Singing is as much about listening as it is about making sound. Your ears and your voice work together to produce great singing. The better you can hear, the better you can sing.
Lots of people claim that they can’t sing because they are tone-deaf. The truth is, almost no one is truly tone-deaf. The vast majority of people are masters at recognizing pitch. Think about how you communicate questions, anger, joy, skepticism and even sarcasm in your daily speech. And consider how you recognize those qualities in the speech of others. The sound of someone’s voice often tells you more about what they mean than their words do. If you can tell over the phone that your friend is mad at you, even though she claims to be fine, you can hear more than well enough to sing.
Developing good pitch is just a matter of training your ears to hear musical pitch as well as you hear verbal pitch.
Here are some simple ways to get started.
- Relax. Singing should be fun, not stress you out. Let your voice come out naturally. Don't force anything.
- Practice singing 5-note scales (Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol). Focus on singing each pitch exactly in the center every time. Practice with a piano if you like. Match your voice to the pitch of the piano as closely as you can. When you have mastered 5-note scales, try something a little more difficult, like arpeggios (Do-Mi-Sol-Mi-Do).
- Sing along with recordings. Trying to perfectly match the pitch of your favorite singers on recordings can help you develop both your ear and your singing voice. You have to listen, adjust and sing all at the same time. It’s great exercise for your voice. Just be sure to choose songs within your range. And choose singers that have good pitch themselves - no screamers, please.
- Try singing harmony parts along with recordings. I love doing this. It is a great way to practice both pitch and voice control. Back in high school I remember one occasion when I was working on an art project with friends. We had music playing in the background as each of us worked on our own section. I was hard at work, concentrating on the artwork in front of me. Without even realizing it, I started singing harmony with the CD just out of habit. My friends looked at me like I was insane. It was a little embarrassing, but at least the harmony part I sang was in tune. Mostly.
- Learn your intervals. This is a more advanced skill. Intervals are defined as the distance between two notes. Knowing your intervals and being able to both sing and identify them will help you develop good relative pitch, and will make you a better overall musician. The intervals to learn are listed below, paired with a familiar song:
- Minor Second - Beethoven’s Fur Elise
- Major Second - Happy Birthday
- Minor Third - Brahms’ Lullaby
- Major Third - Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony (opening notes)
- Perfect Fourth - Wagner's Wedding March (Here comes the bride...)
- Diminished Fifth (or augmented fourth, sometimes called a tritone) - Maria from West Side Story
- Perfect Fifth - ABC song
- Minor Sixth - We Are Young by Fun (...set the world on fire, we can go higher...)
- Major Sixth - NBC theme (N-B-C)
- Minor Seventh - Somewhere from West Side Story (There’s a place for us...)
- Major Seventh - Don’t Know Why by Norah Jones (I wait-ed ‘til I saw the sun...)
- Octave - Somewhere Over the Rainbow
There are lots of resources online that can help you train your ears (just do a search for "ear training" and you'll get millions of hits). But you don't have to do anything complicated. Just listen to lots of good music, and sing along!