Belting out your favorite song while in the shower requires no pitch or tone, though your family might scream for reprieve rather than encore. Transitioning from the safety of your own bathroom to a public venue warrants a bit more in singing chops. A time comes for anyone wanting to learn to sing, where the development of vocal range is essential.
Development requires understanding pitch and tone, even if you don’t have it, yet. Yes, you can learn to sing even without perfect pitch and become successful.
Before we go through the basics of developing your singing voice, let’s review what others refer to as having perfect pitch, being tone deaf and hitting the right notes.
To understand perfect pitch, it is important to discuss what pitch is in the first place. Pitch is a sound’s frequency. High-speed frequencies are considered higher pitch sounds compared to lower speed frequency sounds. Frequency is measured in Hertz (Hz), referring to the cycles per second.
Is this getting too scientific? Stay tuned (forgive the pun). It will make sense regarding your singing ability.
Think of the difference between a foghorn and a fire alarm. The foghorn emits low frequencies (deep sounds) while the fire alarm emits high frequencies (sharper maybe even shrill sounds). Musical notes exist in perfect pitch. So when the piano plays an A note, the frequency of the pitch is 440 Hz while the C note exists at 512 Hz.
This means lower pitch sounds have fewer vibration cycles per second compared to the higher pitch sounds. Here’s an easy to understand analogy: the giggle from a girl on a playground roundabout will probably increase in pitch the faster the apparatus spins.
Is absolute pitch better than perfect pitch?
Perfect pitch and absolute pitch are interchangeable terms. A person who has perfect pitch is able to initiate a sound without having the sound base-lined beforehand.
In terms of learning to sing: being able to initiate a sound at the correct note is great and is considered a gift and talent. It is amazing but not necessary. Learn the methods, tools and resources available to help you develop better pitch in singing.
Being tone deaf means you can’t recognize the differences in pitch properly. This is more pertinent when learning to sing than having perfect pitch.
Tone is a way to define the quality and strength of pitch. In musical terms, tone is the timbre of pitch, described by words like warm or shrill. For example, a violin and a bass might play the same note, but the bass maintains a warm timbre compared to the violin.
Tone is easily understood by exploring the sounds of a barbershop quartet where vocalists might hit the same note but have a different tone to the sounds, developing the rich color and complexity in the song.
The inability to recognize the difference in tone, also known as being tone deaf, leaves a singer with the inability to reproduce sounds. This can be improved with vocal training in most cases so anyone can learn to sing. Being completely tone deaf is actually described as a learning disability that, with the right tools, can be improved upon according to neurology experts.
To keep the definitions in line: having perfect pitch means you can create the sound whereas understanding tone allows a singer to replicate them.
Therefore, learning to understand tone is much more important in learning to sing than having perfect pitch. Someone may be able to emulate the tone but never be able to recognize the pitch. Some vocal instructors would say people are more likely pitch deaf and not tone deaf.
Notes are more than the squiggly symbols on sheet music. Notes are the foundation of music. They are the building blocks of any musical endeavor. A note is the location of a specified pitch that also indicates its duration.
Different music formats may adjust how notes are designated depending on whether it is for a solo voice, harmonized group or specific instrument. It isn’t necessary to learn to read sheet music to learn to sing, but understanding what notes to hit is important. It helps you learn the progression of sounds through the scale.
Note names have been adopted by most countries and easily recognized as Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-La-Ti. As this scale cycles through and back to a higher frequency Do, an octave is created. The scale moves the voice and vocal cords through a range of lower to higher frequency pitches or vice versa.
Learning to move through a scale means learning to hit notes in-order and train your voice to replicate the pitch. This is imperative in learning to sing and requires warm-up exercises of simple scales.
Singing lessons can certainly help you learn to match pitch. Keeping in mind that learning pitch is an ear training game, there are a few things you can do to help improve your chances at winning this musical game.
Practice your vocal exercises and routine daily. Doing a little bit daily does much more than a lot done incorrectly occasionally. Focus on breathing deep from your diaphragm to produce a strong sound. But remember, you also need to balance the right amount of air movement with vocal cord closure (registration) to have the correct amount of vibrating cord.
Make sure you know the sounds you are trying to match. If you think you are matching pitch but told you aren’t, further training is required. Train your ear by listening to another person or recording to differentiate the sounds. This is the first priority.
Start with an easy song as you practice vocal exercises, maybe even a nursery rhyme. As you become better at discerning pitch, you may be able to match some but not others. Don’t get frustrated. Work with what comes naturally and slowly build range.
Pay specific attention to your posture. Hitting the right notes during vocal exercises requires standing tall and straight. Think of your body as if it were a flute; the same sound wouldn’t come out of the instrument if it were bent in the middle. The same is true for your body as an instrument.
Keep your head squarely over your tailbone. This posture helps open your body to produce the proper sound. Warm up and pay attention to the specific note you want to hit.
Practice makes permanent – which isn’t always perfect. Be diligent to practice with intention. As you get tired, stop. There is nothing saying you need to practice an extra 15 minutes, especially if you are practicing incorrectly.
While your coach is a great resource to help keep your practice sessions on track, it isn’t always practical to have a coach working with you for every session. Find a practice partner who will give honest feedback about how you perform the notes and whether or not you are matching pitch. Listening to them also helps you refine your own ear to match pitch.
As you can see, there are ways to learn to sing even without perfect (or good) pitch. While you can do this on your own, it makes the entire endeavor more difficult. It’s like a tennis player learning to serve without someone giving them the physiological feedback to learn what is correct form or not.
Vocal training requires your commitment. Just like sports coaches, a good singing and voice coach is there to not just correct you but also for support. It can become quite frustrating very quickly to not feel as if you are progressing at all.
Good coaches are able to help you set realistic goals with manageable timelines. Then the coach helps you better track progress and provide the necessary praise in learning a new skill.
Lucky for you, there are a lot of great singing teachers and resources available to help you from the very first note. When hiring a coach, ask friends and family members if they have any recommendations. It can be surprising how many people within your own circle have a child or a friend taking lessons.
If you can’t find someone within your circle, ask the local church choir for recommendations. The choir director may actually be a voice coach himself or have some great referrals.
Once you have some voice instructors to interview, arrange to meet and discuss your goals. You want to feel connected to the coach. Nothing is worse than paying for a coach and dreading to go to your lesson because the coach is not enthusiastic about your progress. She may even be critical. This is a time for support.
Don’t be afraid to change your singing coach if you feel that you aren’t progressing in a realistic time frame. But do be patient about the process. Developing pitch and learning to sing won’t happen overnight.
Find an online resource to help you practice and build on what the coach is doing. In fact, there are revolutionary online voice lessons that bring the voice coach to you when and where you want – hopefully no longer in the shower but perhaps still in the privacy of your own home.
Set regular practice times in a place where you feel comfortable to sing and make mistakes as you learn. Yes, a safe environment is imperative to giving you the bravery to try new notes and build on your strengths and expand your vocal range.
With diligent practice and fearless effort, you will begin to see, actually to hear, changes in your ability. It won’t be long before you are singing a tune that surprises those around you, all because you weren’t afraid of having pitch issues. Diligent practice may give you a great shot at the next American Idol audition.