How to Sing in Tune and On Key/Pitch
Learn how to tell if you’re in tune, a technique for improving your pitch accuracy and tips getting better at singing on key.
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Last Updated: July 2023 | Article Details: 3465 words (17 – 19 minute read)
If you’re new to singing, not being able to accurately match the notes of the songs you’re trying to sing with your own voice can be frustrating and disheartening.
Learning how to sing in tune is one of the most fundamental skills a singer needs to focus on improving.
And you’re about to learn how to tell if you’re singing accurately, how to train your way to better pitch and tips to improve your ability to hit specific notes correctly.
Don’t worry, being able to sing in key isn’t something only “gifted” or “talented” people can do. You don’t have to be “born with it” in order to sing on pitch (with one minor exception – more on that below).
You can work on it and get better – just like with any other skill.
Follow the steps and tips below and you’ll see a lot of improvement in your overall ability to sing better. And if you want a structured way to sing more in tune check out these online programs for singers.
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Article Table of Contents
- 1.1 What if I’m Tone Deaf?
- 1.2 Analyzing Your Voice
- 1.2 How Your Voice Actually Sings Specific Notes
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Why You Can’t Sing in Key
Despite what you may think, the reason you’re not comfortable singing in tune is most likely due to one of two things – improper singing technique or a lack of training/practice.
Most people do have the ability to hit notes fairly accurately.
The problems arise when you’re untrained or singing with bad habits.
What if I’m Tone Deaf?
It’s unlikely that’s the case – only about 3% of the population is actually tone deaf. It’s a rare disorder called Amusia where you are completely unable to tell the difference between two different pitches.
If someone was to play two different keys on a piano, but you couldn’t tell that the notes being played were different then you may actually be tone deaf. If you suspect something is up, it may be a good idea to talk to a doctor about it to get it tested/diagnosed.
But more likely than not, you’ll be able to tell the two sounds sound different from each other. And if you can tell that there is a difference, then you CAN recognize differences in pitch.
And that means, with training, you will be able to sing in key and sing in harmony much better.
Analyzing Your Voice
The first thing you need to learn is how to analyze your voice. This may already be second-nature to you, but if you’re not sure read on because this is important…
If you want to get better at pitch, then you need to be able to objectively analyze your voice.
You need to be able to recognize how far off key your voice is when hitting any particular note. And you need to be able to hear your voice singing – while not singing – on top of an accurate note being played behind it.
This will require a couple of different tools. Luckily, you can get by with nothing more than your phone. But it’s VERY helpful to have these as separate things.
Here’s what we’ll need to analyze our voice:
- A Piano/Guitar (or an app)
- An Audio Recorder
- A Pitch Monitor or Tuner
The most important of these tools for our purposes is the Pitch Monitor app. You can use this app to sing into your phone’s microphone and the app will tell you exactly which note you’re hitting – and whether you’re accurate, sharp or flat.
If you have a laptop and a phone (or even just a phone), great. You can use a piano app to play notes, a pitch monitor app to check accuracy and the voice notes/audio recorder on your phone to record yourself.
How Your Voice Actually Sings Specific Notes
Another thing you should become familiar with is how your voice actually changes to hit different notes.
The pitch your voice sings is determined by how thick or thin your vocal folds become as air passes through them.
Singing Lower Notes – your vocal folds shorten and become thicker
Singing Higher Notes – your vocal folds lengthen and become thinner
Try singing a high note and singing a low note and pay attention to the feeling in your body. If you can recognize how your vocal cords move when singing various pitches, it’ll help you analyze your voice, and know what you need to do to be more accurate with your pitch.
How to Improve Your Pitch – Step-By-Step Vocal Exercise
Here’s a quick rundown of how you can begin to improve your singing pitch right away.
Always remember: use proper singing technique – especially when it comes to your breathing and your posture.
And one more note, don’t worry that your voice isn’t EXACTLY 100% ON PITCH – that’s nearly impossible for the human voice to achieve. You can be off fairly slightly – you just don’t want to be off by a wide range.
Time needed: 10 minutes
How to Improve Your Ability to Sing in Tune and on Key
- Open the Tools
Go to your piano (or piano app via a laptop/computer) and open the vocal pitch monitor app on your phone.
- Play the Middle C Note on the Piano
Start by playing a sustained C note on the piano. A good place to start is Middle C (C3/C4).
- Sing and try to MATCH the note being played with your voice
Start singing using an “ahh” vowel sound, trying to accurately hit the C note being played on the piano.
- Check your accuracy on the vocal pitch monitor
While you’re still singing the sustained “ahh” sound, check your vocal pitch monitor app to see how close you are to hitting the pitch accurately. You may find yourself a bit sharp (higher than the note) or a bit flat (lower than the note)
- If necessary, “slide into the pitch”
It’s ok to “slide” your voice slightly up/down to try and hit the pitch more accurately for this first time, but don’t make it a habit. The goal is to be able to eventually hit the pitch accurately off jump, not having to “slide into” it.
