Do you struggle to hit a true note, or to naturally pick out the right tune? Have you noticed something isn’t quite right when you listen back to your recordings?
Learn how to improve your pitch as a singer and your sound will be transformed. Pitchy vocals will let you down and hamper your whole performance. But this is something that can undoubtedly be worked upon, so you can recognise and produce the correct notes.
Read on to find out how you can test your own pitch, the exercises you can use to refine it and which famous singers are always right on the note.
How to improve your pitch as a singer
‘Pitchy’ singing is a major problem, especially with emerging artists. You may be hitting the right notes, but are you moving off those notes ever so slightly and leaning toward a flat or sharp sound? A pure pitch is so much more pleasant on the ear and is the difference between your listeners wincing through, or enjoying, your performance.
Music is a very nuanced medium – as are all art forms. So there can be many shades of grey. This is why we see so many descriptive words for all types of sound. You can be in tune, but pitchy, off-pitch sharp, off-pitch flat, out of tune, or in the worst-case scenario you may fluctuate between all of these. It can be complex for newer singers to understand and recognise when it’s going wrong, which is why tuning and pitch is an issue so often heard at auditions.
What does it mean to sing on pitch?
Around one in every 10,000 people has perfect pitch, also known as absolute pitch. This is the ability to identify a musical note just by hearing it, or seeing it written on sheet music, without the help of an instrument to match it up. This is a wonderful talent. But as most of us aren’t born with it, it’s certainly not the only route to accurate pitching. However, it is vital to develop a keen musical ear. This will help you not only determine when your pitching is off, but also when you’re in the wrong key, flat, sharp, or have come in at the wrong point in the music.
How to identify pitch in music
The best way to hear a pitch is to play it. The caveat is, your instrument must be correctly tuned. You should then copy that sound as best you can, vocally. If you always copy tracks instead of hearing the solitary notes, you may be picking up on an artist’s own bad habits or aspects of backing and harmonies. Remember not all famous singers have perfect vocals – many compensate with charisma, superb songwriting or a unique vocal flair. The same may not work for you. Always begin with the bare, stripped back melody line, note by note.
Instrumental perfect pitch is the ability to hear a note and play it. Elton John is said to have this gift, having played by ear from a very early age without formal lessons.
How do I know if I’m singing on pitch?
Are you singing all the right notes, but something’s jarring? It could be that your pitch is off. The best way to know if you’re singing on pitch is to hear it for yourself. That way you’ll always be able to spot it during a live performance, and therefore correct it. If you rely on others or tech, this will not be possible – but it’s fine to use modern methods in the first instance, to identify and learn to recognise off-pitch singing.
Take care with your backing. Poor tracks, badly positioned or hard to hear monitors and pitchy backing vocalists can all throw you off. Even those with good pitch will find it hard to sing against these. Rehearsing in situ and doing thorough sound checks should help avoid these common pitfalls.
Singing pitch test
There are a number of ways you can check your pitch.
- Listen to a recording of yourself singing and listen out for pitchiness.
- Get your singing teacher or pitch-perfect friend to listen to you and feedback to you.
- Play the notes on the piano as you sing and check if they match your vocals.
- Use some tech to identify whether you’re on the note
A good way to hear yourself better, especially when singing close to other vocalists and instrumentalists, is to cup your ear. You may have seen others doing this. It creates a kind of self-monitoring effect, amplifying your vocals. It doesn’t look great on stage, so don’t do it during gigs, but it’s a handy tool for practices.
Sing on pitch app
Technology offers many new ways to improve our technique. And if you struggle to match pitch, it’s well worth downloading an app.
If you’re unsure if you’re on or off the pitch, you can download and sing into Pitch Analyzer. It will detect the sound from the phone microphone, analyse it and tell you what note you are singing. This takes away the reliance on your ear and provides a definite result. It can also be used to tune instruments.
Pitch Pipe plays a reference pitch for you, so you can match with it. This is incredibly useful if you don’t have a piano or keyboard at home. It has three views each designed for larger singing groups, soloists and the third for guitarists.
Vocal Pitch Monitor takes the sound you’re making and displays it as a graph. It allows you to record up to three minutes of audio for playback analysis – this recording can then be shared elsewhere. Each note is colour coded for ease of display.
Sing True can be used to help you sing in tune, as well as in pitch. With over 30 interactive exercises, it’s designed to be used regularly, ideally daily. But if you’re just seeking help with pitching, you can skip to the more advanced ear exercises. If you struggle to stay motivated, it’s ideal as it tracks your progress and enables you to share it via social media.
