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#1 fatar760

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Posted 14 March 2013 - 00:59

Hey,

I have started working with a singing student who really struggles to pitch notes accurately. She's more or less aware of if she is pitching too low or high but is pretty inconsistent nevertheless.

I've been primarily looking at Aural studies with her ie. singing back short phrases, singing isolated notes and also saying whether she's pitching notes higher are lower than played.

Has anyone had a student like this before and can someone give me some idea which direction I should be taking her in?

It might just be a case of patience of boosting her confidence but I don't want her to lose heart as, of yet, she has made little progress.

Thoughts appreciated
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#2 ExpressYourself

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Posted 14 March 2013 - 06:47

I wrote a post on this a while ago. Check this out. I'll pop back to write something more detailed later.

http://www.abrsm.org...t...&hl=gliding
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#3 BitterSweet

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Posted 14 March 2013 - 09:03

I would say there are two great tips on that thread ExpressYourself linked to:

- firstly pitching from the voice rather than the piano. Most people find that much easier. Can she copy phrases when you sing them? I've been working on some call and response songs with my student (albeit to help make steps into composing, rather than singing in tune), but ones like "You'll never get to heaven" which have simple stepwise motion might be easier to do than the traditional echo singing from the ABRSM aural grades.

- secondly, the Kodaly-method sol-fa is the best way to help develop singers' aural skills (and I've only been using it about a month), so I would recommend trying out 'Go for Bronze'. If you don't want to go all-out Kodaly, you could also try "Ear Without Fear" from Hal Leonard which is a little more traditional, but starts from identifying which pitch is higher or lower and develops from there.

Is it a case of a complete lack of awareness of pitch (completely unrelated, or monotone)? Or is it that she's just not sure where the pitch is (so goes higher, but not to the note she was aiming for)? If it's the latter, I would highly recommend trying out Go for Bronze. I promise it's fairly well idiot proof!
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#4 Dugazon

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Posted 14 March 2013 - 09:48

I've got students like that all the time (in fact I think that students with pitch problems are far more common than those without, unless you're only working with pros, experienced singers or the naturally gifted wink.gif).

Before you can do anything about it, you need to find out the reason WHY she is off pitch.

Solfa/Kodaly is great if the culprit is aural awareness, but I'd say if the reason is physical, the success will be limited to her vocal comfort zone, and the problem will manifest itself again.
Since you say she is aware she is doing it, her aural awareness seems to be alright, so I'd reckon it's more a problem of "vocal motor control".

Pitching from the voice is harder if you're teaching the opposite s'ex. In general, it's a good tip however, provided you can manage to sing in the same octave as the singer.

Another good tip is to let the singer pitch first, and then you actually copy THEM and gradually stretch out their range from there. Comfort zone is the word - it's very important to find out the range where the singer CAN accurately match pitch, because that's where they are free of tension.

Which leads us to physical adjustment. As a singing teacher, you will know about the physical reasons for singing sharp and flat on all three levels of voice production (breathing/support, larynx/vocal folds, pharynx/articulators), so you will need to work on the ones that are her "building sites". If she's flat because she sings with too much mass, you need to work on thinning. If she sings sharp because of muscular tension, you need to do physical work to eliminate it. If she sings sharp because she uses too much breath-flow, you need to get it down. If she sings flat because of too little resistance in her vocal folds, you need to work on fold closure. And so on, and so on.

You need to listen, analyse and pinpoint the reason WHY - everything else will be guesswork and isn't likely to help.

I wrote an article about it a while ago, it's just general info however, because you cannot really prescribe a routine if you don't know the singer. Maybe it'll still provide some useful information though?
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#5 fatar760

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Posted 14 March 2013 - 10:03

These are wonderful replied - thank you.

In yesterday's lesson I started to isolate the areas of the keyboard where she was struggling to pitch. Her notes around Middle C are fairly accurate and she rarely sings them out of tune first time. Below this point she was going too sharp. For example I'd play the Bb below middle C and she'd often sing a whole minor third UP from the note.

I also discovered that from the F# above middle C she'd tend to sing a tone lower. By about the third attempt she'd sharpen the note and find it.

As far as her physical vocal motions are concerned it's not entirely clear. I can't see or hear any tension in her voice. I don't feel she is thickening or thinning her vocal folds. Her voice quality and tone is pretty consistent, then again it is all within an octave she is singing. I also don't feel she's pushing too much breath.

I have resisted using the piano on occasions and, as I've often found with other students too, they can replicate my sound straight away. But there needs to be a transition somewhere into piano work. I'm going to check out this kodaly thing I think.

Any other advice is very much welcome.
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#6 linda.ff

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Posted 14 March 2013 - 11:23

QUOTE(Dugazon @ Mar 14 2013, 09:48 AM) View Post

Pitching from the voice is harder if you're teaching the opposite s'ex. In general, it's a good tip however, provided you can manage to sing in the same octave as the singer.