- Pay attention to how it “feels”
While you’re singing the sound and being as accurate as possible, be mindful – pay attention to how your voice sounds, relative to the piano note, and how your mouth/jaw/tongue/etc feel. Notice where the vibrations are coming from and the position of your larynx. Remember these feelings.
- Stop the piano note and stop singing
Now that you have an idea of how you should be singing, how it sounds and how it feels, stop the notes on the piano and your voice.
- Play the note on the piano and immediately sing it again
Hit the note on the piano and start singing it (using “ahh”) almost immediately. Pay attention to the vocal pitch monitor app AND the very start (i.e. the initial “attack”) of your voice – did it match closely right away or did you have to “slide into it” again?
- Repeat steps 7-8 until you get better at hitting the note accurately right away
Keep trying to sing the note on top of the piano while being as accurate and “on key” as possible as soon as you start singing. Remember, you want to hit the note accurately, and not have to slide into it.
- Next, sing the note in a sustained way
Now that you can hit the note accurately off jump, keep singing the “ahh” vowel on that note and sustain your singing of the note for your entire breath. As you run out of air, gradually fade out your voice. Take another breath and start again. Do this a few times.
- Record yourself
Open up your audio recording app (or grab your audio recorder) and start recording yourself singing that sustained note on top of the piano sound.
- Analyze your recording and adjust
Finally, play back the recording you made and analyze your voice. Pay special attention to the “attack” of your voice and whether or not you have to “slide into” the pitch, as opposed to hitting it accurately from the start. Also pay attention to how well your vocal note and the piano note match up – don’t use the pitch monitor, use your ears to see how well they match (or don’t match). Hearing yourself recorded is the best way to get a real picture of how well you’re hitting a note. Make adjustments if needed and repeat the rest of the steps.
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The above 12 steps are a great way to improve your pitch accuracy note-by-note. But will this be helpful for your overall singing?
Yes, it absolutely will if you use this method on several different notes. It may seem like a long and tedious process, but it’s an invaluable way to get better at singing pitch.
How to Use the Above Pitch Exercise Effectively
When you’re doing the above exercise, you want to repeat it for every pitch that you practice a few times. Repeat the note start/stop step 3-5 times, and then repeat the sustained note hold step another 3-5 times.
In terms of applying the exercise, here are two ways you can use the above exercise to improve your voice fast.
The first way is to use that approach while practicing your musical scales. As a singer, a common practice technique is to sing through the Major and Minor scales in music.
Take it one pitch/note from the scale at a time and make sure you’re being accurate on each one. Complete the entire scale, at least one time through and do this regularly as a part of your daily practice.
The second way is to use this exercise to practice a song you’re working on. Take the song line by line – don’t take on too much too quickly. Take the first line of the song and work on it note-by-note, slowly.
Sing the first word/note and use the exercise to improve your pitch accuracy. Then sing the next word/note, doing the same thing. Finally try singing both notes back to back so you can work on accurately hitting pitches one after another.
Tips for Singing in Key More Accurately
Now that you have a way of knowing if you’re singing in tune and an exercise for improving how well you sing in key, let’s talk about some general tips for improving your voice accuracy.
These tips are important, so do your best to follow them whenever you’re singing – even when doing warm-ups for your voice.
Know Your Vocal Range
Knowing what your vocal range is, is very important. One of the reasons you may not be able to hit a note great is because it’s outside of your comfortable vocal range.
Most people are able to comfortably sing within a 2 octave range. But depending on your voice type, that may mean 2 octaves of lower notes or 2 octaves of higher notes.
It is possible to extend your vocal range, but it takes a lot of dedication and work. You should absolutely work on this, but you should also focus on singing songs and vocal exercises that fit your range.
It’s much harder to be accurate outside of your range, than to perfect your pitch within your singable vocal range.
Don’t Actively Correct Your Pitch All the Time
In the exercise above, we talk about “sliding into” the correct pitch with your voice. You start singing a note, notice it’s off and then actively adjust your pitch to match the note you’re trying to sing.
This is ok for the first time you’re trying to hit a note. But it’s incorrect to do this all the time. You don’t want to train yourself to correct note pitches, you want to train yourself to hit the pitch as accurately as possible right from the start.
If you find yourself actively sliding the note up/down to match a pitch, you’re adding extra tension and increasing your airflow to do it. Extra tension can constrict your larynx, and prevent you from hitting notes correctly.
That’s not good so don’t make it a habit. Train your voice to hit the pitch as accurately as you can, right as the sound leaves your mouth.
Work On Your Technique
This is the most neglected area of training for most people learning how to sing better.
But it’s actually the most crucial. You NEED to be singing with proper technique. Bad technique is the #1 reason you aren’t able to sing as well as you want.
Proper singing technique should be a major focus of your overall training. You should always be singing with proper breathing, proper posture and proper “placement” (i.e. how you use your tongue/jaw/larynx/etc) when singing.
