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I am taking singing lessons and also using apps to complement my training.

My teacher recommends against singing with headphones on. This article also explains clearly why I should not use headphones when singing, as that would make me perceive my singing as lower.

However, all the singing apps that I found (and I tried 5 or 6) ask that I use wired earbuds, because that's the only way for the app to hear my voice alone, without hearing the sound made by the app. Indeed, most of these apps essentially play a note that I have to match with my voice.

How can I reconcile the 2? Is it ok to practice with the apps, maybe if I put only one of the 2 earbuds?

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    Your link contains some rather, ermm… dubious information. Bone transmission inside your head does not change the perceived pitch - that would just be truly bizarre to have to listen to. When you sing out in a room, you're hearing both bone transmission & air transmission. If the article was correct, you would then hear two notes. You don't… hence the article is a cart-load of horse-apples. There are good reasons to not practise with headphones… but that is not one of them.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Mar 7, 2022 at 12:17
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    @AndyBonner thanks, I agree. I am planning to ask my teacher, but I find it useful to get several opinions
    – DevShark
    Commented Mar 7, 2022 at 22:45
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    @Tetsujin You make two different notes at the same time with your voice every day. Otherwise everything you said would sound like pure sine waves. Your perception of a single pitch is the psycho-acoustic effect. Commented Mar 8, 2022 at 14:16
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    @progressiveCavemen - I think everybody's just decided to be obtuse today. My initial point still stands, unaltered.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Mar 8, 2022 at 14:27
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    @progressiveCavemen the standard terminology is to call a single perceived note a note. The overtones are part of it, and there are many more than two. If you want to debate, you could at least try to use the right words.
    – ojs
    Commented Mar 8, 2022 at 20:01

4 Answers 4

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People who sing along to music while wearing headphones sound terrible because they’ve generally got the music so loud they can’t hear themselves.

The article correctly points out that singers wear in-ear monitors on stage and headphones in a recording studio, and that this is not an issue because they are monitoring the microphone into which they are singing.

The article also points out, correctly, that the way you hear your own voice is different from how everyone else hears it. And it’s correct that the reason is because the sound of your voice travels through bone and the softer tissues of your head.

However, that is in addition to traveling through the air between your mouth and your ears.

The difference in your perception is in the balance of frequencies constituent to your voice, not the fundamental frequency itself. That’s a difference in timbre, not pitch. The article got that dead wrong. I’ll grant that lower frequencies are emphasized, and perhaps that’s why the author says it’s “lower”, but that is conflating timbre with pitch.

Talk to your teacher about why headphones are supposedly bad. It is probably because you can’t hear yourself well.

If you’ve got a mixer or audio interface and a microphone, you could mix the accompaniment with your own voice. That’s how it’s handled on stage and in the studio.

If not, you could always plug one ear with your finger under the headphones, only use one earbud, or use DJ headphones (one sided headphones). Singers sometimes plug one ear when singing in harmony so they hear themselves above the other voices. That technique may work for you as well.

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'Singers constantly struggle to sing in tune..?' Not heard that one before, and changing the eq between hearing in open air and through cans, well, it's the eq that's changed, not the pitch.

One earbud will be your answer, although instead, or as well as, using an app, use an instrument - piano or guitar seem good ones, whether you can play or not.

Or - using a mixer and mic, route the app and mic into the mixer, and use cans, or just one side thereof, as before. Somewhat simulating what happens in a recordig studio.

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    @DevShark I often practice along with a recording, and like to mix a microphone with my own signal with the recorded source. It can often be done with little fancy hardware; many computer sound cards let you "monitor" the output of a microphone. This is just one way of practicing, though, for certain purposes (in my case, getting familiar with how my part fits into others); I wouldn't make it the only way. Commented Mar 7, 2022 at 15:24
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    “'Singers constantly struggle to sing in tune..?' Not heard that one before” — If that were not a problem, then pitch correction plug-ins and devices wouldn't have become standard equipment in recording studios! My experience with amateur choirs and solo recording indicates that most people (including me!) are often a lot further from true pitch than they think…
    – gidds
    Commented Mar 7, 2022 at 20:21
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The article you link to is essentially gibberish. The problem with singing with closed headphones, however, is real.

What is involved here is that pitch matching does not occur just with the fundamental but significantly with the overtones as well. Both the inexact intervals of tempered scales and potential disharmonicity of musical instruments (for acoustic string instruments and typical "pure" wind instruments not relying on interrupted air streams but oscillation of an air column, dominant overtone frequencies are not exact multiples of the fundamental) mean that pitch matching is a compromise across multiple frequency bands, and cutting yourself off from the acoustic emission of your voice seriously compromises your evaluation of that compromise.

It also significantly reduces your ability to hear and adjust your overall voice quality.

This adjustment of the quality as well as having the whole harmonic frequency range for pitch matching rather than just small excerpts makes a huge difference towards your ability to correct and improve your vocal production.

Which is sort of the point of vocal training.

If one wanted to theorize about an actual change in pitch, one could speculate that standing waves in your inner ear change the position of their nodes because of a change in acoustic impedance of the eardrums (and through the middle ear's impedance transformation, also of the inner ear entry) when closing your ears off.

That theory falls flat because it would equally affect the inner ear resonances of the sound arriving via bone conductance.

So the problem really is one of not being able to hear and correct one's vocal production to a sufficient degree.

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I practice singing by piping a high quality microphone through a little reverb (to mimic a room) and back through the headphones so that I am hearing myself from an external viewpoint, and drowning out how I sound to myself in my head. I used to strain so that I sounded good in my head, but it would not sound good to others. When I could hear what I sounded like from outside of my head, I started to relax and I finally saw improvement.

As for specific equipment, you could use something like the Rode AI-1 interface to play music from the computer, and enable the function on the interface where it passes the mic input through to the headphones with amplification. But there are a vast number of ways you could set this up depending on your budget.

For the high-end, I use a Universal Audio Apollo Solo Thunderbolt 3 interface and pipe through Ableton Live 11 and back to the headphones, and that allows me to apply real-time effects and experiment with sounds. You will not be able to achieve these results with any USB interface due to latency issues. Thunderbolt is the only way to go if you want to pipe through Ableton.

I used to practice with one headphone ear on and the other off, which does not cost anything extra. But I prefer the fancier route now that I have the equipment.

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