veryone’s been there: You’re happily singing along to your favorite song on the radio when suddenly the signal goes out and all you hear for a second is yourself singing, alone and disastrously out of tune. You were sure you were matching the music until it went silent and you realized exactly how off pitch you were. It’s funny when you’re just bopping along on your morning commute but frustrating when you have a desire to sing in a choir or a band or even just for your own pleasure. Thankfully, almost anyone can learn how to sing in tune.
What Does It Even Mean To Sing in Tune?
Singing in tune means you are accurately singing the musical notes the way they are written and in harmony with the other notes around them. The concept seems simple enough, but it’s not always easy to put into practice. Many people believe they are tone-deaf and are wholly incapable of ever singing in tune. Luckily, this is usually a false assumption. Singing in tune is a learned skill that you can improve upon with practice.
Before you can think about singing with perfect pitch, you need to understand basic singing techniques. Learning to control your breathing is key. If you’re struggling to get the right air flow going and trying to catch your breath in the middle of a phrase, you won’t be able to concentrate on singing the right notes. Your diaphragm needs to be trained for the type of breathing required for good singing. Here are some common exercises to engage your diaphragm and improve your breathing.
Lay on the floor and raise your knees. Place a heavy book on your abdomen. When you inhale, the book should rise. When you exhale, it should lower back down. That’s how you know you’re using your diaphragm.
Get on All Fours
Get down on the floor on your hands and knees. Keep your chest steady. Inhale and feel your abs fall down toward the floor. Exhale and feel your abs move back up. Don’t be discouraged if at first the opposite occurs. Just keep trying.
Stand up tall and then slump your body over. Inhale and notice how your lower abs move out. When you exhale, let your ribs slowly close rather than immediately collapse. This helps increase your control.
Cover a Nostril
Cover one nostril with your finger and take a deep breath through the uncovered one. This exercise also helps you learn to breathe deeply and with more control.
Suck Through a Straw
Well, pretend to suck through a straw. Purse your lips, inhale slowly, and then exhale slowly. Like covering a nostril, this technique forces you to breathe more slowly, which in turn engages your diaphragm.
These exercises all seem easy on paper, but you may find them more challenging in practice. That’s normal. With repetition, breathing with your diaphragm will become easier and more natural. Eventually, you’ll apply diaphragmatic breathing to your singing without even noticing.
After you spend some time on your breathing techniques, you’ll want to move on to the fun part. That’s the actual singing, of course. There are some great tricks to learning to sing with good pitch.
When you’re learning a new skill, it’s easy to get overexcited and want to jump right in. However, when you’re learning to sing in tune, it’s important that you first take the time to listen. Singing in tune means you’re properly singing along to something. Perhaps it’s another singer or an instrument or even a karaoke machine. Before you can produce the right note, you need to really hear the other sounds around you. So, first you need to practice listening. Thankfully, you can do this anywhere. Go check out your favorite band, play your favorite record on repeat, or take a stroll to your favorite nature spot and listen to the birds chirp and the brook babble. Get used to paying close attention to any sounds outside of yourself.
Once you’re comfortable with listening, it’s time to start producing your own sounds. Doing this alone in your bedroom won’t be much help. You need feedback to gauge whether you’re hitting the right notes. The best type of feedback comes from another person, perhaps a vocal coach or friend with voice training. Ask her to sing a note and then try to match it. She will be able to tell you whether you’re flat, sharp, or spot-on.
If you don’t have a friend available to help you, try using an electronic tuner. There are even tuning apps you can download onto your smartphone or tablet. You simply choose a note and attempt to sing it. The tuner tells you just how far off the mark you are. You can also try matching a note on a piano or guitar, but that method is only as good as your ability to evaluate yourself. If you’re a beginner, your reading may not be very accurate.
So, now you’ve practiced with a friend and an electronic tuner and you’re still not improving as much as you’d like. What do you do now? Try going back to listening. Instead of matching a pitch, let the pitch match you. Sing a note and have your friend sing it back. You may be surprised by just how different the note sounds out loud than it does in your head. This technique may give you extra insight about where you’re going wrong and how to fix it. If this exercise is giving you trouble, take a step back and find your comfort zone.
Find Your Comfort Zone
Even the most talented singer will sound off pitch if he is singing outside his vocal range. You have a vocal range, too. You also have a “comfort zone” inside that range. Use these steps to identify that zone, so you are practicing with the easiest notes possible.
Practice Within Your Comfort Zone
Pick a single note within your comfort zone. You may want to start with that initial “ah” note since it’s the one that comes most naturally. Repeat the note until you can clearly hear it in your mind. Then play it on an instrument or listen to a recording of someone singing it on repeat. You really want to memorize what the note sounds like out loud.
After you’ve drilled the note into your head, start singing it yourself. Record yourself so you can play the tape back and see how you compare with the target note. Make adjustments until you get it right and then practice singing it correctly. After you’ve mastered that first note, continue with the other notes in your comfort zone. Be patient during this process, as it will likely take some time to get through an octave.
When you’re happy with your progress, start stringing notes together. Start with just two notes and then slowly add more. Be sure to record this process so you can evaluate yourself once again. Then find some songs that are in your comfort zone and sing along. This is where those breathing exercises come in handy. At first, you’ll likely find it difficult to stay in tune for an entire song. Keep trying. Once you get a few comfort zone songs down, start pushing yourself to sing outside that range. Learning to sing in tune is all about baby steps.
Get Some Training
While teaching yourself a new skill can be fun and rewarding, it can only get you so far. If you hit a wall, it doesn’t mean you’ve reached the end of your potential. It just means you could use a new perspective. Everyone can benefit from the knowledge of an experienced professional. Look into a vocal coach or an adult education class. If you live in an area without a lot of singing teachers, sign up for an online course.
If learning how to sing in tune is your goal, you can do it. Like any new skill, it takes dedication and practice. Start with the basics of breathing exercises and remember to pace yourself. It’s important to work off of each building block. Rushing will only end up setting you back. One last tip: remember to have fun. If you push yourself too hard and too fast, you run the risk of getting frustrated and giving up. Take breaks and allow yourself to make mistakes. In time, you’ll no longer cringe when the radio signal cuts out. Instead, you’ll impress your friends — and yourself — by continuing the song in tune.