Sing on Pitch: 3 Exercises to Make It Happen Every Time
One of the most common problems beginning singers face is learning how to sing on pitch.
Can anyone learn to sing in tune? Yes, absolutely!
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, or figuring out how to sing a note on pitch, just know that singing off key doesn’t necessarily mean you’re tone deaf.
If you want a great video to walk you through these exercises step-by-step, check this out:
How Can I Tell If I’m Singing in Tune?
This can be a surprisingly tricky thing to figure out, as you can’t always tell how your own voice sounds.
To learn to sing in tune, testing yourself with a recording is a great first step.
Sing a simple line, record it, and listen to the recording.
You might even play the recording over a backing track to see exactly how close you got to the right pitch.
For a real-time analysis, you can use a tuner app on your phone.
One you detect where you’re singing is out of tune, the next step is to figure out whether you’re sharp or flat.
How to Sing On Pitch (And In Tune)
The process of singing on pitch or “intonation” can basically be broken down into 5 steps:
1. Select the note that you’re trying to sing.
Make sure that the note is within your comfortable range. It’s hard enough to sing in tune when you’re completely comfortable. Don’t make things harder for yourself by choosing songs with notes that are too difficult for you to sing.
2. Play the note on a piano, guitar, digital tuner or play the recording that contains the note you want to sing.
In the second step, you’re going to play the note that you want to match on another instrument of some sort. You don’t need to invest in an expensive instrument. There are plenty of free piano apps you can download that will reproduce whatever note you want to play.
3. Listen to the note carefully and try to “picture” the note in your mind.
I can’t tell you how important this step is. I will often be in lessons with students that are pitch training and as the lesson continues, they will get further and further off pitch. This isn’t any fault of theirs. But unfortunately, we have a limited ability to focus our mental efforts on one thing and can get caught up in the momentum of “execution”. Instead, take your time. Pause. Then try to imagine the note in your mind. Be 100% sure of it before you sing.
4. Sing the note, trying to match your voice to the pitch you played.
This is where things can easily fall apart. Many people are very confident in the notes they can play on an instrument, but lose all self-confidence when they hear your voice. It’s true that your voice may sound strange to you. But if you spent time focusing on the pitch in the 3rd step, you’ll notice that your pitch should be quite close to your target.
5. Listen to your voice and correct the pitch as you sing.
This is the really fun part! As I mentioned, once you have focused on the note and have begun to sing, you should already be quite close to the pitch. However, no singer is 100% accurate the moment they begin singing. There is almost always a period of time where a singer is correcting the note.
6. If your note is flat, you will need to bring your voice slightly higher.
Easy does it here. Most likely, you’re already quite close to the pitch you need to sing. However, if you notice that your note is a bit “under pitch” or flat, then gently sing higher until you feel your voice match the note.
7. If your note is sharp, you will need to bring your voice slightly lower.
Again, you will want to be quite delicate in any adjustments that you make if you’re singing a bit sharp. Often times, just a small adjustment in lowering the pitch will get you singing right in tune.
8. Once you have found the correct pitch, try to remember the “sensation” of singing in tune.
There’s no doubt about it. Singing on pitch is a game of muscle memory. However, I’ve found that it’s helpful when I ask my singers how it “feels” to sing a note in tune. Often, they will tell me that they feel their voice “vibrating” with the note they’re playing as the notes come perfectly into tune.
Why Am I Singing Flat?
What does it mean to sing on pitch? The answer is not quite as obvious as you might think!
The most common reason a vocalist can’t sing on pitch has to do with what the vocal folds (cords) are doing, rather than the ear.
If you’re wondering how to sing on key consistently, know that hitting exactly the right notes is a quite complex task for the vocal cords.
Try this at home:
I like to use a rubber band to demonstrate this.
Hold a rubber band loosely between your thumbs and pluck it.
The band is so slack that there is no audible noise.
Next, stretch the rubber band taut between your thumbs and pluck it.
There should be an audible “thoink”.
If you stretch the rubber band even further, the sound produced by the rubber bands is even higher in pitch.
As you stretch the rubber band, it vibrates faster, resulting in a higher pitch.
The Vocal Folds and Pitch
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?