I find this varies a lot from one singer to another, this is thinking about female to male rather than the other way around.

At one stage I always thought that men pitched an octave below women, and if I sang middle C, they would sing the C below, because the middle C was low in my voice. If I wanted real middle C (a note which I often say is not too low for any woman or child and not too high for any man, but there's always one...) I had to sing an octave higher. Then I got a string of rock wannabees and if I sang treble-second-line-G they went into falsetto; obviously something to do with the style.

I've had one or two - and I didn't know anyone did this until I started with them - who belonged to the "sing first, listen later" school. I thought eveyone pitched a note in their head before they sang it until then. "Oh, no, that was too low, I can hear the difference" - after singing it. The concept of internalisation was entirely new. That's why I love teaching beginners - what they didn't know teaches you something new every time smile.gif
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#7 RoseRodent

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Posted 14 March 2013 - 12:22

Hmmm, while my internet has been down and I was typing away in a text document it's pretty much all been said! laugh.gif

As far as transition to doing aural work from the piano a la graded aural tests, if she can learn a song but struggles to match her pitch to the one given then you can run with the aural tests and accept her response for now even if it's in a totally different key, if the intervals are right then she's got the idea and you can progress with that and keep building on the aural tests without worrying about her absolute pitch for now so long as her relative pitch is progressing towards correct. She'd get a surprising number of marks for a response which is relatively correct but starts on the wrong note, and you can address absolute pitch separately.

I am not a singing teacher but I coached a friend at school who was desperate to get into a city choir with a very tough audition process but couldn't pitch a note, she was one of the "groaners". We worked on pitching every single day and at the end of 6 months she got into the choir. IPB Image Stage 1 for her was the ability to change notes at all, Stage 2 was the ability to make a bigger change for an octave leap than for a 5th leap. In neither case did she match the interval, but it was a good day when she consistently gave me something between a 6th and a 10th for an octave and a 3rd or 4th for a 5th, as she was learning to recognise and copy large or small changes. Then we introduced 3rds which she initially copied with somewhere between no change and a 4th, and the very last thing we covered was notes in sequence. For some folks you just rip up the rule book! If she is struggling with the intervals too, try making them bigger. Grade 1 aural tests work within steps up and down because it is usually the easiest for the candidate to follow, but some people with this kind of pitching difficulty can't recognise the change up and down by tones and semitones yet. Invent new aural tests which go up and down by at least a 4th each time. She may not be able to copy the 4th, she might well choose a different interval but it's the idea of going in the right direction and by a reasonable amount which matters.

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#8 BitterSweet

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Posted 14 March 2013 - 13:41

QUOTE(fatar760 @ Mar 14 2013, 10:03 AM) View Post

As far as her physical vocal motions are concerned it's not entirely clear. I can't see or hear any tension in her voice. I don't feel she is thickening or thinning her vocal folds. Her voice quality and tone is pretty consistent, then again it is all within an octave she is singing. I also don't feel she's pushing too much breath.


In terms of physical sensation, I would try doing some work on awareness of the movement of her larynx, perhaps. It is possible to feel it going up and down in relation to pitch, and to train it to go up when it should, and down when it should. Perhaps, grab a copy of Gillyanne Kayes' book Singing and the Actor (if you haven't got it already). Some of the stuff in the early chapters about getting aware of how the vocal folds, larynx etc move might help you work out if she's struggling with physical awareness rather than aural awareness. I've certainly found that the book has useful diagnostic tools in it, including encouraging students to actually feel their larynx moving which can be helpful.
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#9 Dugazon

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Posted 14 March 2013 - 13:41

Generally speaking, I wouldn't assume that a lot of aural work will solve these problems. It will only do so in the cases where the problem is down to lacking aural awareness. I'd hazard a guess that at least 7 out of 10 singers with pitching problems DON'T suffer from lacking aural awareness though.

If a student CAN pitch right in a certain range, but cannot as soon as they leave it - what other proof do we need that this is a physical adjustment issue? wink.gif

What these people don't get right is matching aural perception with QUICK enough adjustment of the vocal tract, larynx or support mechanism. So you need to practise the right adjustment slowly and methodically.

You can repeat an interval 5 million times - they will hear themselves it isn't right (the cases mentioned above aside), but they are usually unable to fix the wrong physical adjustment on their own. That's what the teacher needs to show them. That's what they need to repeat, so it becomes ingrained into their muscle memory. If you're lucky, it will work by just bashing out the same two notes on the piano, and their body will find the right adjustment on its own (it happens). That's a very haphazard way of addressing the issue though, and it won't always work (in the majority of cases, it probably won't tbh).

