Getting on and staying on pitch is key for singers!
If you listen to a single sound, you are really listening to three elements: a basic frequency we perceive as pitch, the timbre (or tone color), and loudness. Most people have relative pitch; they perceive pitch in relation to other pitches. A very small percentage of people have "perfect pitch" where they need no reference point. In humans, color is more distinguishable - few people need to see the color red to perceive something blue.
- Hit the Note Dead on - This means no swooping up or down to the pitch. If you have to slide into a pitch, you don't know where the pitch lives in your mouth. Approximating the placement of the pitch is nerve-wracking and undermining.
- Know pitch placement and practice it - Use my Rule #3 Don't Expel. The actual placement is where the note is placed in your mouth without expelling or vibrato.Learn to hit the note dead on by first finding the actual placement of the pitch in your mouth, and second by doing it that way every time. This way you can nail it every time with no guessing. Once you know the placement of the pitch, it's important to map it in your body and reinforce your ear. This takes practice. I do this type of repetitive work in the car and it really works.
- Don't Sing "Words" - Sing on the Vowels & Color with Consonants -Think phonetics! Think of the word sing. The 'i' sound (like if) is what you sing on, not the ng (unless of course, you want a real countrified sound). Consonants can distort the vowel by allowing the pitch to migrate from its true placement (like into your nose, for example).
- Put your finger over One Ear Opening - This will help you hear yourself and the music. It really works! It allows you to hear your own bone conduction. If you have trouble hearing the pitch through the air (air conduction), this really helps. Studio Tip: you use the one headphone on and one slightly off (and even cover that ear with your hand) technique to hear more clearly.
- Don't Rely on Equipment for Staying on Pitch - I have had so many students say "I'll get in ear monitors and I won't have to worry." Not! With equipment, anything can go wrong at any time (the batteries, the connection, the engineer forgets to put it in the right channel, etc...) and it usually does! You are 100% responsible for your performance. Of course, you can't control the sound person, the audience, etc... but you can be in control of your own vocals. Get a vocal technique and know your instrument.
- Bring your own microphone- Pick one that has enough power so that you can hear yourself as well as giving you a better sound. For example, Sennheiser's e935 works great to cut over a band.
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Many of these tips can also be found in my book.