Well, the point here is simple: if you want to sing, pitch control is essential.
Most pitch problems are the result of the vocal cords being the wrong length or depth for the desired pitch.
Here’s a Pop Quiz:
Okay, how about we do a quick singing pitch test?
If I’m trying to sing in my chest voice and my vocal cords are too thin and stretched for the thickness required to hit it, will my pitch be flat or sharp (too high)?
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 on high pitch, 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.
How to Stop Singing Flat
As we’ve seen, singing flat happens when vocal folds are too uncoordinated for the note you want to sing.
So here are some tips on how to learn to sing on pitch.
One of my favorite tools for working with singers is vowels.
Vowels are the speech sounds produced by the open vocal tract between consonants.
“Ah” (as in “Otter”) is an example of a vowel.
But in addition to being a huge part of language and singing, vowels have a strong effect on the pitch making process.
There are vowels that tend to produce more chest voice and thickness in the vocal folds.
There are also headier vowels that stretch and thin the vocal folds.
If You’re Singing Flat
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.
I’ve created a short video demonstrating the “Gee” exercise over a long scale.
Check it out:
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.
If You’re Singing Sharp
Try singing scales with a shorter range (less than an octave) with a chesty vowel such as “Ae” or “Uh”.
Since these vowels tend to direct more towards the chest voice, the resulting vocal folds will be thicker and shorter resulting in a lower pitch.
Or you can try counting the numbers 1 – 5 on a short scale.
I’ve made a short video demonstrating this exercise.
Check it out:
If you’ve been having a hard time singing a song at the bottom of your voice, try singing a “Nae” (as in “Nasty”) or “Guh” (as in gutter) instead of the melody on the difficult passage.
When you feel that the exercise is giving you a bit more security on the low notes in the song, try switching back to the melody and lyrics while trying to retain the feeling those chesty vowels gave you.
I’m always amazed at how this simple exercise helps singers (often females with light chest) with low notes. Before too long, they learn to sing perfectly on pitch.
If for some reason you’re not singing the correct pitch, go back to the “Nae” or “Guh” until you find the right pitch again and repeat.
A Few Things to Note
For most people, learning to sing on pitch happens in their youth. Sadly, not everyone is exposed to music and singing early on in their life.
Usually this means they haven’t developed their ear enough to hear and produce the correct pitch.
So even though these pitch singing exercises can be incredibly helpful for anyone, it may not help those that still need to develop their musical ear.
Only ear training will do that.
Musical hearing training (aural training, to use the technical term) is essential for all singers.
If you want to know how to sing in tune naturally, that’s the best advice I can give.
But remember, even for those with a great musical ear, we ALL sing off pitch from time to time.
This is completely natural but we want to do everything in our power to honor the music we’re singing by finding the correct pitch.
One of the best ways of doing that is by using exercises to get the vocal folds to stretch or shorten the desired amount and then revert to the original lyrics.
If you believe that you’re not executing these exercises correctly or you just want a trained ear, consider booking a lesson so I can hear exactly what you’re doing.
How Can I Put This to Use With My Own Voice?
Be sure to check out the bonus video below, but before you do, there are a few things you can do to ensure you’re always singing in tune.
First, grab yourself a ‘sing in tune app.’
Next, find the sheet music for your song.
You can do this with a Google search or through a service like Scribd.
Then, record yourself singing the song you’re having trouble with using the app.
As you play it back, follow along with the sheet music while glancing at the monitor to see which notes you’re not singing in tune.
Then just sing those words or notes into the app until the monitor matches the note(s) on the sheet music.
How long does it take to learn to sing in tune? As you can see, this depends a lot on the singer.
Just keep practicing it with the rest of that line in the song until you’re getting it right consistently.
It’s that easy!
And again, if you want to learn how to sing on pitch for beginners, feel free to check out my ‘Teach Yourself to Sing‘ article.
If you’re still wondering how to learn how to sing in tune, I created a free video that will help you apply the info from this post in your own singing.
The bonus video includes 6 exercises designed to help you sing on pitch and in tune.
That way, you’ll find the right note every time and sing on perfect pitch in no time!
Click the download image to get the free bonus video!