HOW TO FIX SINGING ON/OFF PITCH BY LEARNING TO SIGHT-READ

Instrumentalists like to make fun of singers for their lack of musicianship: they often have trouble counting, have trouble finding the correct voice pitch, cannot tell when they are singing on/off pitch, learn their parts on the fly by ear, and many do not even know how to read music!  Nor do they spend nearly as many hours working in the practice room as their fellow instrumentalists.  Singers wish to refute these insults as unfounded stereotypes, but unfortunately the accusations are indeed based on fact.  So, singers must take responsibility if they wish instrumentalists to take them seriously as musicians!

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The first and easiest step to take on this front is training the ears and learning how to sight-read.  Why?  To counter the rumor that singers cannot read music and are often singing off pitch.  Learning to sight-read accurately will also disperse counting problems, and ear-training will help singers to more accurately pull their singing pitches out of nothing or difficult harmonies, as the case may be, to start singing on pitch.  What instrumentalists do not understand is that while they may simply hit a key to play a note, the singer can hit one note as easily as dozens of others (which may or may not even be considered pitches in Western music), and he has no mechanism like a key to ensure he will choose the right one to be singing on pitch.  Further more, the singer’s ear cannot always be trusted because the sound outside his head is different than what he hears inside, and the acoustics of different spaces can also confuse the sound and encourage singing off pitch.  Fine-tuning the ear will help singers avoid pitchy performances.

 

How does one go about learning to sight-read?  Begin learning the relationship of do to all other notes in the major scale.  Do to re, re to do; do to mi, mi to do and so on.  To practice this, you may pick a note on the piano to function as do.  Then play other diatonic notes, listening to them closely, and then sing do.  Then check to see if you sang the correct vocal pitch for do.  Once you are comfortable with this, play do on the piano and try to sing other scale degrees, always checking for singing pitch accuracy afterwards.  If certain relationships are especially challenging for you, practice them more often.

 

To work on ear training during this process, play two vocal pitches, either one or both at a time, with your eyes closed.  If the lower note is do, guess what the top note is and then open your eyes to check.  Also try occasionally guessing what the lower vocal pitch is if the higher note is do.  Once you are comfortable with the relation of all major scale singing pitches to do, follow the same process for all other major scale steps (re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti).  For example, sol to re, re to sol; sol to mi, mi to sol, etc.  Understanding how all the scale degrees relate to one another will give you an intuitive understanding of the music you sing.  Once you have mastered the major scale, try the same process with the minor scale (add me, le, te)–natural, harmonic, and melodic.  Finally, also learn the relationship of all voice pitches, major and minor, to each other, including ra and fi.

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You may also wish to learn the modes (this will come fairly easily once you have mastered all the chromatic tones).  For fun, test your sight reading with some atonal material.  This will force you to focus more on intervalic voice pitch relationships than tonal relationships, which will be a different and engaging way of thinking.  Some sight-singers may find it helpful to use the fixed instead of moveable do for this kind of work.

 

As you do these exercises, practice applying them!  Find a sight-reading book, a hymnal, or any simple song book and try to read the melodies without hearing them.  It may be frustrating at first, but if you continue the exercises it will become easier, and maybe even fun!  Practice learning harmony parts as well as top-line melodies.  And again, check the piano afterwards to make sure you are singing on pitch.  When start to get comfortable with tonal relationships, practice sight-reading with a metronome to practice your rhythm as well.  If rhythm is challenging for you, most sight-reading books will also provide rhythmic exercises that you can try clapping against a metronome.  To continue engaging your ears, listen to songs and choral works and try writing them down.  Just focus on single melodies at first, but eventually work up to several part harmony and accompaniment.  You will find this skill invaluable if you enjoy writing music, or if you hear a song that you would like to sing but don’t have music for.  If you practice these skills, you will find that you will be a stronger musician, more able to contribute to the ensembles you work with and more respected by instrumentalists.

Categories: singing tips and voice pitch.

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