I'd go so far as to say that with students who have severe problems of that kind, you shouldn't focus too much on matching pitch at all - you should work "freestyle" and get their muscles and cartilages to work in the right way throughout their range. "Work from what works" - you can introduce the piano and accompaniment later.

I honestly think an approach like that can be too ambitious for some singers, and it creates a lot of frustration on both sides. You need the patience of a saint, but it pays off.
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#10 fatar760

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Posted 14 March 2013 - 14:02

QUOTE(linda.ff @ Mar 14 2013, 11:23 AM) View Post

QUOTE(Dugazon @ Mar 14 2013, 09:48 AM) View Post

Pitching from the voice is harder if you're teaching the opposite s'ex. In general, it's a good tip however, provided you can manage to sing in the same octave as the singer.

I find this varies a lot from one singer to another, this is thinking about female to male rather than the other way around.



The whole male/female thing works both ways. I know males who have struggled off a female teacher and vice. As long as the teacher can work out what the student needs to pitch correctly it should be easily solvable.

QUOTE(BitterSweet @ Mar 14 2013, 01:41 PM) View Post

QUOTE(fatar760 @ Mar 14 2013, 10:03 AM) View Post

As far as her physical vocal motions are concerned it's not entirely clear. I can't see or hear any tension in her voice. I don't feel she is thickening or thinning her vocal folds. Her voice quality and tone is pretty consistent, then again it is all within an octave she is singing. I also don't feel she's pushing too much breath.


In terms of physical sensation, I would try doing some work on awareness of the movement of her larynx, perhaps. It is possible to feel it going up and down in relation to pitch, and to train it to go up when it should, and down when it should. Perhaps, grab a copy of Gillyanne Kayes' book Singing and the Actor (if you haven't got it already). Some of the stuff in the early chapters about getting aware of how the vocal folds, larynx etc move might help you work out if she's struggling with physical awareness rather than aural awareness. I've certainly found that the book has useful diagnostic tools in it, including encouraging students to actually feel their larynx moving which can be helpful.


Got it, tis my bible smile.gif


QUOTE(Dugazon @ Mar 14 2013, 01:41 PM) View Post

Generally speaking, I wouldn't assume that a lot of aural work will solve these problems. It will only do so in the cases where the problem is down to lacking aural awareness. I'd hazard a guess that at least 7 out of 10 singers with pitching problems DON'T suffer from lacking aural awareness though.

If a student CAN pitch right in a certain range, but cannot as soon as they leave it - what other proof do we need that this is a physical adjustment issue? wink.gif

What these people don't get right is matching aural perception with QUICK enough adjustment of the vocal tract, larynx or support mechanism. So you need to practise the right adjustment slowly and methodically.

You can repeat an interval 5 million times - they will hear themselves it isn't right (the cases mentioned above aside), but they are usually unable to fix the wrong physical adjustment on their own. That's what the teacher needs to show them. That's what they need to repeat, so it becomes ingrained into their muscle memory. If you're lucky, it will work by just bashing out the same two notes on the piano, and their body will find the right adjustment on its own (it happens). That's a very haphazard way of addressing the issue though, and it won't always work (in the majority of cases, it probably won't tbh).

I'd go so far as to say that with students who have severe problems of that kind, you shouldn't focus too much on matching pitch at all - you should work "freestyle" and get their muscles and cartilages to work in the right way throughout their range. "Work from what works" - you can introduce the piano and accompaniment later.

I honestly think an approach like that can be too ambitious for some singers, and it creates a lot of frustration on both sides. You need the patience of a saint, but it pays off.


Yes, the reason I started targeting the range yesterday was to see if there was a pattern. Although there loosely was, as I mentioned in my initial post, she is quite inconsistent. Even the notes that she largely got correct (Middle C to F) weren't always accurate. When asked if she knew if she was higher or lower she didn't ALWAYS know. So maybe it is a combination of Aural awareness and the mechanics of her voice.

Do you feel maybe targeting the upper areas might be a good starting point?

She was singing Part of your World from Little Mermaid but I'm starting to think I may have to take her back to very simple melodies. I just don't want her to feel discouraged that I'm doing very simple stuff with her.

I should point out too that when she starts to sing, if her first note is incorrect the whole song will be out of key YET the intervals can be often correct.
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#11 TSax

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Posted 14 March 2013 - 14:35

QUOTE(Dugazon @ Mar 14 2013, 01:41 PM) View Post

Generally speaking, I wouldn't assume that a lot of aural work will solve these problems. It will only do so in the cases where the problem is down to lacking aural awareness. I'd hazard a guess that at least 7 out of 10 singers with pitching problems DON'T suffer from lacking aural awareness though.



