How To Sing On The Right Pitch
Learning to sing in tune is an important part of building a great voice. After all, who wants to listen to off-pitch singing that is out of tune? Learning how to sing on the right pitch is easy to do and really starts with your foundation. I often remind my students that their singing voice is only going to be as strong as the foundation they have built it upon, so make sure you set up your posture, breathing and resonance placement first so you can learn to sing in tune with ease.
This tutorial will show you how to sing on the right pitch while improving your vocal technique for a powerful voice and consistent, confident singing – every time you sing.
What is singing on pitch ?
If you’re wondering exactly what is singing on pitch, it’s perfecting the perfect central frequency that makes up the ‘note’ that you’re trying to sing. A great singer has mastered how to sing in tune and sing on pitch even in the most demanding or dynamic of vocal phrases. Let’s get to the bottom of what is singing on pitch:
A pitch is a specific frequency, for example 440Hz. A note is the name given to this pitch, an example is 440Hz actually being known as an “A” note in the fourth octave, known as an A4. The timbre of your voice is the specific character, and the word tone is often used interchangeably to describe a pitch, timbre or note – I personally use tone to describe the character of ones singing, an example being a bright tone, a breathy tone, a dark tone, or a rock tone etc.
Learning how to sing on pitch requires you to develop control over all these elements of your singing voice, the frequency you sing at, which is referred to by the note and is sung in a specific tone. If you’re experiencing off-pitch singing and you really struggle with singing on pitch, it’s likely that your foundation is lacking a key element such as support or frequency placement.
Learning to sing in tune with support
Let’s fix that foundation of yours by setting up your posture correctly so that you can breathe using Appoggio singing technique. Posture makes up the very first step of your foundation and starts with raising your head, keeping your shoulders back, your chin parallel with the floor and finally the honorary fourth step of widening your ribs. Widening your ribs in this manner allows you to control your breathing via engagement and extension of the diaphragm instead of the rib contraction we often use in speech. Controlling your breathing in this fashion is known as Appoggio, or simply support. With your posture set up in this manner, you can now breathe using your diaphragm, which is a large dome-shaped muscle which sits at the base of your lung cavity and can be controlled with adjoining musculature and the right thought process – in essence, the diaphragm cannot ‘be’ controlled, it engages in response to the surrounding muscles and is controlled involuntarily with your thought process.
Learning to sing in tune requires you to continually support your voice in this manner so that your ribs aren’t collapsing as you increase your pitch and sing higher notes. Learning to balance your support between airflow and air pressure is a very important tool that will come with time, consistent practice and of course the right vocal approach.
With your posture and breathing set up for Appoggio, the next step is to learn how to control your frequencies by developing placement when you sing. In my approach to singing and coaching, placement is the act of limiting any excess frequencies which aren’t resonating in an efficient and healthy manner – in particular, baritone singers and low voices often have an issue learning to sing with placement, but is an important vocal technique for every voice type and vocal range.
A great way to train placement is by using a simple “N” exercise and intending to limit any vibration which is occuring below your top teeth – as I often remind my students, a singing exercise is only as useful and helpful as the intention behind it, there’s no point practicing scales and drills if you’re unsure of the point behind them. By limiting your frequencies in this manner when you sing a simple resonant “N” sound, you are training control over your frequencies and forming separation between your speaking tone and your singing voice – a very important point to realise when you are learning how to sing: Your singing voice and your speaking voice are unrelated in application, so stop trying to ‘sing’ in the same way that you ‘speak’.
How to improve singing on pitch with frequencies
Remember, intention is more important than sheer exercises – practising scales all day long won’t improve your pitch, but getting to the bottom of WHY you are singing off pitch in the first place and then developing an approach for how to improve singing on pitch the right way.
