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I am an amateur among very musically talented friends. They have repeatedly complimented me on my singing voice, and asked that I participate more in their musical get-togethers.

However, I found that -- while being able to sing adequately when solo, and being able to "sing to pitch", i.e. sing at the same pitch as another singer, or an instrument -- I have a hard time singing at my own pitch when accompanied. Whenever there's an instrument playing or another person singing, I become unsure of my own pitch, start to "slide" towards the pitch of whatever accompaniment catches my ear most, realize that it all sounds horrible (I do have a good ear for that...), and either just start "leaning on" somebody else's pitch, or shut up altogether before anyone notices. ;-)

Virtually all the people around me sing at a higher pitch than me, and unless someone picks up a base guitar, the instruments are higher pitched as well. ;-) Singing "to pitch" / much higher than my natural singing voice strains my vocal chords, and makes my voice sound much less praiseworthy... so I would really like to practice "holding my own".

However, taking lessons would be expensive, and / or organizationally a bit hard to come by. (Music school would be quite some way off, and expensive; and none of my friends really has the time or the teaching skill to take me on as a student.)

Is there a good way I could (start to) practice "holding my pitch" on my own, perhaps picking up lessons later?

Or would that be a bad idea, and taking lessons is really the best / only way forward on this?

  • Title-wise related to this question, but my problem is not one of timing, not getting the melody right or anything, but solely a problem of "how to sing in a deeper voice than everyone else". ;-) – DevSolar Feb 12 at 16:21
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If you have an electronic keyboard, you could try setting it for a vocal sound, or something close, and try playing and singing little ear training duets.

Basically, play the second vocal part on the keyboard. Play it higher than your voice.

The exactly material you use could come from a vocal training book, or it could be as simple as just working on parallel thirds and sixth or other basic patterns. You could play basic chord progressions and sing the various voices tenor, alto, etc. Transpose or invert the chords to get the material in your range.

When doing these things you can either play your part on the keyboard or omit it so that you are challenged with not simply match the part doubled on the keyboard. If you have to produce the second part without any instrumental guide, it really tests your ability to harmonize. That's probably the thing you want to focus on.

For example, if you play D, E, F# on the keyboard you sing F#, G, A. The first few times play both parts on keyboard, match the lower part, then play only the upper part on keyboard and focus on getting your voice to lock into the harmony without the guiding support.

  • Accepting this answer if for nothing else but the excellent tiny tidbit of setting an electronic keyboard (which I do actually own) to a vocal sound. This will help me "picturing" singing with others, without actually inflicting my fumbling for pitch upon them. Thanks for that idea! – DevSolar Feb 13 at 10:46
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    Another one I forgot about is to sing against the keyboard at a dissonant pitch, like a major 2nd above the keyboard pitch. It seems counter-intuitive, because it is sort of singing out of harmony. But the particular challenge is to get your voice to maintain the dissonant pitch instead of sliding into the other. You can hold the keyboard pitch and then move your voice in/out from unison to dissonances to consonances, etc. – Michael Curtis Feb 14 at 15:14
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There are several apps for pitch control.

I know this not your problem but try the following: Mind a simple tune like „Frère Jacques“, „London Brigdge is falling down“, Happy birthday“ etc. and think your part is to keep the first note while the others or an instrument would play the tune. You will have to keep the root or the bass note while you are minding the melody and with the pitch app you can control your voicing: it can be the starting tone, the root note or the bass voice. If this works you can change the roles. 1)

If you can’t achieve this or if you don‘t understand what I mean you can also start by singing the doremi scale by jumping from each degree back to Do, the root. The scale represents the melody = the voice of the others. (As Michael says this will be work better with the help of an instrument.)

1) If you don‘t have a keyboard or a guitar to play the root note you can build a monochord (a single string fixed over a box or a piece of wood) or a glasharp (only one glass that produces an identifying ton) for playing the root while you sing any tune.

You can also record yourself with a mobile singing a canon and then adding the 2nd and 3rd voice.

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The obvious way to get better is to sing more with other people...

If you want to stay at home, hit YouTube for anything which traditionally has lots of harmonies. Anything gospel is a given. Plenty of older jazz and blues is a good choice too, stuff like Summertime. Work on your harmony lines. Then turn the volume up so you can't hear yourself so well, and try to hold those same harmonies. As an alternative, you can put on headphones which will have a similar effect to turning the volume up.

When you think you're getting better, start recording yourself. Chances are that some bits are still iffy. See if there's patterns which will suggest areas to practise.

And then you don't need to always be just singing with your friends. There are plenty of choirs around. Folk clubs will always have some kind of harmonising going on. Just keep working on it with real people.

By the way too, the "finger in the ear" thing from folk music? What they're actually doing is cupping a hand round their ear which keeps out some of the ambient noise and helps their own voice get to their ear. Essentially it's giving them a little bit of foldback. It might help you too.

  • "Sing more with other people" -- If I were less self-conscious about my problem, I assume I wouldn't be having it. (And my friends are filkers, so going to find a folk club feels somewhat redundant. ;-) ) I don't see how singing along to harmonies will help -- I'd still be "leaning" my pitch against something I hear instead of finding my own pitch...?!? (Or am I somehow using wrong vocabulary here, with "pitch"? English is not my first language...) – DevSolar Feb 12 at 22:17
  • @DevSolar Fair enough about the folk club thing. :) My suggestion was really about trying to hold your own vocal line with other vocal lines happening around you. So if someone else is doing the main part, you'd maybe sing a third or fifth above them or below them. It's not easy. Or the obvious thing I missed - pull up karaoke tracks and work with them, because they've got harmonies and instruments. – Graham Feb 13 at 9:19

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