My thoughts...Wisdom from over the years

Pitch and Intonation Part 2

Posted in: Blog, tip of the week ♦ Monday, July 23rd, 2012, 12:50 pm ♦ No Comments on Pitch and Intonation Part 2

Can I Improve My Pitch?

Yes! The good news is that although hearing and reproducing pitch correctly does come more easily to some than to others, this can be learned and improved upon. Invariably I get asked the question of whether or not someone is ‘tone deaf’. Tone deafness is an interesting subject and is difficult to assess in many aspects. For example in one study, approximately 3% of the general population is believed to be amusic (unable to distinguish tones) from childhood (Peretz, 2001) and yet other studies of adults seem to concur that approx 1 in 20 suffer from this ‘malady’.  What that says to me is that there is a whole lot of ‘nurture vs. nature’ going on somewhere from childhood to adulthood.

In my personal experience, I have never seen a ‘tone deaf’ person. I have worked with many children and adults who sounded like they were ‘tone deaf’ when they sang but upon further investigation they were easily able to distinguish one pitch from another and even to be able to tell when they were ‘off’ if asked pointedly to think about the pitch I was playing or singing and to listen to themselves to compare if their pitch matched mine. I literally never, in having worked with thousands of adults and children alike come across someone who couldn’t do this.  So the statistics I quoted earlier, although they seem to be substantiated by some kind of research have never been approximated in my experience. Not even close.

Start With Simple Half-steps and Whole-steps

Understanding intervals in our Western scale is essential to improving one’s pitch. For example, our Western scale is made up of a series of half steps and whole steps.  When you think about it, there aren’t that many notes available for the individual human voice to replicate. Therefore, learning the proper pitches for our Western music is obviously important. Learning the quarter tones of the Eastern scales would be of little use and could be confusing to someone trying to improve their ability to sing in the style and genre of European/American music. If you focus only on the tones you’ll actually ever need to sing you’ll be narrowing it down quite a bit!

Although it may sound very elementary, properly singing half-steps and whole steps is one of the most difficult things for a singer, or group of singers to master. However, you can see that once these are mastered, the rest will become easier. One exercise I like to use for helping to improve intonation is this: on an ‘Ah’ sing two half steps up and then back down.  (ex. C C# D C# C) Then, without hesitation from the same starting point sing two WHOLE steps up and back down. (ex. C D E D C) This simple exercise is one way to quickly learn the basic building blocks of our Western scale.

Moving on from there to actually learn to sing some basic scales; Major and Minor (all three) is also very useful. The use of Solfege (do, re mi –think “Sound of Music”) can also be very helpful. Recognizing ‘Do’ (pronounced doe) as the tonic of the scale and following up with each successive syllable and then back down, you can help reinforce the intervals in a major scale both up and down. (Ex: Do-Re, Do-Mi, Do-Fa, Do-So, and so forth. Then once you reach the top of the scale go back down from the ‘Do’ on top. Do-Ti, Do-La, Do-So, Do-Fa, Do-Mi, Do-Re, Do-Do)

If you have been told that you are sometimes ‘Pitchy’ then perhaps some time working on these exercises would be helpful. Practicing these exercises in the presence of someone who can help you distinguish when you are ‘off’ is ideal. Short of having someone with you, recording is essential. That way you can review the way you matched pitch. You will most likely be able to tell when you’re off if you’re able to hear it on a recording and listen objectively. My students usually have no trouble with this.  Good luck!



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