There are a number of questions on this site from singers who want to find software so they can work, on their own, on their ability to sing in tune.

However, I am hoping to do some one-to-one (and face-to-face) work with a choir member who has significant problems pitching accurately. At present I cannot tell whether he can hear that the note is incorrect but cannot mimic the right note because of a lack of awareness of muscularity, or whether he does not hear that it is incorrect.

What techniques for working one-to-one with a student would you recommend? I have heard, for example, that one possible starting place is to have them sing a note and for the teacher to match it, vocally, and to then gradually work on awareness of moving up and down from that note.

I have also heard that it is easier for a student in this situation to match another voice rather than a piano. This makes sense to me, but I am concerned that the fact that we are different genders may complicate matters - if I sing exactly the same pitch as him, it will necessarily sound low in my voice whereas it would sound high in his; conversely if I sing in my own octave so the 'feeling' of high is matched, he may incorrectly try to mimic me using falsetto. So any related thoughts in working across gender are welcome.

1 Answer 1


If you need somewhere to start, I would make sure he can hear differences in pitch. This can be as simple as playing a note, playing another note, and then asking if it was higher, lower, or the same. Then you can start applying that skill to his own voice, though, it sounds likely that he has some production issues to work through first. The ear isn't going to be worth much if he can't control his own voice to begin with.

Young children have a few tendencies that may apply to this situation (you didn't say how old your choir member was): They can more easily match pitch when given a contour than when given a single note, and they have trouble transposing octaves.

So if you do sing for him, make sure it's in whichever octave he will be singing in. I wouldn't worry about whether it sounds high or low in your voice. On the other hand, it's easier to hear pitch in a piano than it is in a voice for various reasons—in my experience choristers would rather I not sing their part for them, opting to have it played on the piano.

Oh, and it's highly unlikely that he will be unable to hear high and low—that level of tone-deafness would show up in a person's speech patterns. You'll most likely need to work on controlling the high and low of his voice, starting with siren patterns and detaching pitch from volume.

  • the author of the post says "I have also heard that it is easier for a student in this situation to match another voice rather than a piano." And while you have experience of choristers preferring to take their pitches from a piano, I most recently had the opposite experience. The chorister I was working with would sing perfect fourths and fifths lower than whatever piano note I played but when I sang the pitch for him he had a much easier time picking out the (nearly) right pitch.
    – SRiss
    Commented May 31, 2011 at 5:26
  • Interesting; good information. Every student is different, obviously, but I make that claim because between different notes on a piano, the decay is going to stay constant and the tone will be clear, making it easier to isolate pitch as a changing quality. In contrast, the human voice is generally not so static, and will vary greatly (both in pitch and quality) from person to person and between different ranges, vowels, volume levels, diameter of vibrato, etc.
    – NReilingh
    Commented May 31, 2011 at 7:36
  • All good points, I will mention that tuning across timbres is more challenging and that's where tuning to a piano can be difficult. Also when doing this tuning exercise with my chorister, I sang at a constant dynamic level (or as close as possible) and held it until the chorister could match it. It usually took longer than the sustain on a piano for the chorister to match (that's without taking into account that he couldn't actually match the piano pitch)
    – SRiss
    Commented May 31, 2011 at 15:52
  • I see; that is then something the OP will have to take into consideration, since her voice timbre is going to be significantly different from her male chorister's.
    – NReilingh
    Commented May 31, 2011 at 19:20

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.