Why do I sing out of tune?

Are you frequently worried that you don’t sing as well as others? Or are you afraid to belt it out in the car with your friends in case you’re off key?

Good news!

Singing out of tune is a fixable problem – and it may be easier than you think…

What it takes to sing in tune

Two major factors determine whether you can sing in tune or not:

  1. Controlling Your Voice
  2. Hearing the notes you should sing and the notes you are singing

Let’s look at these two in more detail.

1. Vocal Control

About 20% of singing-in-tune is about vocal control.

What is “vocal control”? In short, it’s using your vocal chords to produce the note you’re intending to hit. In just the same manner that you control your speaking voice you can also control how high or low your singing voice is: its “pitch”. You can control it to be higher or lower, just like you do to emphasise and give meaning to words when you speak. If you have your speaking voice under control (as all of us do!) you can use the same techniques to control your singing voice.

While your voice is is 20% of the challenge, some people are surprised to learn that your ears make up the other 80%!

2. Ear Training

The other 80% of singing in tune is directly attributed to accurately and reliably hearing the correct notes you should sing as well as the ones you are singing. It’s only by comparing these two things as you sing that you’ll be able to keep your voice “in tune”.

You’ll first need to practice hearing the target note clearly. You can do this either aloud or in your head. You can practice using the following ear training techniques:

  • Audiation: Practice imagining music accurately and in detail in your head. Most people have the natural ability to do this, but with practice you can further hone your skills to hear more detail, more clearly.
  • Active Listening: When music is playing you need to hear and not just listen to the notes, and particularly their pitches.

The goal of these ear training exercises is to train your brain and ears to be more sensitive to the correct notes, including their pitch and tune.

Once you can clearly and reliably hear your intended note (the “target”) you need to practice hearing the note you are actually singing.

Try a few of the following:

  • Listen carefully to your friends when you’re singing in a group and see if you’re matching their pitch
  • Use a digital tuner to practice singing in tune
  • Listen for blending (or consonance) when you’re attempting to hit a target note to get a good feel for how it sounds when you are perfectly in tune

Pitch ear training, learning to match the pitch you hear using a digital tuner, practicing audiation to develop your ability to hear the correct pitch, and actively listening while you sing (by yourself or with others) are all the steps you need to be well on your way from singing in the shower… to singing in the choir!