pitch problems
  • AMAJ
    Posts: 15
    A local order of contemplative sisters has recruited me to give them singing lessons. There are fewer than a dozen women, mostly age 50+, hailing from America, Europe, and the Philippines. They sing the office in English (sometimes accompanied by an electric organ and sometimes a capella) and the Mass is NO in English as well.

    We've talked about and worked on posture, breathing, tall vowels with a lifted soft palate, projecting from the eyes/forehead rather than singing from the nose or throat, etc. Also started some sight-singing work with solfeg which many of them have done before and are pretty good at (though not quite on pitch). We've also talked about how chanting is meant to bring life to the text and should be sung at the same cadence you would speak it. I've also reminded them that singing together involves not just making sound correctly but also listening to each other.

    They don't have a very blended sound - various problems with all of the above things we're working on plus I think the various accents plays a role, and some sisters have trouble staying on pitch especially when the chant repeats on the same note for several syllables in a row. They do use the transposer on their electric organ to help them sing in a more comfortable range, but it doesn't help.

    They've asked me to work individually with a few sisters (so far we've met just as a group) - specifically to help them learn to stay on pitch rather than going flat. This is where I need help - I did not go to music school and have never received a voice lesson myself so am feeling a little clueless how to proceed. (I guess my high school choir/band/piano experience was enough to get me started directing 15 years ago and since then I've been thankful for the instruction I've received locally at various workshops/from other directors and through CMAA colloquiums and chant intensives, along with the years of experience helping my own volunteer parish choir).

    Any practical suggestions for exercises to help these sisters would be appreciated!
  • irishtenoririshtenor
    Posts: 781
    Thank you for your clear, helpful post. Thank you also for the service you provide to the Church.

    If you legitimately don't know how to teach voice lessons, then I think you should send these ladies to someone who does. If you've never had even one voice lesson, then this has a very high potential to be a "blind-leading-the-blind" situation.
    Thanked by 1Liam
  • Don9of11Don9of11
    Posts: 149
    How do they sound if they sing Silent Night or Hark The Herald Angel's Sing? Do they sound on pitch and together? I would say practice everyone singing melody, leave parts for later. If they sound together and on pitch, just keep working with them. It's natural to loose pitch outside your voice range. Are they all sopranos or alto?

    Our music director practices with us using simple phrases and progressively raise the pitch up, generally start on e-flat and step up gradually perhaps an octave, than steps down in the same manner to perhaps an Octave below or if you know the range of notes in your hymns or choral pieces work the voices up and down. We do silly phrases, like "mommy made me mash my m&ms" and others. I think I would use an Amen or Alleluia but she's the boss. Our choir consist of more ladies than men but age is 70+, a few of us are in our late 50's. We also get posture lesson and breathing lesson as you've done.

  • canadashcanadash
    Posts: 1,195
    I agree with Irishtenor. Another option is for you to take private lessons, so you can teach them.

    You can also try by watching youtube videos, but I'll warn you, you'll have to peruse many awful ones before you get to one that will work for you!
  • bhcordovabhcordova
    Posts: 420
    May I suggest the iPhone app 'Voice Tutor'. It is designed to help correct many voice problems. There is also an app called 'Voice Tuner', but I have no experience with it.
  • AMAJ -
    Congratulations! For a self-confessed amateur you seem to have availed yourself of some of the basics of good tone production and vowel formation. Without formal study and training, though, there is a limit to how far you can lead your ladies, for, after progressing a little distance you will find yourself groping in the dark. You might well consider taking voice lessons yourself. This may equip you to lead your valiant flock into the land of well-tutored song. Otherwise, you might wish to suggest that they retain someone more qualified. I hope that you choose the former route and reap the rewards of having fashioned these charming ladies into at least a half-way decent chorus.

    About staying on pitch -
    There are numerous factors that influence accurate pitch, some of which are related to the techniques which you have enumerated above. Most fundamentally, though, other than learning actually to think the desired pitch and hear it in one's head, is the matter of diaphragmatic breathing and breath support. Most faulty pitch production arises from a lack of skill in this area. The intentional coordination of breathing apparatus and phonation is a challenging aspect of good singing. Related to this is learning to maintain a steady and constant 'wind pressure' over a certain length of time, rather than letting the air out in an uncontrolled, unsustained, manner. This is essential to staying on pitch and not going flat. There are other factors, but the matter of breath support and intonation is fundamental. Giving studied attention to this should bring about some noticeable progress. Invent exercises which call for accurately negotiating the distance betwixt various intervals. This will help your ladies to learn to think their pitches and distances. Have them do these as a group as well as calling upon individuals. These sorts of things can be quite fun and challenging means of getting the brain engaged in the task of producing a consciously thought out musical result.
  • bhcordovabhcordova
    Posts: 420

    I previously posted some breathing exercises in the topic below. They are designed to help with capacity and support. Hope they help. Also, make sure the ladies are breathing in correctly. They need to be 'belly breathing.'

