Can Pitch (Intonation) Be Learned and / or Corrected?

Pitch Control

I have to laugh every time I watch the early stages of auditions for American and Canadian Idol… mainly because they are auditioning these singers without the aid of any backing tracks. Believe me, when I tell you this; there is NO WAY a person can tell if another person has good pitch control, unless they hear the person sing over an instrument, or recording.

girl_singing_in_recording_studio

The reason for this is that, while a person may have a beautiful tone, it is entirely possible that the person's hearing is just off kilter enough that they are listening to an instrument that sounds a lot higher or lower than it actually is. In other words, it is possible for a person's musical ears to play tricks on them!

 

Learning Lessons The Hard Way

Quite a few years ago I learned this lesson the hard way. I agreed to let a person study with me, based on their a cappella audition. They had a luscious, thick, rich sounding vocal tone. One would think that this was a positive sign, that they were well on their way to being an accomplished vocalist. I cannot relay my shock (which I tried very hard to disguise) upon hearing them sing with accompaniement.

They were actually about a quarter tone sharp!

 

Songwriter Vocals

For songwriters this problem is much more noticeable, once you start recording your voice over your tracks.

Remember: the ear can play tricks on us. You will not hear yourself properly until you hear yourself on your own tracks. To put this in perspective, how many times have you listened to your own voice message and said, "I sound like THAT???"

Therefore, once you have established that you may have a pitch problem, you will need to start doing pitch improvement exercises, using a recording device. My favorite? One in which my first vocal teacher taught me.

 

Pitch Improvement Exercise

  1.  Turn on recording device.
  2.  Sit or stand at the piano.
  3.  Play a pitch on the piano. Wait. Listen. Sing the pitch back.
  4.  While singing the note, pay very close attention to where you are placing it.a) Are you placing the note close to the teeth? Back of the mouth where you yawn? Where are you placing it?b) Are you smiling (smiling raises pitch - so that could mean that the note sharpens)c) Are you singing from your diaphragm area, the chest area or even from the throat, in an unsupported way?
  5.  Repeat procedure two more times.
  6.  Now, listen back to the 3 notes! Which one sounded the most in tune; 1, 2 or 3?
  7.  Try to re-produce the one that sounded the most in tune, by placing the note the same way as the most successful one you just recorded.
  8.  Spend 15 or 20 minutes a day on this, for about 2 weeks. (Save the very first recording you did, and compare the two notes. You will be simply amazed at the difference!!)

Discuss this article in our Music Forum.

 

About Cheryl Hodge

Cheryl_Hodge_2_300Cheryl Hodge has been in the music and songwriting business for well over 30 years; recording on several labels; among them Atco Records (Raindogs, 1990), and has released 4 CDs of her own; on her own label: Jazzboulevard.com Records.

She has performed her music for the last 10 years with noted jazz guitarist John Stowell (amongst many others), and they are about to release a CD of co-written originals. She has been private instructor to many; including the gifted Paula Cole. She is also the author of "A Singer's Guide to the Well-Trained and Powerful Voice", and is a published vocal arranger.

Cheryl is currently the head of the vocal dept. at Nelson, BC's: Selkirk College Music Program. There, she teaches Songwriting and Advanced Songwriting, Business of Music, Arranging and Vocals.

She continues to write and produce her original materials, and has just released "Cheryl Hodge: Original Article" - a compilation of her favourites.

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It isn't evil that's ruining the earth, but mediocrity. The crime is not that Nero played while Rome burned, but that he played badly.”
Ned Rorem