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A Resource for the Aspiring Vocalist

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Command your Singing with Pitch

Pitch is a quality of sound, that is measurable by the rate of vibrations of an object producing that sound. Having command over pitch enables a singer not only to stay in tune, but to use the manipulation of pitch as a form of expression, per example through use of slides, vibrato, or pitch bends. Pitch gives a vocal interpretation of a musical piece its distinctiveness.

A vocalist who sings in the correct pitch oftentimes knows the musical concept of key and scales, and is able to recreate any pitch that suits the song he or she is performing. To get there you will need to know not only your vocal abilities as a singer, but to enhance on your hearing skills. A good singer analyses the notes played by the accompaniment as well as the notes that the voice produces when singing. He or she will constantly monitor the pitch of the voice, and make corrections as necessary during the performance. In our main article on Lead Vocals we offer an exercise that will shed some light on this process.

The rate with that an object vibrates determines the pitch of the sound it generates.

The rate with that an object vibrates determines the pitch of the sound it generates.

The concept of being in tune

In music we use tuning systems, per example the chromatic scale in Western music, to limit the repertoire of theoretically playable frequencies to a number of semitones. Semitones are your musical notes, and the frequency behind it describes the pitch. The 12 semitones of the chromatic scale build a library that is shaped by its natural and harmonic interaction of each semitone with the others. Unfortunately the exact position of such a semitone within the frequency spectrum is a trade off, because the mathematical concept of building e.g. octaves, fifths, fourths etc. calculates slightly differing frequencies for the same semitone.

To avoid disharmonic combinations of tones an additional concept sits on top of the tuning system. It is created by defining a fundamental pitch called the musical key, and by building a subset of tones when ascending or descending within the frequency spectrum. The resulting sequence of ordered musical notes is called a scale.

The vocalist has a clear advantage if he knows the key of the song he or she performs, as well as the scale which defines a number of possible harmonic pitches. It is to mention that some songs make use of multiple keys, either in progression or simultaneously.

Improve on hearing

As vocalists we are not really able to tune our instrument, the voice, but we are able to adjust our pitch in a way that we will sing in tune. To achieve this we need to know where the correct pitch is to be expected, and we need to be able to hear what we are doing and what the accompaniment is doing. It is for that reason that pitch training is in large part a training of the ear.

There are two different methods of how one can master to recognize pitch: One is to analyze a note by comparing it with the preceding note and to gain an understanding of the interval, which describes the distance in the frequency spectrum between the two notes. This is called relative pitch, because we use a reference to determine it. Mastering this skill will enable us to improvise our singing to an extent, because we then understand how notes relate to each other. Another method is to learn naming a musical note just by hearing it, without any reference. This is called absolute pitch and will enable us to recognize the key a song is written or performed in.

Exercises to improve pitch

When we want to improve pitch as a vocalist we should work on our hearing skills as well as on our ability to reproduce a pitch through singing and optional maybe through play of an instrument. Exercising pitch takes time and we should incorporate our training into recurring routine. At Lead Vocals we have collected a number of exercises to get you started. We also recommend the use of professional ear training software to progress on both, absolute and relative pitch.

Continue reading about the topic and the exercises in depth at