Often, singers are pitchy due to improper frequency placement, leading to inefficient resonance and by proxy – singing off pitch. Remember, a pitch is simply a frequency, and a note is simply a name for this frequency. If you are singing off pitch, you are actually singing off ‘frequency’ and need to get to the root cause of why your frequencies aren’t being created in the right manner. A frequency in singing is caused by the speed at which your vocal folds vibrate, and this vibration is created via vocal chord closure (often referred to as adduction) and by a release of air pressure held by an extended diaphragm – sure, you will eventually learn to articulate and EQ this resonant frequency into vowel sounds and words, but for now you need to break down your technique to its foundation and work out where your pitch is going wrong before you’ll be able to learn to sing in tune better. If you are setting up your posture correctly, and you are breathing via engagement of the diaphragm while placing your frequencies, your pitch will improve immediately – any improper pitching will now be down to improper articulation of your vowel sounds and potentially the way you are starting your resonance, known as an onset.
How to sing in tune with a balanced onset
Balancing your onset is one of the most important parts of retaining vocal health and creating your frequencies in the right manner. An onset in singing is the manner in which your airflow and your vocal chord closure coordinate together to either create a nicely balanced onset or with improper vocal technique either a glottal or breathy onset respectively. Your onset always occurs on a resonant sound such as a vowel, so if you find that you are able to sing scales while singing on pitch, but when you add in words and a vocal line it starts to go pear-shaped – your onsets and consonant production are the culprit.
Singing with a balanced onset to create the perfect ‘start’ to your resonance will help show you how to improve singing on pitch while also creating a much more pleasant resonance that is their harsh nor weak at its inception.
Learn to sing on pitch with vowels
Learning to sing on pitch with vowel sounds is the cornerstone of your vocal technique, and really makes the difference between whether you are able to sing scales, or actual songs. As we discussed earlier, singing and speaking are often very different in their application, and while they make use of the same mechanism, are ultimately unrelated in their process. In speech, we pronounce our vowel sounds with the articulators including the lips, teeth and tongue – whereas in singing it’s important that you create your vowels by positioning a specific tongue shape and matching the corresponding vocal tract width to each vowel sound. As an example, an EE vowel is the most narrow and requires you to raise the back of your tongue, where an AH vowel is wider by comparison and requires a low and concave tongue for proper resonance. Learning to create your vowels in this fashion will have you singing on pitch much sooner that practising pointless scales or exercises.
Proper vowel production truly is one of the greatest keys to singing on pitch and will help you sing with better frequency control while articulating your words in a clear and strain-free manner. If you’re struggling to sing specific words or vowel sounds in your range, it’s likely you’re not creating your vowel sounds in the right manner using your tongue to shape the vowel and altering your vocal tract width accordingly to ensure efficient resonance.
How to sing on the right pitch with Middle Voice
Often, beginner singers experience a ‘break’ in their voice that dictates where they are able to sing in chest voice, or in head voice – being unable to connect these two main registers plays a large part in your ability to pitch the right known and learn to sing in tune. In a physical sense, there really is no vocal break, but for beginner singers it really is a reality – the solution is to treat this difficult passage of your voice as a third honorary register that occurs when you balance engagement of the muscles responsible for your chest register, and those that create your head voice – the TA and CT muscles respectively.
Cricothyroid Thyroarytenoid Balance
The throarytenoid muscles control your vocal fold weight, in essence ‘thickening’ your vocal chords and allowing deeper resonance production and slower frequencies that create your low range – known as the chest voice. Male singers often engage the Thyroarytenoid ligament to it’s full capacity and sing with incorrect vocal fold length up towards the middle part of their voice, only to have their vocal folds ‘snap’ back to a thinner weight or complete lack of TA engagement that we sometimes call head voice.
The cricothroid muscles are those that control tension or ‘stretch’ in your vocal folds and the cricothyroid muscle function is often thought of as your ‘head voice’ – full stretch with no weight. By creating the Cricothyroid and Thyroarytenoid balance often known as Middle voice or Mix voice, you will be able to retain the depth of your chest register while accessing the extensive range afforded by head voice – all without a vocal break, and with perfect pitch due to proper frequency production and use of your resonators.
How to sing higher pitch notes
Beginner singers often struggle with pitching high notes due to improper chord coordination between their registers. This often results in the need to either ‘push’ higher than chest voice is capable of, or ‘flip’ up into a bottomless head tone that is disconnected, breathy and weak. By connecting your registers first by way of cricothyroid thyroarytenoid balance, aka Mix Voice, your vocal folds will easily vibrate at the appropriate frequency to sing on pitch with ease.
