Pitch: Are You Hitting The Bulls-Eye?

“Pitch-ey” has now become a household word thanks to American Idol judges. At least now we vocal coaches don’t have to explain it!

Pitch is one of the fundamental, foundational core elements in singing – so much so that it is one of the most important – perhaps the most important – quality of a great voice.

Imagine pitch as a circle – about the size of a dime. Right in the center of that dime is the bulls-eye. This is the center of pitch. Flat pitch falls below the bulls-eye and sharp pitch falls above the bulls-eye.

In general, rock singers tend to compress their notes and fall flat – while R & B or jazz singers tend to sing lighter and “overblow” their notes, singing sharp.

Most singers scoop into their notes. Although it can be cool as a styling thing, scooping without knowing what you are doing tends to miss the center of the note.

The first step is to identify flat and sharp.  And to do so, don’t let yourself scoop – hit the note head on.

Sing a note in the center of the pitch (head on – at the bulls-eye) and then fall slightly flat (slide slowly like a siren) and quickly return to the center again. The best way to do this is to hit a note on a piano (around a middle C) and sing the note matching the pitch exactly. Now do it again, but this time go slightly sharp in the middle of the note and slide back to the center. You have just identified flat and sharp.

Now cup your ears (or use Hearfones – hearfones.com) and aim for the bulls-eye. If you are uncertain where the bulls-eye is – sing slightly flat and then sharp to find the middle. This is super important because a singer – like a violin player – has to fix pitch as they go.

How else can you improve your pitch?

Here is my Number One Pitch exercise:

  1. Play and LISTEN to a Chromatic Scale. Just play each note on your keyboard up and down starting at C and go to C at the next octave. Do this slowly, listening first. The chromatic scale is every single note, black and white, as they occur in order on the keyboard, without leaving any notes out. The formal name for these notes is “half steps.”
  2. To sing the chromatic scale on pitch, you have to become familiar with how the steps sound. By listening, you get the sounds of the steps in your ear. After awhile this scale is memorized in your ear as “steps” and different “notes”.
  3. Now you’re ready to sing the Chromatic scale. Play each note on the keyboard first and sing it immediately after you play it. This allows you to hear the note first and then sing it – improving your ear – which is the first step to improving pitch.

The key is – don’t rush through the scale. Sing this scale up and down every single day. If you want to – add the actual solfeggio vowels. Here they are:

Ascending (moving up the scale) DO  DI  RE RI  MI  FA  FI  SO  SI  LA  LI  TI DO (top of the scale)

Returning down the scale (descending) TI  LI  LA  SI  SO  FI  FA  MI  RI  RE  DI  DO (bottom)

(DI or MI etc. is pronounced “dee” or “me” and RE is pronounced “ray”)

Here are some other ways to help fix pitch:

  1. Use Hearfones with Vocal Technique Scales. I have all my singers use Hearfones for part of their technique scales. It allows them to “self-correct” pitch and tone and gets them singing with better pitch right away. It’s like having a vocal coach in your ear while you practice!
  2. Record your Voice frequently singing Chromatic and Major Scales and record yourself. Listen back and see if you are singing the pitch accurately. (Use Garage band or recording software). Learn to recognize sharp and flat and correct them instantaneously as you sing.
  3. Melodyne or Pitch Correct your Vocal. Try having your voice pitch corrected and then sing to that recording (sometimes singers don’t realize they are slightly off). I use this process to correct pitch in a singer.  It helps them to hear the center of pitch and make corrections.

Insider Tip #1: People who have a pitch problem also tend to have a habit of not listening to the notes and are generally not musicians (they don’t play an instrument). I highly recommend to every singer out there to play an instrument — but even so – the trick is LISTENING and learning the Chromatic – and Major, Minor, and Pentatonic scales (more about those in later posts).

Insider Tip #2: Believe it or not, there are famous singers who sing on the sharp or flat side and that is part of their sound. Some producers say perfect pitch is “too perfect” and they will not pitch correct every note on a record (yet pitch correction is now a standard in the industry and to not pitch correct is doing yourself a disservice – especially if you are trying to get signed. That’s a whole ‘nother article in itself).

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