  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 3,899
    If a singer doesn't understand the perceptual aspects of intonation: outer ear, inner ear and conceptual listening that must be constantly and consistently applied, you're a-gonna have pitch issues. Breath management is like cough medicine, it only works in conjunction with other treatments.
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • bhcordovabhcordova
    Posts: 420
    So true, but if breath management isn't there, then all the other things don't really help either. It is foundational.
  • Protasius
    Posts: 449
    When the same note is repeated over and over, I sometimes remind the choir to think of the repeated note as going slightly higher and higher; there can be various reasons why a choir goes flat, such as singing too massive (make them sing softly), singing with too much tension or not enough few body tautness (change the pitch a bit – a semitone or a tone can be enough; sopranos singing a bit too low might fall in pitch, altos singing too high might detone also).

    Of course what has been said about breath management is of vital importance.
    Thanked by 1bonniebede
  • AMAJ
    Posts: 15
    Thank you all for your thoughtful comments!
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,783
    Consult the following texts:

    The Art of Singing by Francesco Lamperti

    The Technics of Bel Canto by Giovanni Battista Lamperti

    The Art of Singing by Luisa di Tetrazzini

    The Art of Singing by Giovanni Battista Mancini

    Observations on the Florid Song by Pier Francesco Tosi

    I have had success with the technical concepts found in the first two. Please note that none of those texts will replace taking lessons with a professional, they are a guide that you can use and study to learn the concepts necessary for singing. I teach my students from the first book on the list, and I have had success with it. All of them are valuable resources.
    Thanked by 1Jes
  • JesJes
    Posts: 382
    Another PVC pipe hack!

    For pitch hearing and comparing options I make a fake telephone out of PVC pipe where one end meet the mouth and the other meets the ear and then the person is seated/stood with the other free ear closest to the comparable source.
    Thanked by 1eft94530
  • Download one of the free tuning apps. In the individual sessions, let them see what they are doing and experience the sensations involved in the correction they need to make.
    Thanked by 2bhcordova Don9of11
  • bhcordovabhcordova
    Posts: 420
    I never thought of that for singing! I have a 'drone' for tuning my trombone, but I never considered that for singing!
    Thanked by 1Jes
  • Chaswjd
    Posts: 65
    You might also want to look at the vowel sounds the singers use. Often times by using a brighter vowel sound, they will be better able to match pitch.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 3,502
    Aside from singing the same note several times and drifting flat on just about every iteration, there is another well known problem that tends to cause many, if not most, singers to drift flat. Namely, singing in step-wise motion, usually worse in descending scale passages where the tendency is to overshoot descending steps by a small amount, resulting it a downward drift of pitch, but also in undershooting ascending steps (especially at or above mid register) with the same downward pitch drift.
  • bhcordovabhcordova
    Posts: 420
    Yes, at the last Chant Intensive that I attended, we were warned about this. Even then, we had to be careful lest it happen.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 3,899
    All this about pitch reiteration:
    *That is why conceptualizing is as/more important than breath management.
    a. The associative strategy- breathe in the "fragrance" of a given/tonic pitch...memorize it....come back to it.....KNOW it.
    b. Extending re-iterated pitches- instruct singers how to aurally then vocally use significant (1-3-5 etc.) pitches as touchstones; have them sing, listen and determine if a particularly important but not sequentially ordered pitch matches its precedent, no matter when last sung. Trust me, they'll know if they're on it {I should better say: in it} or (generally) below it.
    c. As many of the strategies cited above and others: vowel agreement and formation, sing "above or at the eyes/eyebrows," release the mandible, not the Krakken (smile rule) , overarch in reaching down for the ascendant pitch, not to reach "up" (strain) etc.
  • JesJes
    Posts: 382
    Drones are great.

    Check out Thomasz Speiwak's sight singing books.
    They have strong aural component.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,270
    When the same note is repeated over and over, I sometimes remind the choir to think of the repeated note as going slightly higher and higher;

    This works, but its a little bit like fixing your golf slice by aiming to the side of the green.
  • JesJes
    Posts: 382
    When the same note is repeated over and over, I sometimes remind the choir to think of the repeated note as going slightly higher and higher;

    In Aus there is a huge problem with the note naturally moving higher and higher... we don't have cantors going flat on this they generally go sharp as they lose breath.
    Thanked by 1Adam Wood
  • JonathanKKJonathanKK
    Posts: 329
    [It's because you folks are in the antipodes; so things are in reverse from how we have it here.]