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I've been taking singing lessons for a few months and there are several songs I now feel pretty comfortable with.

Yet even though I generally sing in the style of the original and in the same key, not my own cover style, I really struggle singing along to the real track if it has the vocal. I lose all sense of my pitch, end up squeaking falsetto on notes well within my range, etc.

I'm not sure why, could it be because the singer's timbre/tone is very different from mine? e.g. some singers don't sound like they're singing high notes when it's actually quite high and this is throwing me off?

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    How loud is the track? Mumbling along when the original is singing at full tilt is not conducive to being able to accurately track to it. Getting that kind of volume in your home is not that easy [if you have neighbours]. Best practise sessions are had in the car, on the motorway ;-) – Tetsujin Sep 13 '16 at 12:41
  • When you did this during a lesson, what did your teacher say? – Tim Sep 13 '16 at 13:20
  • @tim in lessons I sing either to myself playing guitar, or to my teacher playing the piano... live performance very rarely to a backing track and never to an original recording. After all, is it a useful skill? If the original performer was there I either wouldn't sing or might sing something to accompany them rather than the exact same thing. – Mr. Boy Sep 13 '16 at 13:24
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    Is it a useful skill? of course, partially because an accompanying singer has to be aware of what he's pitching to. From your question, it would seem that you can't do that. It's a basic premise that a singer should be able to keep in pitch with another, not, as you say, it's needed. You have this concern, first port of call should be your teacher - take a couple of recordings along, play them and sing along. Get an appraisal. – Tim Sep 13 '16 at 13:40
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I am going to guess that you might be listening to the vocal track and trying to follow it exactly as it occurs (in real time) instead of memorizing the notes ahead of time. If that is the case, you may be adjusting on the fly as you sing along to the vocal track, causing you to be a little off balance and not sure where to place your voice because you are not quite sure what the next note will be (until you hear it).

If I am trying to learn to sing a cover and sing the same notes the original artists sings, I go through a process to learn the song so I can sing it from memory. Then I can sing along with the recording and I know what note I am going to sing next (before I sing it) so I am not really listening to the vocals - but cuing off the instrumental music instead.

I do this step by step, line by line. What I do is listen to the first line of the first verse multiple times and then sing it back to myself and then along with the recording. I usually miss a note or two the first few times so I keep trying until I have the first line of the first verse down pat - note for note.

Then I repeat with the second line by itself until I have it memorized note for note and then put those two together. The process builds from there through the entire song. Once I have the song memorized, I don't have to listen to the vocals to sing along with the vocals because I know where they are going before they get there (no adjusting pitch midway through a line).

If I am doing this at home, I use the computer to play the recording with a visual display on the screen - making it easy to skip back to the point I want to repeat. If in my car, I use a digital handheld recorder plugged into my auxiliary jack on car radio and I can set an A to B repeat on the recorder.

By the way, some songs don't have complex melodies and are easier to memorize without going through the process described above.

Of course, when I am playing the music myself on guitar, I don't have to memorize the song exactly and I often sing it using my own "interpretation" (a fancy way to say I am too lazy to try to learn it exactly the way the original artist sings it).

You might try my method and see if it works for you. The main thing is that you must get to a point where you know what note is going to be sung next - without waiting to hear it first. Otherwise you will be like a batter in baseball trying to hit a knuckle ball (swing and a miss more often than not).

If you memorize the melody ahead of time - it won't matter how loud the vocal is in the mix and you should be able to hit the notes even if the vocal track is suddenly muted. The instrumental music should be all you really "need" to hear to sing along with the vocals on the record.

Good luck and keep it fun.

  • +1 I think it also might help to mention that one should not try to imitate another singers timbre, but instead work towards finding their own unique best, clearest, most relaxed sound. – Todd Wilcox Sep 14 '16 at 2:17
  • @ToddWilcox That is a good point Todd. I am a singer not an impressionists - so I don't try to sound like someone else. When Elvis Presley covered other artists songs - he did not try to sound like them - he sounded like Elvis Presley. Willie Nelson sounds like Willie Nelson when he covers other artists. So why should I try to sound like anybody other than myself? – Rockin Cowboy Sep 15 '16 at 17:29
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As a male alto, I know that fellow female alto singers remarked that my voice tended to throw them one octave too high. One theoretical explanation is that males and females tend to tune their formants to different overtones of the fundamental, and trying to match based on formants then results in the wrong octave for the fundamental.

It's possible that there is some similar mechanism at work for you here.

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