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Singing In Tune

I played drums in a semi-pro band with a young woman with a fabulous singing voice. She grew up singing along with her mother and aunt and never learned how to sing out of tune. You can hear Rachel singing my Walking This Path with Blazing Saddles.

It is different for me. My family did not have a music culture beyond the jukebox and most of my family believed they were genetically incapable of singing. I played drums professionally, but did not sing. The skills for drumming do not include scales, pitches, or intervals. In hindsight, I wish I had learned piano or a melodic instrument much earlier in life. However, it is never too late to work on these things.

I have joined a choir and do a respectable job most of the time. I also will sing some of my own songs and will sing backing vocals when playing the drums. I have made huge progress and still have a long way to go to approach mastery. If your musical journey involves some work on your vocals, the following suggestions may help:

  • Just Do It
    Singing in the shower, singing in the car, singing along with a recording, singing karaoke, and singing with friends will help. Most people have inherited some amazing abilities for the human brain to appreciate and create music. Practice and confidence can go a long way.

  • Join a Choir or Singing Group
    Simply getting out to sing regularly and receiving support and encouragement can do wonders. You can also learn proper breathing, posture, and singing mechanics to help improve your singing.

  • Singing-inTunaLearn to Hit Notes
    I can tag along with a group of singers and sing on key most of the time. I can also tag along with singing harmony and, on a good day, I can can sing a reasonable harmony line without knowing what the harmony actually is. I can sing a recognizable version of a tune acapella, though I could not reliably tell you the key or starting notes. While this is fabulous progress from where I started, it will not get me past the 'Simon' on an Idol program or into vocal college. The bottom line for an excellent vocal (or instrumental) performance is that the performer needs to be able to hit specific notes out of the chute with good pitch, tone, and timing. If that is not second-nature to you, the following can help:

    • Learn the basics of reading music, scales, intervals, and harmony at least to the point where you can plunk notes on the piano to sing to.

    • Practice matching notes that are sung to you or played on an instrument such as a piano. Make sure the notes you are hearing are in tune!

    • Check your pitch. The easiest way to do this is to use a chromatic tuner to check your pitch. Music stores carry a number of good electronic tuners starting at under $20. Some have metronomes built in too. There are also tuners and other software applications to do this on computers or Smartphones like the iPhone. There is an interesting application offered at http://www.singandsee.com/ that shows a graph of your singing pitch on musical staff. A similar App for the iPhone and iPod touch is Sing-inTuna (iTunes or http://www.nicholson.com/intuna/).
      I do not have any experience with these applications. My experience using portable tuners and Cleartune on the iPhone is that the feedback can be humbling (a euphemism). Suddenly the interval between B and C looks pretty fine and holding the pitch tougher than it seems when you are winging it!

  • Hire a Good Vocal Coach.
    A good vocal instructor can help you identify opportunities for improvement, exercises, and studies to help in your vocal performance.

Keep Singing, Keep Learning, and Have Fun!

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