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My story and plea for help (pitch issues)

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Hi everyone, I have a somewhat unique situation and would love to get your feedback if you have any. I'm 32, a private guitar instructor, in my fourth year as a composition/classical guitar major in college, and have played in rock bands since I was 14. Here's my story:

As a teenager, I had trouble singing in tune. In an effort to improve enough to sing backups in my band, I started singing along with cd's and developed a pretty good sense of pitch. After a few years of practicing, I got to the point where I could sing as I played guitar and be pretty much spot on most of the time. The recordings I made back then show that this isn't a case of distorted memory. I can remember being able to "feel" exactly where the notes needed to be without much effort and instantly correct them if necessary.

Then came the fateful day when I recorded a rehearsal with my new band--the first band I'd ever been the lead singer of. Singing through a mic always felt kind of awkward, like the voice coming out of the monitors wasn't actually mine. Well, during the practice I couldn't really hear my voice much, but I was "feeling" where the notes should be and everything seemed fine. But when I listened back to that recording I was horrified. Not only was I not in tune, I wasn't even singing the right notes most of the time! No exaggeration, from that day on, my pitch started to decline. After a few months I got to the point where I could no longer sing in tune in any setting, whether with an acoustic guitar or singing overdubs on a recording, etc. My confidence, and singing voice, was destroyed.

That was about 10 years ago. The past 10 years have been spent trying to regain the singing abilities I had back then, to little avail. I've studied with 3 or 4 teachers, gone through at-home courses (like Singing Success), looked up articles online, and, while I'm better than I was at my worst point, I just can't seem to get to the point where I was before I "lost it". I still haven lots of trouble with pitch. I have a much better ear than I did back then, thanks to 2 years of ear training in school, but it hasn't helped my singing.

I've never told this story to anyone because to be honest I feel kind of ashamed. Not sure why, but it just seems like such a ridiculous journey I've been on that I've been afraid to share it until now. Hopefully though, some of you will be able to advise me more accurately than others have been now that you've heard it. Apologies for the length of this post and thanks to anyone who's actually read the whole thing!

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First, have you tried pitch matching? Where you play a tone and then use a tuner and match it exactly with your voice? I was never able to sing on pitch from age 15 when I started...9 years ago.. until recentley when it all started making more sense. And it's because I started training with single notes and just listening and adjusting my voice with the tuner to make it exact. I still have problems but I've only been doing it for a few months and I've seen a big change in my ability to recognize and match pitch.

I'm sure other might have more advice but that's what I would suggest.

Melanie

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I'm not sure exactly how you would fix that issue, but you aren't alone. We had a bass player in our band that is a world class bass player. Went to berkley, toured internationally, big name publisher produced and marketed instructional bass DVD's of his, etc. He has a beautiful tenor voice. But suffered from the same issues of not being able to sing on pitch. We had him singing background vocals and we would work really hard trying to get him to learn the parts. It took a lot of time, but he would eventually learn the parts and was able to sing them. I couldn't figure it out because he had great ears. He could learn Jaco licks or anybodies licks by ear and was a fabulous improvisor. I wouldn't give up hope, and it sounds like you haven't. It's good that you reached out here. There are a lot of experts on this forum so hopefully someone will chime in with some good advice for you.

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Try to hear the note you're going to sing immediately before you sing it. With practice this will come more naturally and with less thought. Practice by improvising melodies over one chord, thinking the pitch before singing it.

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There is an ear-brain-larynx-pitch control mechanism that probably didn't develop properly at some point in your life. Researchers have mapped out all kinds of brain functions and at which point they are being developed. Probably none of us has developed every brain function perfectly due to a variety of reasons. The good news is that the brain can repair, or develop functions at any time in our lives. There is a very effective practice called "neural reorganization" that through specific exercises, can finish development of brain functions. For example, an older man who had a stroke lost the ability to walk. Conventional doctors told him he would never be able to walk again due to brain damage in a certain area. With the help of neural reorg practictioners, he was able to restore 100% function within a year and could walk again with no problems. He asked that when he died they examine his brain to see why. They discovered that his brain "rewired" itself. The damaged part of his brain was still damaged, but another part of the brain took over and restored his ability to walk. This is an extreme example, but I'm sure there is a way for you to restore this pitch control function.

Have you worked with a speech therapist?

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There are ear training programs out there as well. I've tried Perfect Pitch by David Lucas Burge but never completed the whole program. I like to stick with my pitch matching exercises. ;)

and guitartrek is right about that ear-brain-larynx-pitch development. I did not develop hearing myself until 2 weeks after I was born. And it is probably the reason why it's taken me longer to be able to sing in tune. But I was the worst at singing.... people even told me to give up for not singing anything on pitch. But I still sang, and my ears and pitch control etc are finally developing. So it's not impossible at all. :)

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Thanks a lot for the responses!