Work on this stuff if you’re not automatically singing with good technique each time you open your mouth. It should be second nature. You can learn about proper technique in our how to sing for beginners guide.
Although it may seem more fun to practice your pitch using the songs you’re trying to learn to sing, a better way of practicing your pitch is to sing scales.
If you make scale practice a part of your daily routine, you’ll be practicing every major singable pitch out there. You’re giving yourself an all-around workout, rather than focusing on specific pitches in a song.
You can practice one or two scales a day (or more if you’d like). Just sing the entire scale using an “ahh” or “ooo” vowel sound upwards and downwards for an octave or two.
There are a total of 24 Major and Minor scales in western music (each with 7 notes/pitches). If you practice all of them regularly, you’ll be practicing hitting every pitch you possibly can. And doing that is a “shortcut” to improving your overall pitch accuracy.
Tension is a big no-no when it comes to singing better. You need to relax yourself – both psychologically and physically. If you feel any tension in your body, it means you’re constricting either blood flow or air flow, and you should actively try to relax yourself.
Stretching before and during your practice sessions is a great way to do this. Jump around a bit and loosen out your limbs. Take some deep breaths. Stretch out your tongue, jaw and facial muscles.
If while singing you start to tense anything up, pause and release that tension. Stretch a bit more and then resume your singing.
You also want to allow enough space in your mouth to accurately hit notes on key. Wide and open mouths are better than narrow, closed mouths when singing. Practicing singing vowels with good technique is a great way to improve this.
Focus on Developing Control
This tip is related to tension – you don’t want to be straining to hit any notes. You want to develop vocal control – being able to calmly sing notes in a deliberate way, without strain.
Again, this comes back to using proper singing technique. If you can make “good technique” second nature, everything else will become that much easier for you to do.
Have control over your body, your breath and your voice + vocal cords. If you constantly feel like you’re having to strain or take breaths or “push” yourself too much, you need to remedy that.
If you notice these things happen, stop singing. Take a moment to pause, relax yourself and focus on technique. Start singing again, but this time with more deliberate control over what you’re doing.
Cover Your Ears
This is a great tip, especially for beginners, to really hear what you’re actually singing.
Because the way we hear ourselves is different to the way other people hear us, it can sometimes be tough to gauge how accurately we’re singing. Pitch monitors and recording yourself can help with this.
But in the moment something you can do is cover your ear (or both ears) with your hand(s). The way your brain hears the sound will be much different than if you left your ears open.
This can make it easier to really notice how well you’re singing a particular pitch/note.
DON’T Neglect This
RECORDING YOURSELF is HUGE (and related to the above tip about covering your ears).
We don’t hear ourselves the same as others – that’s why most people cringe the first time they hear their recorded voice. We sound different to ourselves.
And that’s why you should 100% be recording yourself during your practice sessions. It will be more immediately recognizable just how “on key” or “in tune” you’re being.
If you’re practicing scales, record yourself singing on top of a piano that’s playing each note of the scale as you sing it.
If you’re practicing a song, record yourself singing over top of a well-done recording of the song being sung by someone else.
When you listen back to your recording, you’ll be able to immediately tell how accurate you were pitch-wise.
This may seem tedious, but it can be an absolute game changer so don’t neglect recording yourself and listening back.
Frequently Asked Questions
Singing in tune is the ability to hit a particular pitch (note/key) with as much accuracy as possible. If you sing a note that is slightly above the “pitch center” (the perfect frequency of that note) you’re singing sharp. If you sing below that pitch center, you’re singing flat. Singing in tune means you’re as close to that pitch center as possible and hitting the note accurately.
Yes, for the most part almost anyone can sing in tune (or practice/learn to do it eventually). However, there is a small portion of the population (around 3% of people) that are actually tone-deaf. That means they physically can’t distinguish between two different pitches. The condition is known as Amusia, but is not very common. For most people, all it takes to sing in tune is some training and practice.
Yes you can learn to sing in tune – it’s a combination of learning proper singing technique, how to analyze your voice and doing a lot of very specific practice.
The easiest way to know if you’re singing in tune is to use an app on your phone called Vocal Pitch Monitor. You sing into the microphone of your smartphone and the app will analyze what you’re singing and show you how accurately you’re hitting any particular note. It’s best to use it with a single note at a time to see how accurate you’re being. You can also try recording yourself singing on top of a piano and analyze how well your voice and the piano sound match.
And there you go – a complete game plan on how to improve your singing pitch accuracy.
The best thing you can do is to actively practice hitting a pitch correctly while monitoring your voice with a pitch monitor.
It can also be helpful to spend a few days just working on a single note at a time (especially a particularly troublesome note).
Just sing and sustain that note over top of a piano or drone sound of that pitch.
Take deep breaths and hold the note as long as you can. When you run out of breath, inhale and start again on that same pitch. Do this for 10-15 minutes per day.
Once you’re better at hitting that pitch, you can move on to another note.
Thanks for reading this guide on how to sing in tune. I hope it helps your ability to sing in key and on pitch.
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