Singing higher pitch notes is a special skill that many singers wish to learn – it doesn’t have to be confusing or difficult to learn how to sing higher, as singing is really just an act of coordination rather than a muscular feat. If you are pushing and straining into your high range, I suggest taking a step back to your foundation and going through the steps we’ve already spoken about, from building a foundation of healthy posture, breathing and resonance placement, right through to proper vowel production and register control. Once you learn to coordinate your registers the way they were designed to function, you will be able to tune your resonance by altering the width of your vocal tract as you ascend in range, ensuring that only the perfect balance of frequencies are resonating at any given pitch.
Following on from the vocal tract width we discussed earlier in regards to vowel production, you need to continually alter the vocal tract width – in essence ‘tuning your vowel’, as you ascend in range and blend between each different resonance chamber that occurs in your voice. You’ll likely find that your first vocal break, often called the first Passaggio in classical technique, can be bypassed by a slight widening of your vocal tract following back through to a narrow width in the middle of your range. A common way to develop control over your vocal tract width is known as vowel modification, which involves a subtle change in character to each of your vowel sounds as you ascend through the difficult passages of your voice. As an example, the “AH” vowel we spoke of earlier which requires a concave tongue and relatively wider vocal tract than an EE vowel at the same pitch will change in a subtle manner towards an “OH” around the area of your first vocal break – try this yourself to see how this alleviates your break and allows you to sing in tune on higher notes with ease.
Beyond this point, your vowel will again return to a neutral state before narrowing up into your high range. Now, each vowel is unique in the way it modifies throughout your range, and each voice is actually different in the way it functions so no two voices really modify at the same point or in the same manner. A better way to develop resonance tuning is to develop control over the root of the tongue, the tongue itself and the soft palate so you can make these subtle changes in a fine-tuned way while you are singing without having to mangle your vowel sound like often occurs with vowel modification. Try the AH to OH vowel change again without moving your mouth, instead focussing on the back of your throat – can you feel how the very base of your tongue (not to be confused with the ‘back’ of your tongue that you can see in the mirror when you open your mouth), known as the tongue root actually moves forward somewhat to allow for a greater vocal tract width? Bingo – you just learned how to tune your vocal tract width to ensure proper resonant space for your higher notes.
Singing off pitch is simply improper frequency production
Remember, pitch is simply a frequency that your vocal folds are vibrating at – if you are pitchy and singing off-key, then you aren’t creating the right frequencies to create the corresponding note you are attempting to sing. By placing your frequencies properly when you are warming up your voice and practicing, you will soon learn that pitching a note doesn’t actually come from ‘hearing’ the pitch you are singing, it occurs in the frequencies that you create with proper breath support, chord closure and resonance placement – technically, you ‘hear’ a pitch after it has already been created. Learn to control your frequencies properly with the following steps to ensure that singing off pitch is a thing of the past:
- Diaphragmatic Breathing
- Resonance Placement
- Support (aka Appoggio)
- Vowel shaping
- Vocal Tract Width
- Resonance Tuning
- Register control (aka Middle Voice or Mix)
- Onsets and Consonants
Learning to sing is a simple process of coordination, if you find that you’re straining and struggling to sing on pitch, then your vocal technique is likely lacking a key element in your foundation. Check out the troubleshooting guide to your right for help with each aspect of your singing voice, and you’re also welcome to email through a clip of your singing or any issues you’re experiencing for a professional and honest appraisal as to where your vocal technique might need some tweaking and training.
Since 2010, Bohemian Vocal Studio has steadily grown into the premier online vocal studio providing professional voice coaching to students all around the globe. Helping beginners and touring professionals alike reach their singing goals sooner while developing a powerful and healthy singing voice has become the motto of Kegan at BVS – Make sure to book a Skype Session today to learn how to control your frequencies and learn how to sing on the right pitch!
Kegan DeBoheme is Bohemian Vocal Studio’s resident vocal coach and voice expert. He teaches professional singing and voice technique to students all around the world and enjoys providing tutorials like this one on how to improve your voice.