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Every time I want to learn to sing a new song, I get sheet music of the song and practice playing the melody on the piano before practicing singing it to match the pitch from the piano, memorize the melody from the piano and to know what chords correspond with the vocal melody. I feel confident singing the song if I played it on piano before singing it because if I played it on piano I will know every interval and note and which chord or note I will use as my reference pitch.

I think there are people who learn to sing songs without playing them on piano and without reading its sheet music. They practice it just by listening to the original song repetitively until memorizing it.

Which is the right approach? My approach or learning by just listening to the original song repetitively until memorizing it?

And if one uses the listening approach, how will they know which note or chord to use as reference pitch if they are learning by just listening to the original song without knowing anything about he song's chords or melody? And if my method is not right please tell me and tell me what to do instead.

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There isn't really any one "right" way to learn to sing a song, honestly.

Experienced solo singers tend to listen to a song and sing from what they hear, or occasionally in some more rigorous contexts read from the sheet music and sing from that. Most singers assume they will be able to find their note and sing the melody over any chord or harmony within reason, they don't tend to need to lab things out on the piano unless it's particularly tough for some reason, say, strange harmony part or tricky melody. This is possible because they have trained their ears (ahem: brain) and can pick up melodies with ease; this skill comes from lots and lots of experience. Either that or they are confident in their ability to fill in what they're not sure about with something stylistic (improvising). It's all about pattern recognition, and most contemporary songs have melodies that are full of familiar patterns for those acquainted with the style!

In group singing, this is much more common. The singers have to use sheet music to learn their parts efficiently since often the supporting parts will be hard to hear and more difficult to execute or memorize. Since group singing parts are often considerably less "singable" (melodic) than the main melody of a song, they may indeed sit down at a piano to help learn the part. This, in my experience, is helpful to hear how the intervals and notes feel to sing, and playing the vocal part against the chords can also help the singer feel out where they need to be in relation to the harmony and other vocal parts in order to lock in. So in a choir, acapella, barbershop, or other group setting, this practice is a time-honored tradition... even now in the age of listening to your part off a MIDI track or notation software file!

But even sticking to more casual singing, some newer singers who are less experienced may feel that taking a more in-depth look at the part is helpful. After all, the piano is a great tool to help newer singers be confident with intonation and finding the right notes. It's also particularly common for piano players who are learning to sing, as they may be much more familiar with reading the vocal part from sheet music and playing it. Some who have difficulty learning by ear may find it necessary to study the written notation at the piano to figure out how to sing it if listening won't do the trick.

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    This answer might also be expanded: although you mention differences between "more rigorous contexts" and "casual singing," genre makes a big difference. Pop music is often learned by listening, but classical music (beyond beginner level) is often learned from sheet music. Even there, singers often do what Sarah describes, at the least playing while singing as they first learn it, and it's more necessary the more complex the music. I once played in Luciano Berio's Sinfonia, which features a small vocal ensemble, with harmonies so... Nov 15, 2022 at 14:18
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    ...so intricate and tight that the original premiere used the Swingle Singers, because (the way I heard it) their jazz training let them keep pitch in these dense harmonies better than classically trained vocalists. But I remember the soloists spending hours clustered around a piano together. Nov 15, 2022 at 14:19
  • @AndyBonner That is a good point, genre does make a big difference. I wanted to avoid a full breakdown of what genres/styles of music follow what tradition, so I went with "rigorous" to encompass broadly classical music and other musics for which your point holds.
    – user45266
    Nov 16, 2022 at 20:36
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Both approaches are fine according to how the individual learns best.

A person learning by ear can also know the intervals, chords, and reference pitches, because they can hear them.

  • One can learn to hear an interval just as one can learn to recognize it on paper.
  • Similarly, types of chords, and the placement of individual notes within those chords, can be learned by ear.
  • And when singing with the original, one hears both one's own vocal line as well as all of the other pitches, allowing for one to choose a good reference point.

For some people this process is easier to do from a written score and a piano; for others the process is easier by hearing the original piece. At that level, there's no particular advantage or disadvantage either way.

For amateur singers in particular, it is often the case that they must learn by ear, because their training hasn't included reading music. In that case, likely they also haven't learned to hear intervals or chords. Those singers know only the melody, and then there is the handicap mentioned in the question: not knowing the context of what is being sung.

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This is so close to your other question, it's almost a dupe!

There is no one way. Trained singers will do either of your ideas, possibly both, and untrained singers will just pitch naturally, in total ignorance of any theory.

In fact, I doubt whether many are actually thinking 'the next note is a P4 away, followed by m3' - it's just too much information to disseminate along with the words they're singing. For most, those who are untrained, they just sing. There is no 'best way'.

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