Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti, Do). You can do a series of four (C, D, E, F), then five (C, D, E, F, G) and so on.
Lastly, when the series of tones become a cakewalk, experiment on skips by singing arpeggios. An example would be C, E, G or C, E, G, B and other variations of the scale.
If you still have difficulty matching notes after the exercises above, there are software and/or hardware you can use. Below are two examples
2. Use a Software or Hardware Based Tools
There are some programs out there that can guide you to train your pitch accuracy.
One example is Pitchperfector. This is a software-based tool that shows you a real-time visual representation of the sound of your voice in comparison to a built-in keyboard in the program. It records your voice along with the visual graph for playback. You can then adjust your pitches to match the correct pitch locations on the keyboard. Click here to learn more.
Another example is the Roland VT-12 Vocal Trainer. It’s a hardware tool that displays your pitch on the illuminated pitch meter on the device. The meter will tell you right there if you’re singing on pitch or not. Then you make the adjustments with your voice if necessary. Click here to take a look.
I highly recommend this device because aside from pitch correction, there are other multiple features built into it that you can use as you progress in your singing– a metronome, a microphone to record your voice, vocal exercises and warmups, you can load an accompaniment track to it for practice then record and play back your voice along with the track.
It’s tougher to hear yourself while singing than when listening to a recorded version of yourself. By doing the same exercises mentioned above (matching a note or series of notes with the voice) use the tools I listed above to record your drills. You can then hear more vividly by becoming a critic of yourself from the recording.
3. Pick One Song You’re Comfortable With
If you’re a seasoned singer and missing certain pitches when singing for whatever reason, the standard advice is to isolate that specific area that you are having trouble with. I’m assuming that since you’ve been singing for a while, you should be aware which locations of the song you’re singing are “pitchy”. Practice very slow if you need to that there will be no way in the world to miss those problem areas.
For most beginners, my 3rd recommendation is to pick a very simple song that has a 3 to 5-note series melody and practice singing the notes accurately. Again, to master accuracy is to slow it down on your comfort level, then gradually increase speed as you progress.
One example, Mary Had A Little Lamb has only 3 notes in the whole piece. Of course, this is a really simple song and not very exciting, but your goal is pitch correction and accuracy, it is absolutely necessary to go through this process if this is a major problem for you. You can always move on to the next song, to gradually increase the complexity level of your choices. The more you sing, the better you’re going to be down the road.
To Cap it All
Like I mentioned, every one of us has once been off-pitch whether we’re aware or not for multiple reasons. The most common for beginners is the inability to internally and mentally hear the sound of the intended note in their inner ear, the brain, and to match it with their voices.
I have recommended some solutions in this article. You can leave your comments about other ways to correct being “pitchy”. On the other hand, you can check out my training tips for serious singers to learn more on how you can become a professional singer.