chorister who sings slightly under pitch
  • canadashcanadash
    Posts: 1,481
    A new family has joined my choir this year. Mom is super eager and has a lovely voice and has become a bit of a librarian for me. Her younger son has joined the sopranos, singing along side her. Her older son was singing tenor and now I've moved him to the bass section. He has aspergers syndrome, but it is not particularly noticeable except that he sings slightly under pitch all the time. He actually has perfect pitch in that he can name a note if it is sung, or sing a note if you ask him to. He never had music lessons, he said his school teacher told him the notes once and he knew them! Is it possible that this boy's mind is tuned slightly off? I don't know what to do to help him, if I can even do that.
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  • Liam
    Posts: 4,605
    Having perfect pitch is a different thing from vocal production. One can replicate pitches at will and still sing out of tune when singing in a sustained way with others. At least he's not arrogant about having perfect pitch (so it seems) and having vocal production problems....
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,431
    canadash, you have a potentially excellent chorister there.

    I've helped several students with similar problems. Individual sessions (they don't have to be long) are key, both for privacy and because his voice will get lost to him in the group. I suggest sirens and other vocal exercises such as scales that help the child become accustomed to using his whole range. Try to understand whether he is using his chest voice to reach upper notes, and if so, explain that he has an extra voice that is higher. I often use the image of a two-story house.

    Then just repetitively do pitch-matching exercises ("listen and repeat: Looooo", with the emphasis on his hearing his own voice. Provide encouraging feedback. Correct mistakes consistently but very kindly and patiently.

    His asperger's syndrome may mean that he is sometimes unable to focus in, because he is focused on something else. So you may have to repeatedly recall him to the task at hand.

    I would definitely set some time aside for this, so that you are able to be patient with the whole process without rushing him or you. He will be a great asset in the end, and you will be helping him with more than music!
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,431
    Btw during the pitch matching, ask him to cup his hand behind his ear. This reflects his voice back to him.
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  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Good advice from Liam and Kathy.
    Pitch acquisition is most often a major culprit. The aural process is complicated and at the same time naturally instantaneous to discern and process from external ear to brain/nervous system to inner ear and muscular system phonation. Too often folks who are at once gifted with a pleasing voice but an untrained ear somehow psychologically don't "get" that they have to spend more effort than others acquiring the correct pitch. More than that once they've started the onset of the starting pitch they're already off and stay off.
    So, in addition to starting with a narrow tessitura, repetition of helpful vocalizes, and guiding the singer to clear recognition of accuracy, you might use imagery and analogy as a mental prompt. "Breathe in the pitch" is an apt mixed metaphor. "Smell the fragrance of each different starting pitch, is it a particular flower, a perfume, a fruit, a baked dessert," those kinds of mental imaging.
    Again, consult Richard Miller and James McKinney.
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  • Place him next to someone with a strong sense of pitch, in addition to everything else, and hopefully he will catch on and maybe try to match them.
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  • Download a strobe tuning program, like the Peterson one. Show him how to turn it on and stand back!

    Being able to control those spinning rings is a great video game challenge.

    Having had Asp & Aut children and young adults in choir has been a very wonderful experience.

  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,431
    Having had Asp & Aut children and young adults in choir has been a very wonderful experience.
  • canadashcanadash
    Posts: 1,481
    canadash, you have a potentially excellent chorister there.

    I think so too, Kathy. That's why I don't want to discourage him.

    Great ideas. Thanks.
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  • Sorry to chime in on an old thread, but in my first working band in the early 80's, I told them at first practice that I did not sing. They responded by stating that all mouths on the bandstand sing and they put a mic in front of me.

    "Aim sharp!!!", I heard that a bunch in the coming weeks at rehearsals and on breaks at the gigs. Their thinking was that if you are going to not quite hit the pitch, it is less noticeable and offensive to the listener if the singer is slightly sharp as opposed to flat.

    My wife and I went and saw Black Sabbath. Through the show, I was posting to FB, "Aim sharp, Ozzie!" He was a good 1/4-1/2 step flat the whole night, and the band was already tuned down A MINOR THIRD!!! to begin with. We left early. The lead singer for Rival Sons was phenomenal. His pitch was perfect.
  • canadash, how is he holding his mouth? My bass voice is inherently dark in timbre, and in my bar band days, my boyhood friend / keyboardist (he played a real Hammond and Leslie!) used to tell me to smile when I sang. His reasoning was that the altered shape of my mouth in combination with "singing through my teeth" actually helps to "eq" my voice brighter.....making my voice easier to distinguish in the mix...making it easier to hear my own pitch. Make sense? Just a thought.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,674
    "Aim sharp, Ozzie!"

    Poor Ozzie didn't know what world he was in half the time. LOL.
  • canadashcanadash
    Posts: 1,481
    Thanks for reviving this thread...

    So, Noel, I couldn't find the download, but a friend showed me the Peterson strobe tuner... pricey! But what I did do was give the boy a cheap, simple chromatic tuner. It seems to have helped. I've also moved him to bass because his voice seems better suited to bass (he's a baritone) and I suddenly have four new fantastic tenors in my choir. He seems much happier there and his pitch is better.

    I do suggest different embouchure positions, but I find it difficult to single him out, because he is the only one with this problem. I have made an effort to spend time talking about the embouchure and making it the same for the vowel sounds, especially in the Latin hymns and chants.
  • Maybe you could take some advice from someone who has some personal experience with this.

    I have Aspergers syndrome and I know for a fact that perfect pitch for most autistic choristers are slightly under pitch. I had to "refine" my perfect pitch and push it higher because it was causing problems in the choir.

    Maybe he is trying to push the pitch of the choir lower. Ask him his thought about the rest of the choir's pitch. Maybe he thinks that it is slightly too high. Then you can help him.

    I would be wary of pushing his voice, I have been told not to push as it may cause unnecessary damage for his voice.

    I want to thank you for having him in your choir. I know that he appreciates it. He is likely bullied at school and this might be his only refuge from it, I know the choir was for me as well. I think that autistic children can add so much to a choir. I have began conducting at a young age and I began as a cantor at a very young age.

    Just some personal experiential advice.
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  • In the Grand Scheme of Things, A 440 being the standard is a fairly recent and western notion....
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,912
    Breathing is so important for maintaining a pitch, especially over long stretches. I don't know how much you've already discussed this with the choir in general, but it's good for everyone. My understanding is that the correct "support" for singing is using "...the muscles of the chest, especially those of the hold back the breath..." -F. Lamperti. What this means is using the abdominal muscles to hold back the breath as one sings (scientifically, you can't consciously control only the diaphragm itself: you have to use the muscles around it to influence it). This idea of holding back the breath while singing has improved my pitch significantly in the past year. I don't know if that is worth pursuing with this particular chorister, but in my schola, I wouldn't exclude anyone from learning basic techniques. Everyone achieves the level of mastery that they are able and in their own time: you just have to expose them to the concepts (and many times revisit them!). Interestingly enough, the concept of holding back the breath while singing is very simple to explain and also simple to learn, but it is very difficult to master and do all the time.
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  • eft94530eft94530
    Posts: 1,576
    Are there any android or iphone apps ?
  • In my experience, trying to force higher pitch on one doesn't do a thing. What can help is if you have that chorister listen to everyone for a couple of pieces before joining in to help him get a sense of the pitch. This is what I did and it really helped. Keep in mind that it will never be perfect (no pun intended) but it will help a lot.