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Mastering listening and pitch

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Co-Authored blog by Dena Murray and Hilary Canto,

Part 1 of 3,


First of all, let us clear up that pitch problems ARE NOT VOICE PROBLEMS! Unless you have hearing loss, there is no such thing as tone deafness. Banging up and down the piano scales with a student who cannot match pitch will do nothing for their voice training and only further deflate their self-esteem. It also makes them feel like they are stupid. Pitching is an EAR skill and also controlled by the stretch of the vocal cord. The higher you go, the shorter the stretch, and the smaller the opening between the cords. If you take in too much air, the cords may have to open too wide to accommodate that air. The end result? You will be flat because if the cords open too wide, have too long of a stretch, the pitch will land on a different note.

In addition, hearing IS NOT LISTENING! To truly listen needs emotional, psychological, and social barriers removed/ healed from the way we've been trained to listen (or not listen) to our own sound by outside influences. Created by this training, or conditioning, is what is known as SOUND MEMORY. The hearing is the structural mechanism of the ear. Listening allows the frequencies into the ear, nerve, organ and bone structure. It is like the difference between casual looking and active seeing!

From the moment the foetal ear starts developing, we are bombarded with sound. Our whole cellular makeup is sound vibration. If we have heard sounds that we dislike, are painful to the ear, and/or have learned to block a sound(s) out for any reason…we will no longer be able to hear the frequency of these sounds properly.

Since our cells have developed SOUND MEMORY, this is where our memory decides whether or not to hear the sound coming into vibration. This damping is manifested physiologically by a relaxation of the tiny muscles of the middle ear. The net result is a diminution of our ability to hear specific frequency ranges corresponding to the sounds we essentially lock out. This is a survival mechanism that we tend to use unconsciously.

Pitch and tone is also inhibited by conscious thought that you have to take in heaps of air and blow it out just to hit certain notes or to have it sound powerful. Going after pitch this way and doing it repeatedly will only create all kinds of problems not just with pitch, but possible injury to the mechanism. You might also find this method physically exhausting. Getting too tired will also have you trying to force out the sound.

So why should we concentrate on listening when trying to learn how to sing better? Answer: You cannot reproduce a vocal sound accurately unless you can hear it properly. This is why we need to learn, or even re-learn, how to listen. We often think we hear something right but it's actually clouded by our old sound memory. That memory will affect the learning process of listening to sound and pitch accurately.

In addition, the music/video/marketing industry is so wrapped up with sound and visual imagery together that our senses get confused by looking and listening at the same time. It becomes a distraction. If you want to concentrate on good singing we suggest you cut out visual stimulus whilst you really take in the sounds and try to reproduce them.

Something that often helps many is to strike the string of an instrument like a guitar or bass and see if you can match in resonant vibrations. The idea is for you to try to determine whether you are lower or higher than that string's resonance, pitch, sound. If you don't know, pluck that string over and over again until you feel you are matching the resonance and vibration; that the stringed note and your voiced note sound like one. You will know it when you get there because you will feel it

Our bodies and voices are our instrument. Your voice needs care and learning how to tune it just like any other instrument. We hope you'll understand that going into silence every so often can work wonders. It will allow you to open your mind and re-open your capacity to receive. Sometimes you just need to take a break and stop what you are doing, especially if you are getting frustrated. At that point, you will no longer be able to concentrate. We suggest walking away and having a seat somewhere else. Take a rest, a deep breath, and listen to the silence. During this time, things have a way of bypassing the brain to the voice. The silence allows you to hear your own body's sounds.

After taking some silent time for yourself, you may find that you are now hearing the sounds of your own voice and hitting the pitches dead-on, or at least close. Once you get used to doing things this way, your awareness and sensitivity to pitch and frequency will increase and change. You will begin learning how to reproduce pitches accurately because you will have been practicing changing from old sound memory into new.

Love Hilary & Dena

Part 2 next week


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