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I'm a beginner. I think I will get a new vocal coach since my current vocal coach is ineffective and doesn't help me at all. I asked my question on reddit and asked a singer I know, my question is: How do singers make sure they are hitting the right notes when singing? When they sing melodies, do they think about the next interval or do they just rely on muscle memory?

They both told me the same answer:

We learn by repetition and memorizing the sound of the melody, we don't think about intervals or relative pitch or anything.

But how do they memorize the sound of the melody? They don't have perfect pitch to memorize the sound of the melody.

And how will repetition help me to memorize the melody? If I used this method, I would likely sing out of tune since no one can memorize melodies unless they have perfect pitch. So what is the right way to sing songs without singing the wrong note?

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  • Well, luckily you already know more than your professional voice trainer, so it should be very easy for you to progress. Well done! Jan 5 at 4:17
  • As a side note: "no one can memorize melodies unless they have perfect pitch" You realize most musicians don't have perfect pitch, right? Obviously, the same is true for singers. But we can all memorize melodies. So what gives? Something's awry with your understanding there...
    – user45266
    Jan 6 at 1:27

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The answers you have are correct. There is no magic pill, you need to practice singing vocal exercises on the diatonic scale and that will tune your head. There is more than "hearing" the note, you also need to feel the right feelings in your body, the correct core muscle support, breathing, and resonance in your head. This needs work. I suspect that if you find a new singing teacher you will get the same answers. One thing I did years ago, and I learned it from my bass teacher who made me sight sing bass concertos, is to sing into a chromatic tuner and hold the note when it registers that you are in tune. For example, sing up the C major scale starting on C2 slowly and you should see the tuner register C2 D2 E2 ... etc. That is one way to get some feedback.

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  • Do you mean i don't have to think about what interval i have to sing ?. I just memorize the sound of the melody ?
    – Edd
    Jan 5 at 2:45
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    I am sure at some point in your training you will need to "think about the interval", you certainly must be consciously aware that you want to sing a 3rd. But once you've developed enough you don't have to think about what a 3rd sounds like in your head before you sing it. I did go through that stage in my lessons for a while. I would pause for a moment and try to imagine the tone I wanted to sing next then aim for it. But after some time it just happens.
    – user84734
    Jan 5 at 2:59
  • @Edd the answer depends on whether you are reading a piece of sheet music for a melody you've never heard before or are learning a melody that has never been written down. Most instances will fall somewhere between the two extremes.
    – phoog
    Jan 5 at 9:54
  • Can you tell me both answers :)
    – Edd
    Jan 5 at 10:25
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When singing, you do indeed "hear" the music inside your head. But when learning to sing, just like when you're learning to draw, this isn't a fixed sequence: you try, listen, correct, and try again. A tuned piano nearby can help a lot to check whether you hit the note correctly.

If you're learning to sing from sheet music a melody you've never heard before there are basically three approaches:

Some people have "perfect pitch". They hear a note, and just know it's an A. That works two ways: they can also read the note, and try to sing it (if their voice isn't trained, they can at least tell they're wrong).

However, most people don't have this "gift". For those who don't have this, there are basically two approaches:

  1. Every interval between two notes can be thought of as an interval relative between these two notes. Basically, you try to remember those intervals based on intervals you already know from songs (for example, a minor third is the distance the Star Spangled Banner starts with, while most national anthems start with a perfect quarter)
  2. The other way is the "do re mi" way of singing, where the "do" is always the root note. When using this way, you try NOT to think of intervals as relative between the two notes, but always related to the root note.

The first way is somewhat easier to start with, as you need only to think of the interval between two notes. The second way is easier if you already have some experience with playing music. The second way also really helps to think/feel/hear "inside the key" which you're singing.

This works the same when transcribing a melody you've just heard: you repeat (sing) the melody you heard, and try to analyze what notes are in between. Either by determining all the intervals between notes, or by trying to relate everything to the root note.

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When those people say, "We learn by repetition and memorizing the sound of the melody, we don't think about intervals or relative pitch or anything.", it's quite possible they're learning the song from the recording in their head.

Think an earworm except you purposefully embed the song in your head instead of inadvertently doing so.

If those people are anything like me back in elementary school, they could all very well hear the song in their heads, down to instrumentation details and volume levels, and be able to pitch-match all their notes in real time to what they hear, but be unable to name any of those notes. So yes, they can memorize the melody without having perfect pitch.

This is what I suspect explains the Levitin effect: the often-enough-encountered phenomenon where people without absolute pitch can remember music in the correct key.

Listening to the same piece enough times helps you memorize what it sounds like.

Repetition, at least of singing, may not help you learn a song quite as well as repetitively listening to it, but it can help you increase your accuracy (at least of notes at the extreme ends of your range), it can help you single out your part if you sing accompaniment instead of melody, and it can embed your sung version into your head as a memorized resource you can draw upon similar to the original recording.

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    I first found I had absolute pitch back in Grade 8, when I could reliably label Middle C with absolute pitch and nothing else (i.e. I had to use relative pitch to determine the rest, which actually did fake the rest of absolute pitch well enough back in the day). Years later, I could finally recognize all 12 notes in the chromatic scale with absolute pitch alone - and detect the key of any musical snippet to boot (or detect whether it's atonal). I now use a hybrid of hammering the recording into my head, key analysis, and absolute pitch to learn music by ear.
    – Dekkadeci
    Jan 5 at 23:38
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We are not computers. We don’t need to convert everything to names or numbers to memorize it. My 4y old niece can recite a few songs and a New Years poem, but doesn’t know a thing about the alfabet.

So to reproduce a melody you need a couple of things:

  • listen to the melody many times to memorize it
  • learn to listen to yourself while singing
  • practice your voice technique, so that you can match the pitch that you hear in your head

Maybe the last 2 are really the same thing.

That’s all.

And if it really needs to be in a specific key, and you don’t have perfect pitch, then use an instrument to play the first few notes or chords. Even pro’s need that, as most people Don’t have perfect pitch.

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Muscle memory. The way I found to build it fast is get an isolated vocal track, import into audio software, and reproduce it a line at compare it to the isolated vocal. I find it's harder to figure out the phonetics than to hit the right notes ... singing "Yesterday" as 'Yis-ti-day' for example.

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