Everyone sings out of tune sometimes. It happens to the best of us! The major question here: ARE YOU AWARE OF IT?, and HOW CAN YOU IMPROVE IT?
Where does pitch come from?
All singing comes from the vocal cords that are housed inside the voice box. To shortly explain it:
- The thicker and shorter the vocal cords are, the lower the tone
- The thinner and more stretched the vocal cords are, the higher the tone
- The vocal cords stretching or shortening happens through the constantly adjusting larynx
The pitch and volume of a note are dependent on the amount of air pressure you give it. High and loud notes require more air pressure (subglottic pressure) than low and soft notes.
Warning. This doesn’t mean that you should press, push or constrict in your throat area!! The amount of air pressure increases, as you increase the muscle engagement of your diaphragm. So the higher the note, the more diaphragm work is needed.
Main reasons why people sing out of pitch
1. Voice is not well coordinated, no experience, no awareness
2. The ears are not trained
Singing out of tune can have different roots. While some generally sing too low/flat, or high/sharp, others only sing detuned sometimes. Pitching can be influenced by vocal technique, mindset or emotional state, the awareness of your own sound and the sound of others (instruments, or other singers) or the wrong approach for an effect.
Singing too low/flat
When singers continually sing below the pitch, they are most probably not singing with the right kind of diaphragmatic tension, so their breath support is lacking!!
📚EXPLANATION. What is the right kind of tension?
The right kind of tension results out of correct breath support, which is responsible for a clear and smooth tone in a constant volume. This means that if breath support isn’t used correctly, the tone is not clear and in a constant volume and therefore not in the right tension.
Another common case is, that the tone placement and its resonance are not located and/or coordinated well. These two factors are based on singing technique and both need awareness, practice, and time to develop. If your singing isn’t always flat but with specific tunes, try to find out if you are trying (consciously or unconsciously) for a certain effect. Sometimes it is even wanted to sing a bit flatter because the sound gives a certain vibe, but this is a matter of taste
📙TERM. Tone placement
By tone placement, I mean the area in your vocal tract, where the resonance and vibration take place.
- Hum a note in a relaxed range.
- Now touch your facemask and feel where it is resonating and vibrating.
- Now change around the vowel you are singing: a-e-i-o-u.
- Try to concentrate on where the tone is moving within your mouth.
This exercise is all about awareness. Try to explore how movements within your mouth (with the tongue position, jawning movement) change the sound that comes out. It isn’t about changing the pitches, but about changing the timbre or color of one tone! There are endless ways of singing one tone/note, and it is a great tool, to know where the sound is fuller, warmer (ooh), and where it is brighter and harsher (eeh). Mastering the resonance is one of the many factors that make the human voice so special, one and the same note can sound very different, only because of different mouth positions.
Singing too high/sharp
When a singer is singing too sharp, he/she might be using too much tension, concerning breath support and the throat. When the jaw, tongue, and throat are tensed, and the tension goes along with each other, it sounds pressed and constricted. This is very stressful for the vocal cords and also sounds shitty. If you want to know more about the jaw, tongue, and throat and how they contribute to constriction and tension, check out this previous article.
Some singers also tend to sing sharp when they are nervous or stressed out. When this is a general problem, I would recommend relaxation exercises, and maybe even consider sports or Yoga. If this isn’t possible – like when you are already on stage having a performance, you can actively relax your shoulders, neck, and jaw! Next to that, listen to your voice and your fellow musicians!
📌TIP. How to relax
- While standing or sitting, and with your arms by your side and a straight back, slowly lift your shoulders up toward your ears.
- Hold here for a few seconds.
- Slowly lower your shoulders back down.
- Repeat 5 times.
- lower your chin towards your chest to relax for 10 seconds, and bring it back up
- Tilt your chin up toward the ceiling and bring the base of your skull toward your back
- Jawn deeply and when you’re at the climax of your yawning, put your finger onto the chin.
- instead of moving the chin and jaw back to the normal position after the jawn, let your finger hold it back, don’t force it down though!!
Singing out of tune occasionally
Sometimes I listen back to my practicing routines and am shocked! I usually don’t sing out of tune but specific passages just need more attention than others, and if you don’t invest the time, you will sing out of tune. This often happens with fast runs, ad-lips, or difficult leaps and passages, which first need to be learned very slowly and precisely.
Another very important thing, that I’ve already mentioned above is, that you need to listen to the music and your voice! Listening is the key to musical interaction, which in return is the fundament of playing together. When the amplification isn’t on point and you can not hear yourself or the other musicians, your pitching will suffer. In this case, it isn’t your fault that you are singing off-tune! It is a fact that you need to hear the music in order to sing in tune, so try to adjust the sound until you can hear both the musicians and yourself clearly!
Something that also leads to singing out of tune is when the song is in a key that doesn’t suit your voice! To find your range and songs in your range you can use our active pitch measuring tools. Furthermore, there is a pitch training, that will show you visually if you are in tune or not!
📌TIP. Record yourself
In order to hear whether you are singing too sharp, or flat, you should record yourself and listen back. If you can not pinpoint the detuning but hear that something is wrong, you can sing along with another voice (lyric videos) and record. Now you have the correct voice next to yours as a preference and might be able to recognize a pitching problem more easily.
How to sing in tune?
First off, I can tell you that this is going to take work and dedication! Don’t give up too early and stop defeating yourself before seriously trying to master your voice!
Every great voice out there is simply a balance of the three basic fundamentals:
Airflow, Vibration, and Resonance!
These fundamentals can be mastered, when you are in possession of:
- a diaphragm and set of lungs that can create and manage airflow;
- a set of vocal folds that can create vibration from that airflow;
- a pharynx, sinus, and mouth, adjusting the resonating spaces.
So if you are in possession of these body parts, you can definitely improve your pitch problem by studying each of these topics thoroughly!
Practicing to sing on pitch is something that will take time. I would always recommend listening to yourself! Listen to your voice and explore your sound. What is it that you like and don’t like about your voice? Don’t be too hard on yourself, we are all human!
Another thing is that everyone learns differently, so if the exercises mentioned above don’t help you, check out youtube! Or just sing, and sing and don’t stop!
- Singing from the inside out – Ineke van Doorn
- Ken Tamplin Vocal academy – How to sing on pitch