Pitch – Chromatic Tuner is designed for vocalists and guitarists, providing detailed analytics and tips on how to improve. Use it as your musical fitness coach.
If you’re already overloaded with phone apps, there are versions compatible with web browsers too. Tuner Ninja doesn’t require a download, only the use of your phone or computer mic. As you sing it’ll show you the notes and HZ in real-time.
Pitch singing exercises
While most people with perfect pitch were enrolled in music classes in the early stages of primary school, close to perfect pitch is certainly attainable for others. A study carried out in the USA suggested that adults could see a vast improvement with training. Study lead Howard Nusbaum said:
“This is the first significant demonstration that the ability to identify notes by hearing them may well be something that individuals can be trained to do. It’s an ability that is teachable, and it appears to depend on a general cognitive ability of holding sounds in one’s mind.”
In this study, students were taught to sing and recognise the names of 180 notes, using the piano to guide and correct their pitching. These were repeated until they were accurate. They were then tested a few months after the training, with most retaining their ability to identify notes.
So the key to improving your pitch as a singer may lie in memory. And if you’re already learning tunes and lyrics, the chances are that’s on pretty good form.
How to sing on pitch better
The method of training is simple. Play a note on a tuned, accurate instrument, then recreate that note exactly while memorising its name. Play it again as you hold that note to check if you match up and adjust accordingly. Then try singing the note again without the instrument. You’ll need to do this on every note to develop a comprehensive pitch memory. Test yourself at regular intervals, using the instrument to check yourself to see if you hit each note correctly. Start this process with Middle C and then work your way up and down the staff.
Improving your vocal tone will also have an impact on your pitch. A brighter voice will rest more soundly on the note, whereas a darker one will incline toward flat singing. Similarly, if you’re too shrill, you may veer toward sharp singing. A quick way to brighten the voice is to lift the soft palate slightly as you sing. Adding an almost imperceptible lift to the face and eyebrows will also make a difference.
What famous singers have perfect pitch?
While around 1% of people have perfect pitch, that figure is understandably higher in the music community – nearing 11%. It’s something many big names struggle with, particularly where live setups cause issues with hearing backing accurately. Madonna, Taylor Swift and Camila Cabello are among those who lack natural pitch. Have a listen to some artists singing live and see if you can identify any off-pitch singing.
However, there are plenty of famous singers with a natural musical ear. Here are some of the big names who have the gift of absolute pitch.
She’s most renowned for her incredible range, but the American chanteuse is also in possession of perfect pitch. This was discovered when she was just four, and her mother found Mariah’s ability to sing back any song right on the notes.
The American singer-songwriter was apparently bullied at school for his pitch-perfect singing. Fortunately, he was able to see past this and build a hugely successful pop career.
Bing’s dulcet tones are heard every December in his song White Christmas. But the Crooner was also able to wow his listeners by hitting every note bang on and being able to sing any given note on demand.
The jazz legend had such a fantastic ear, her band would tune-up to her pitch-perfect singing. This is one of the reasons she’s become the muse of so many contemporary artists, like Amy Winehouse and Adele.
Listening to and watching pitch-perfect singers is a good habit to get into it. Try singing along with them and checking how you match up.
Never underestimate the value of great musicianship. While image, branding and presentation are all important, a beautiful sound and technique will take you far – and pitching is part of this. The ability to read and repeat a note is a huge advantage in the professional music world.
Autotune covers over many faults in the studio, but it won’t help you in a live audition, a cappella environment or during a simple acoustic set. If you haven’t trained your ear, you might not realise you’ve wandered into the off-pitch territory. So take some time to record yourself and find out today.
What is timbre in music?
Timbre is an adjective used in musical terminology and describes the colour or tone quality of a particular note. This helps distinguish between the likes of voices and instruments. Each voice type has its own timbre. Examples of this might be: rich, breathy, full and bright. But there are many more.
Why is pitch important in music?
Sounds are high or low and vary according to the frequency of vibration of the sound waves producing them. Pitch is important because it dictates not only the note itself but the central point of that note, that is the ‘true’ sound that needs to be produced.
At what age can you develop perfect pitch?
Perfect pitch is the ability to recognize the pitch of a note or produce any given note on demand. Most people with perfect pitch have a genetic ability and began musical training before the age of seven. Perfect pitch can however be taught at any age, to a degree.
Have you improved your pitch as a singer? How has it benefitted you as an artist? Let us know in the comments below.