Have you ever heard a singer hit a note that doesn't sound right, or makes you cringe? That is usually because they are singing off-pitch. This is something that every singer faces at some point in their singing career, but some people struggle with it more than others. In this article, I hope to inspire you with the knowledge that anyone can improve their pitch with simple exercises.
You can improve the pitch of your voice first by learning to recognise and imitate pitch. You will then need to control and strengthen your voice by holding long notes and varying your pitch with slides and scales. Finally, you should increase your range to improve the flexibility of your voice.
Below is a more detailed explanation of the five key steps to improving your pitch. You will also find basic exercises for these steps that you can do in a matter of minutes.
How to Improve the Pitch of Your Singing Voice
Being off-pitch means not singing the correct note that you intended to sing. It is quite obvious, even to the untrained ear, and should therefore be avoided.
Being off-pitch can mean singing either higher or lower than intended. If you sing higher than the note, this is known as being 'sharp' (or 'pitchy'). If you sing lower than the note, you are singing 'flat'. In both cases you are singing 'off-key' or 'out of tune'.
In order to rectify this issue, you will need to train your voice to pitch the correct note when you sing. You can do this using the following five steps.
1. Training Your Ears by Copying
Copying is one of the best ways to get better at something. When I was young, my parents owned a digital upright piano that had games on it. One of the games involved sounding a note from the speakers, and then I had to find and play that same note on the piano.
I believe this helped me from an early age learn to recognise correct pitch (without me even realising it!). The beauty of games is that we're never too old to play them.
Once you can hear the correct pitch, you will be well on your way to singing the correct pitch.
Exercise: Play a note on the piano (you can find a piano app on your phone if needed). Now try to copy the same note/pitch as you sing 'Ah'. Does the pitch of your voice sound the same as the piano? If not, try sliding your voice higher and lower until the sounds match.
Keep in mind that you will not be able to reach all the notes on the piano. Everyone has a range of notes that they can comfortably sing. For some people, this is higher than others. For help finding your own range, take a look at this article.
2. Practice Holding the Same Note
Finding the correct pitch is the first step. But then you need to make sure you can hold that pitch.
Exercise: Like the previous exercise, play a note on the piano. Again, you will need to match your voice with the same pitch, singing 'Ah'. This time, hold the note for as long as you can.
Every few seconds while you are singing your note, play the note on the piano again to make sure you are still on the same pitch. If not, adjust correct your pitch once again to match the same note.
The above exercise will point out whether or not you have the ability to sustain your pitch for an extend period of time. Don't worry if you keep sliding off-pitch at first. Keep practising and you will start to see improvement.
If you have trouble with holding a note for an extended period of time, you might want to consider some breathing exercises as well. You can find common vocal exercises, including those for breath control, here.
3. Practice Changing Pitch
Changing your pitch develops the muscles around your vocal cords. As you increase in pitch, the muscles pull the vocal folds together. When you decrease your pitch, the vocal folds seperate. Therefore changing your pitch relaxes and contracts different muscles in the larynx, strengthening them.
This is why singers do vocal exercises on a regular basis. By using these muscles frequently, it becomes easier to control them. It also makes each note equally easy to reach, giving your voice more freedom to correct pitch when required.
If you can reach every note in a song easily, you are less likely to sing out-of-tune. More often than not, an off-pitch voice is caused by a weak or underdeveloped voice. My article on controlling your voice can help with this as well.
Exercise 1: 'Vocal Slides'. Start singing 'oo' from the lower end of your range, slide your pitch up to the higher end and then back down again. This should sound like a siren. Experiment with different pitches but try to start from the lowest note you can sing to the highest.
Exercise 2: Once you have tried sliding from the bottom of your range to the top, try sliding from one specific note to another. For example, choose a note on the piano (such as middle C) and another note higher than this. These notes are now your low starting note and the highest note you sing.
These exercises will start to build more control over your pitch. Exercise 2, in particular, helps you to incorporate your ear training (hearing and copying a particular pitch) with your ability to change pitch.
4. Pitching Each Note in a Scale
Once you can slide your voice up and down between two specific notes, you can move onto pitching a scale. This involves singing a specific pitch for each note in the scale. Instead of controlling the lowest and highest notes, you need to be able to control and steady your pitch for each note in between.
Exercise: Find an app, such as Singer's Friend, which plays scales for you to copy. Listen to the scale and sing along with 'La'. Once you become familiar with the pitch of each note in the scale, try singing the scale by yourself.
Repeat these scales daily as part of your vocal exercises.
This sounds more complicated than it is. Think of Whoopi Goldberg in the movie Sister Act 2, where she sings the 'Fa La La's' and the choir repeat after her. They are singing their scales (and arpeggios - but that's just being technical).
5. Increase Your Range
The steps above help you to hear and correct pitch, as well as control your pitch. I also mentioned that you can strengthen your muscles to make each note easier to sing. When you have found your range and strengthened the notes within your range, you should then consider increasing this range.
Increasing your range means strengthening your singing voice on notes that are higher and lower than you can sing comfortably. Over time, you should start to notice that these uncomfortable notes become more comfortable. Here is an article dedicated to singing higher.
Most notes that people struggle to pitch are those that lie outside your comfortable range. Therefore, by increasing your singing range, you are making these notes easier to pitch. Being able to sing higher or lower will mean you are less likely to hit the wrong note.
This is because the muscles around your vocal cords need to be strong enough to hold a particular position for these higher and lower notes. For notes that are harder to reach, the muscles may not be physically capable of stretching/contracting in that way, and therefore they settle into a more comfortable position. This more comfortable position produces a different pitch.
For example, if you are never picked up a feather before, you may look at it and underestimate how light it is. When you go to pick it up, your muscles overcompensate and your arm lifts the feather much faster than intended.
Similarly, if you have never lifted a kettlebell, your muscles may not provide enough strength to lift it at first. Once you get a feel for the weight of it, you can lift it steadily from then on. The same goes for singing. If you are not used to reaching a particular note and haven't strengthened the muscles by singing that note, you may overshoot or undershoot the pitch of that note.
This is something that many singers struggle with, so you're not alone. Particularly when it comes to increasing your range. But with the right exercises and training (click here if you need help finding a singing teacher), you can stretch your voice beyond where you thought possible.