That's me! I have pretty decent aural awareness, I can identify intervals and match them on my sax, I can recognise when I'm sharp or flat (playing sax) and adjust tuning accordingly. I can recognise when my singing voice is wrong (and in which direction, and by approximately how much) but I really struggle to correct it reliably. I've got a range of about an octave where I tend to be better and the more relaxed and unselfconscious I am the better. Things have improved - the more music I do the better things get, but I'm a long way from being able to join in group singing without feeling very uncomfortable.
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#12 Dugazon

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Posted 14 March 2013 - 14:36

"Part of your world" is a grade 1 song on certain syllabi - that doesn't mean it's easy or appropriate for every singer, and I'd actually say it is VERY hard to sing for someone like the person you mention. It has one octave in range (already hard to attempt if everything she does is within an octave), which is FAR too much for most beginning singers who don't fall in the "naturally gifted" group. It also constantly hovers around some very nasty transitional points of the female voice, and to negotiate them is not exactly easy.

You can have beginners sing repertoire like that to do something "nice", but I would say you then need to switch your ears off, and mainly let them do it for enjoyment. If you find she responds well to this type of stuff for staying motivated, go ahead, but I honestly think repertoire like that is far too difficult for beginning singers with problems. And I don't care if it's a grade 1 piece - some of these classifications are utterly ridiculous in my opinion wink.gif

I would actually pick repertoire that sits more or less entirely within the range she can comfortably pitch, even if it means it only consists of three notes. It's of course tricky not to demotivate the student by picking "babyish" repertoire, but sometimes, it's necessary. You could also try to rewrite certain songs to accommodate her current range. I do this all the time: change songs from two octaves to one, transpose, whatever. It is do-able.
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#13 fatar760

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Posted 14 March 2013 - 14:48

QUOTE(Dugazon @ Mar 14 2013, 02:36 PM) View Post

"Part of your world" is a grade 1 song on certain syllabi - that doesn't mean it's easy or appropriate for every singer, and I'd actually say it is VERY hard to sing for someone like the person you mention. It has well over one octave in range (how can she even attempt this if you say everything she does is within an octave?), which is FAR too much for most beginning singers who don't fall in the "naturally gifted" group. It also constantly hovers around some very nasty transitional points of the female voice, and to negotiate them is not exactly easy.

You can have beginners sing repertoire like that to do something "nice", but I would say you then need to switch your ears off, and mainly let them do it for enjoyment. If you find she responds well to this type of stuff for staying motivated, go ahead, but I honestly think repertoire like that is far too difficult for beginning singers with problems. And I don't care if it's a grade 1 piece - some of these classifications are utterly ridiculous in my opinion wink.gif

I would actually pick repertoire that sits more or less entirely within the range she can comfortably pitch, even if it means it only consists of three notes. It's of course tricky not to demotivate the student by picking "babyish" repertoire, but sometimes, it's necessary. You could also try to rewrite certain songs to accommodate her current range. I do this all the time: change songs from two octaves to one, transpose, whatever. It is do-able.


Well we barely spent any time on the repertoire yesterday! We have only covered the first 32 bars or so - where the pitching doesn't go over a 5th. Not sure why you think the song goes above an octave though, it doesn't. Also, you're making assumptions on the key. We're currently doing this in F major and so she's never been asked to sing above A at this point. It's not what most would class as VERY hard to sing...tongue.gif

She's a big MT lover and said she knew the song, so it seemed like a good starting point (I should point out that yesterday was only her 4th lesson)

But yes, I do agree with you in essence and am not bothered too much about her repertoire in the sense of I'd like to correct her pitching and aural issues first. I just don't want to be going around in circles with her.
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#14 Dugazon

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Posted 14 March 2013 - 14:58

Already seen the error of my ways, from memory I somehow thought it went down to A, but it's only C, so a full octave (corrected it above). Still, even one octave is hard for a beginning singer. I know it's hard for us as singers, who maybe always found it easy(ish) to sing, to assume that a lot of people start with far less than even a fifth of usable range. A fair amount do however.

The problem about that song is also not just range expansion, it's where it sits - constantly around C, then constantly around G/A/Bb. That's challenging for a lot of female voices who don't naturally "change gear" too easily.

I think it doesn't matter what MOST class as hard. It matters what SHE finds hard - I'm sure you would agree on that?

Maybe an approach would be to do technical work, completely removed from pitch, then a bit of of aural combined with pitching exercises, then to have "practice songs" with limited range. And on top of that, you could sprinkle in a few songs where she can just let rip and not care about tuning, but actually enjoy them? That's what I tend to do...
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#15 Splog

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Posted 14 March 2013 - 15:01

I inherited a student with bad pitch problems last year and took her off "Part of your world". But I think that was because she had more problems than just pitch and she was completely murdering the song. It's not that easy a song, but it's one you can use to work on diction, expression, etc while correcting the pitch in other ways. This student, after several months, is now singing "Home on the range" a grade one AB piece, and coping quite well, although still having pitch problems.
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