There are ear training programs out there as well. I've tried Perfect Pitch by David Lucas Burge but never completed the whole program. I like to stick with my pitch matching exercises. ;)

I have a really good ear so that's not the problem. I have done pitch matching but I've started doing it more methodically lately and think I may be seeing some results from it.

There is an ear-brain-larynx-pitch control mechanism that probably didn't develop properly at some point in your life.

That's really interesting. Since I have been able to sing in tune just fine at certain points in my life I'm not sure if I'd say it's a developmental thing, but perhaps it got "deprogrammed" or something. I haven't worked with a speech therapist, never even crossed my mind. Do they do this sort of thing?

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Hi,

Firstly welcome .. I hope you find comfort in responses and we can help. The second thing is there is NOTHING to be ashamed of.

Everyone on this forum, at some point has had issues,be it pitching, bridging, breathy sounds, croaking, hoarse (for longer than they should be!!) as well as occasionally going back a few steps before moving forward. Posters are using new methods (Classical, TMV, SLS, CVT) outside their range and are finding nuances in their voice (along with the training / re-training it takes).

You say that you used to be ok, pitching well and singing with guitar (so we show pitching as well as interval experience). May I ask how long you sang in band as well as "how loud" the sessions were (i.e. acoustic trauma / hearing loss).

You mention about the fateful day, and what you heard was either;

Aural hearing rather than conductive/mixed/aural OR no "internal" hearing at all (i.e. the type when it's just too loud - you can't hear yourself think) - (was the vocal monitor was quite loud and thus you didn't hear yourself conductively - OR not loud enough and the band music volume was too loud which mean't that you didn't hear yourself conductively).

Another question is ... How do you now sing ?,

1) do you feel you sing the right notes in the wrong place,

2) every note is right note, just sharp / flat or

3) I feel I sing like I do when I sing "happy birthday" and sould like that "type" of non tuneful tone and unsupported.

Something to which I seem to be hearing more on this forum is ... I've studied with 3 or 4 teachers, to little / no avail ... Did they NOT resolve this ... Surely, they said either x, y, z ... If they did not then I can only apologise and they were not singing teachers.

... Even if a coach was flummoxed, they may / should have said .. Go to ENT for a hearing test (and I would recommend you do). a GOOD coach would notice speech issues (We have "TH" and "SPR" along with breathy "ee's" (in certain circumstances) sent to therapists or exercises given).

Well done on the ear training ... Melanie mentioned Perfect Pitch, I also recommend the trial of Auralia, and if you want to get a program to show your pitch in real time - try the trial of VVT from the CVT site (it is quite useful).

Another thing is - when you practice - do you practice with or without a monitor ? .. May be worth getting a wedge and mic'ing yourself.

Hope it helps,

Stewart

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Thanks a lot for the responses!

I have a really good ear so that's not the problem. I have done pitch matching but I've started doing it more methodically lately and think I may be seeing some results from it.

That's really interesting. Since I have been able to sing in tune just fine at certain points in my life I'm not sure if I'd say it's a developmental thing, but perhaps it got "deprogrammed" or something. I haven't worked with a speech therapist, never even crossed my mind. Do they do this sort of thing?

campersand, with all due respect, if you had a good ear, assuming medical issues, wouldn't you be singing in pitch?

i'm not so sure you can't. can we possibly ask you to do something for us?

go to a piano, hit a key, then try to produce that tone you hear using the vowel "ee" as in "eat." send us 2 sets of notes:

a random set of 6 or more notes not close together, and a set of 6 notes in a comfortable range right next to each other including the black keys

send us a file of both.

your pitch may not be as bad as you are indicating.

here's a piano if you don't have one.

http://www.thevirtualpiano.com/

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Stew, thanks so much for the encouragement and detailed response! To answer your questions...

May I ask how long you sang in band as well as "how loud" the sessions were (i.e. acoustic trauma / hearing loss).

I've been singing in bands for the past 10 or so years, playing in bands for the past 16. These have all been rock bands so pretty loud, but I've always worn earplugs. I do have some tinnitus (have for years) but it's not too bad and it hasn't seemed to get any worse for several years.

You mention about the fateful day, and what you heard was either;

Aural hearing rather than conductive/mixed/aural OR no "internal" hearing at all (i.e. the type when it's just too loud - you can't hear yourself think) - (was the vocal monitor was quite loud and thus you didn't hear yourself conductively - OR not loud enough and the band music volume was too loud which mean't that you didn't hear yourself conductively).

