How to Sing on Pitch – Part 1

For Part 2 Click Here

Most people think that singing off key is something that has to do with your ear or being tone deaf or bad breath support.  I’m going to preface right now, that this article is not about the people who really struggle to hit notes properly and seem like they’re in their own world, though I will make it known that people who are “tone deaf” are less than 2% of the population.  As a matter of a fact a few years back, I taught a deaf man how to sing, and he taught me quite a bit more about pitch – and why hearing people make the mistakes they do. This went FAR beyond the obvious physical “hearing” issues. But this blog isn’t about that journey. It’s referring to those common ones among us, who might be a little flat or a little sharp when they sing. Or perhaps they were doing wonderfully, and suddenly they hit a few really bad notes.  If this has ever happened to you or someone you know – listen up. After learning the things I am about to share, you will have new important insights on how to sing on pitch and hopefully you will not make the common mistakes many singers do that lead down the “pitchy” path to singers doom!

Tune up Your Body to Sing

Anyone with a decent ear can identify if you are hitting a note too sharp (slightly above the desired pitch), or too flat (slightly below the desired pitch), but if you haven’t uncovered the root cause of the issue, you will keep making the same mistakes.

There are obvious reasons why you might be hitting the wrong note and I’m going to discuss these first and let you know that the obvious reasons are the least common ones, but they are however, still important to know about.  Once you understand that your instrument has three parts (MIND, SOUL & BODY), you will be able to use it in a much more thorough way and avoid having commonly misunderstood vocal issues.  We will now address the physical issues, which are the least common reason why people sing off key.  Generally, these less common issues apply to people who are already wired to sing and can carry a tune, but simply need a few pointers.

The most commonly identified reasons for hitting “pitchy” notes when you sing, but the least likely reasons are:


Reason #11: Not having warmed up your voice properly before hand

If you do not make sure your entire instrument is warmed up before you sing, including relaxing and stretching your neck, jaw and tongue, you run the risk of pushing your voice and hitting notes with bad technique, which may mean they are too flat, too sharp, or you miss them all together. Be sure to warm up your voice [you can find exercises on my Practicing CORE  Vocal Power CD] by doing simple stretches for the neck, jaw and tongue, Resonating, and at minimum, some lip and/or tongue trills.  This will help you balance your vocal chords and find more freedom and flexibility in the voice. When you warm up your voice, you are also allowing yourself to create the right kind of coordination in your vocal chords up and down the scale.  Warming up doesn’t mean you push your voice beyond where it can go, it simply means you get it ready to train by doing what is within your range.  Through proper vocal warm up, you can also get more familiar with your voice and learn which areas need strengthening.


Reason #10: Having bad posture

When you are not supporting your voice with your breath, from your diaphragm, you can easily tend to sit in the middle of a note, or just below a note. You tone can also lack support and leave you sounding too breathy or not powerful enough. It’s important to have good posture as well, because when you slouch, you are blocking the energy flow along your spine. Be sure to sit up straight or stand with a straight spine when you sing – chin parallel to the ground, knees unlocked, feet shoulder width apart and arms relaxed. Your chest should already be slightly elevated, but should stay that way even when you exhale. This is singing 101.  Proper posture is key to the right kind of breath support, but you will see in the later examples, that contrary to popular belief–just because your posture is bad, doesn’t mean you are going to hit notes wrong. However, it will make your performance more promising, if you have amazing posture when you sing.


Reason #9: Not knowing which register to place the note in

Oftentimes, songs are not written in one register. For example, the commonly sung, “Happy Birthday To You” throws off a lot of singers at the very end.  If the singer starts this song in the higher registers of their chest voice, it will be likely that when they get to the last time they say the word “birth” on, “Happy birthday dear _______”, that octave jump may mean they need to transition into a higher register, which means less air, more support as something completely different is taking place physiologically in the vocal chords. Some people can muster up the support and simply show up on top of the note, while others miss it by a long shot because they simply don’t want to change registers. (Click here to learn more about how to hit high notes).  Trying to push through, they fall flat, or if the overshoot the note, they might go sharp and try to place it in their head voice, instead of the mix.  This same principle applies to intervals in songs that may go too low or out of a singer’s range.  Of course the simple solution is to make sure the song is in the right key, which goes back to knowing your voice, but singers don’t always have the luxury of choosing a key, so they must learn to get comfortable with all of their registers.


Reason #8: Reaching up for notes

I almost put this one under SOUL/EMOTIONAL, because it really has to do with the way you are connected to your energy, perception, and is more abstract, but I decided to put it in this section because reaching also relates to the physical, and something very bad happens when singers do this. Usually the muscles in their throat tighten and they either pull up their larynx or it gets locked up because of strain.  The only reason singers do this is because they don’t know better. They haven’t yet learned how to develop the flexibility and freedom that is available to them through warming up, and equally importantly: understanding how to treat their voice and relate to it in a constructive way.  Once you learn how to GROUND and CENTER your energy, you don’t even think about reaching for notes. You know you have access to all of them. One analogy I like to use is patting the notes on the head.  As I slide up in pitch, I ground my energy down, and just pat the notes on the head – literally. I visualize them lower than me and within my reach. You would be surprised at how easy hitting any high note becomes. It’s all about perception.  Learn your relationship to the notes and you will be able to access them. This must be done with Practice, Patience and Persistence.

Notice I didn’t say anything about not being able to hear the notes? Does that surprise you? Later, you will find out why. Just know at this point, that if you are thinking that you or your friend sings “off key” because they can’t hear the notes, you are only partially correct.

Now that we have reviewed the most common physical reasons for not hitting notes correctly, I’m going to let you digest this information  for a while and make sure you get this down. There are seven much more common reasons why people sing out of tune, so be sure to make sure you have these ones under your belt before you move on.


To read PART 2 Click Here