On that day is was definitely no internal hearing. Music was loud, monitor was way too quiet, so I was just going by feel.

Another question is ... How do you now sing ?,

1) do you feel you sing the right notes in the wrong place,

2) every note is right note, just sharp / flat or

3) I feel I sing like I do when I sing "happy birthday" and sould like that "type" of non tuneful tone and unsupported.

I sing the right notes, just a little flat/sharp.

Something to which I seem to be hearing more on this forum is ... I've studied with 3 or 4 teachers, to little / no avail ... Did they NOT resolve this ... Surely, they said either x, y, z ... If they did not then I can only apologise and they were not singing teachers.

I take some of the blame for my teachers not helping me, as I've never fully explained my situation to them. I've asked for help with pitch and singing through mic's, but never given them the full story.

Well done on the ear training ... Melanie mentioned Perfect Pitch, I also recommend the trial of Auralia, and if you want to get a program to show your pitch in real time - try the trial of VVT from the CVT site (it is quite useful).

Another thing is - when you practice - do you practice with or without a monitor ? .. May be worth getting a wedge and mic'ing yourself.

That program sounds great, I looked on the CVT website but couldn't find it anywhere. Maybe I'm not looking in the right spot?

I have started practicing with a monitor and I think that has maybe helped, hard to tell.

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You mentioned you have a good ear. But that is most likely for guitar. Since that is your main instrument. The voice is an instrument and you have to learn how to play it. Where each pitch is produced and what you need to do to get the correct pitch. You should be able to hear a tone and then sing it. That's ear training for the voice.

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Hi and apologies, brain not in gear ..

Estill site (and if it's ok with Rob - http://www.estillvoice.com/pages/clinical-software).

Stewart.

Fyi .. For others, If he is playing guitar and singing a tune, he's singing & playing following musical rules (i.e. Circle of fifths / fourths), hence the comment, "You say that you used to be ok, pitching well and singing with guitar (so we show pitching as well as interval experience)." and the interval pitching from the guitar "used" to be ok.

Also ... likely pitching to single note may be fine, it's the "when the phrasing starts" in a song and possibly either across the passaggio or 2nd / 3rd / 5th jumps. Campersand - Can you advise when the pitching issues mainly are (i.e. phrasing in a song across a range of notes).

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Spend a lot of time playing on the guitar what you are singing and really try to get the pitch to be indistinguishable between the two. If you don't know the notes, how can you expect to hear them before you sing them? If you can't hear the note before you sing it, how do you expect to get it in your muscle memory for singing? If you don't have something consistently trained in your muscle memory, how can you expect it to be there when you need it?

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Again, thanks so much for all the replies. I'll try to respond to all of your points so far...

VIDEOHERE: I should probably clarify my statements, as I don't want to give the impression that I can't hit a note and that I'm the worst singer in the world. I can match pitches pretty well when doing exercises such as you described. If you'd still like me to post a recording of the exercise I'd be happy to, but I'm guessing you want to hear how close I can get to the pitches, and I can tell you I'd probably do pretty well with that.

Regarding my ear, I do think it's possible to have a good ear but still have trouble singing in tune. I got A's in all my sight-singing and ear training classes and am generally better at hearing details in music when mixing or picking out lines by ear, etc. than most of my musician friends.

Stew, you're spot on, I can match pitches just fine one note at a time, the problems come in when I start putting phrases together in the context of a song where there are different harmonic/melodic things going on at the same time rather than me just hitting a note and matching it.

Oh, and thanks a bunch for the link!

Melanie and Tubagod, thanks for the advice, it's very much appreciated! I'll try to incorporate your suggestions into my practice.

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Again, thanks so much for all the replies. I'll try to respond to all of your points so far...

VIDEOHERE: I should probably clarify my statements, as I don't want to give the impression that I can't hit a note and that I'm the worst singer in the world. I can match pitches pretty well when doing exercises such as you described. If you'd still like me to post a recording of the exercise I'd be happy to, but I'm guessing you want to hear how close I can get to the pitches, and I can tell you I'd probably do pretty well with that.

Regarding my ear, I do think it's possible to have a good ear but still have trouble singing in tune. I got A's in all my sight-singing and ear training classes and am generally better at hearing details in music when mixing or picking out lines by ear, etc. than most of my musician friends.

Stew, you're spot on, I can match pitches just fine one note at a time, the problems come in when I start putting phrases together in the context of a song where there are different harmonic/melodic things going on at the same time rather than me just hitting a note and matching it.

Oh, and thanks a bunch for the link!

Melanie and Tubagod, thanks for the advice, it's very much appreciated! I'll try to incorporate your suggestions into my practice.

i understand better now. i'm just a singer trying to help. clearly, this is one for the teachers.

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