How to Sing on Key and Match Any Pitch Using Proper Breath Support

Updated on January 12, 2020
vocalcoach profile image

Audrey Hunt, a renowned vocal coach, shares valuable information for singing like a professional. Learn how to improve your present voice.

Think you can't sing well, you can! Read on to learn how to improve your voice.
Think you can't sing well, you can! Read on to learn how to improve your voice. | Source

If you think you can’t match a pitch or sing on key, I’m glad you’re here. I’m going to share one of the best secrets ever for tuning up your ear, so you can sing every note on key.

You’ve come to the right place to take your voice to the next level. Even if you’ve been told, “You can’t carry a tune in a bucket,” you’ll soon learn that you can. Not everyone is born with perfect pitch, but it's okay. Singing on key can be learned. Anyone can learn to recognize a variety of sounds and match a pitch, high or low. I’ve been teaching people to understand how pitch works for years, taking them from going off key when they sing to sounding like they have perfect pitch (which, by the way, is called relative pitch).

Just relax and follow my easy step by step instructions to learn exactly what it takes to hit every note right on key, consistently. Being able to sing a correct pitch (the highness or lowness of a tone) is one of the most important fundamental, foundational core elements in singing.

So, gather up all your desire, be determined, bring along a good supply of discipline, and the end result will be rewarding and well worth your time. Before you know it, you'll be singing in tune to your favorite song.

Former student, Ange, performing for Disneyland Resorts.
Former student, Ange, performing for Disneyland Resorts. | Source

Ninety-nine percent of singing is listening and hearing, and so then 1 percent of it is singing.

— Linda Ronstadt

Are You Breathing the Right Way?

Let’s begin by taking a close look at the way you’re inhaling your air. If you breathe for singing the same way you do for speaking, even if you are blessed with perfect pitch, chances are you'll drift off-key now and then. So, let’s see exactly what you may need to correct.

What to Check for in Your Breathing

  • Stand in front of a full-length mirror (using good posture) to observe how your body reacts to how you’re presently breathing.
  • Now, inhale, taking a big breath.
  • Are you raising your shoulders during inhalation? If, so, this is wrong.
  • Do you lift your chest when you take a breath? This isn’t good either.
  • Do you tighten your neck muscles? This will produce tension, and the result will be tension or harshness in your singing tone.
  • Now, stop, relax, and inhale again keeping your chest quiet.
  • Are you pulling your stomach in as you inhale? Whoops! This isn’t right either.

Monitoring Your Body for Diaphragmatic Breathing

By placing your hands in this position, you can feel the quiet chest as well as the expanded abdominal area.
By placing your hands in this position, you can feel the quiet chest as well as the expanded abdominal area. | Source

A Lesson on Diaphragmatic Breathing

Right now, you’re most likely using your chest area to breathe, lifting it when you inhale. Your goal is to avoid doing this and move your breath to the lower part of your body. When you take a deep breath, you want to inflate the belly. This also expands the lower rib cage. If you use your chest to inhale, your abdominal area is restricted from inflation which is exactly what you don't want. So, here's what I want you to do to get that breathing muscle working for you.

To begin learning diaphragmatic breathing or the belly breath:

  • Place one hand on your belly and one on your chest as pictured above.
  • Inhale, making sure your top hand doesn’t move at all, and that your belly expands.
  • Repeat the above exercise standing in front of a mirror to make sure your chest is quiet and inflation is occurring around the belly.
  • Concentrate on breathing through the nose, not the mouth.
  • Your neck, shoulders, and upper chest do not move; they remain in a high, quiet position, but soft and relaxed.
  • Once this new way of breathing begins to feel more natural and automatic, pull up a chair, or sit at your computer, and breathe by using the belly, inflating at the waistline.
  • This exercise will actually strengthen your core. The stronger your abs are, the better your diaphragmatic muscle will be, and the more control you'll have over your singing.
  • This exercise is exaggerated at this point; later, it will be much more subtle.

If you’re having difficulty with moving your air to the lower part of your body, floor exercises for the belly breath will do the trick.

Your body and mind love to be engaged in diaphragmatic breathing. It will thank you for the rest of your life. You were born breathing this way and your body wants to breathe this way again—whether you sing or not.

To Engage Diaphragmatic Breathing, Place the Hands in This Position

Author, with Actor/Singer George Rose, monitoring the belly breath.
Author, with Actor/Singer George Rose, monitoring the belly breath. | Source

Try This Breathing Exercise to Help You Sing Better and Stay on Key

Breathe From The Belly
Hold on to the Note
Exhale
Other
Inhale for four counts
Hold for four counts
Exhale for six counts
Relax for two counts and repeat this exercise several times
Inhale for six counts
Hold for eight counts
Exhale for 10 counts. Use a hissing sound as you exhale
Take a drink of room temperature water and repeat six times
Inhale for six counts
Hold for four counts
Exhale for 16 counts
Relax for six counts and repeat
Inhale for four counts
Hold for two counts
Exhale as you hum an easy pitch for 10—20 counts
Sip more water and rest
Inhale only through the nose and exhale through the mouth. Using a metronome helps to count at an even pace.

How to Match a Pitch

Now, let’s continue to the next step. Here I'll teach you how to duplicate exactly the right pitch for every note you sing. You’ll want to record your voice to help you determine if you’re hitting the right note. This is part of teaching yourself how to match a certain pitch (sound). Remember to breathe from the belly.

How to Match a Certain Pitch

  • Using an instrument, like a piano or guitar, play a note making sure it’s an easy one to sing; not too high or too low.
  • Do your best to match the note you hear. You can hum the pitch or sing an ee.
  • Avoid rushing to match the sound. This is where your thinking and hearing are beginning to connect, so take time to listen and focus on the sound you hear. In other words, the sound you think of is the sound you will sing.
  • If you have trouble matching the pitch, slide your voice up and down, using the note you hear until you duplicate the sound correctly. If you’re a little high, or low, keep practicing until you match the sound.
  • Now, listen to the same note again and visualize yourself singing it before you actually sing it.
  • As you try matching a certain pitch, it helps to mentally think of landing on top of the note.
  • This time, as you hear the same note, feel it in your body. Where is the sound coming from? Do you feel vibrations? If so, where? (In the lips, nose, face, mouth, or chest?)
  • When the vibrations in your voice match the vibrations in the note, both will sound similar as they blend together. This is how you’ll know you’re matching the sound exactly.
  • The final step is to match a variety of notes, taking one note at a time. Stay within your comfort zone, only singing sounds in the middle of your range.
  • If you’d like a bit more to do at this point, sing two or three notes in succession, one following another.
  • After this, you’re ready to sing an entire scale going up and coming down. This is something you want to do every day at least three times each day.
  • As you go through these steps, stop from time to time and listen to your recorded voice. Are you able to tell if you’re on key? If not, keep working on the first few steps only, until you notice an improvement.
  • Be present in every breath; do not let your attention wander for the duration of a single breath.

As you keep repeating notes and singing those notes back, you’ll be teaching yourself how to sing on key. Repetition is what works.

How Your Breath Relates to Singing on Key

You may be wondering what breath support is and how the simple act of breathing has anything to do with matching a pitch. It all begins with connecting your hearing and thinking to the very act of breathing. Each note you sing actually rides on air. In other words, air acts as a cushion for your tone. If the cushion deflates, so does the tone, making your singing flat. It's the breath itself that provides energy to our singing and carries one note to the other.

Even those who claim to have perfect pitch will have trouble singing in tune if they don't have enough air to support the tone. Your breath is the life force for your voice. So, the first step to singing on key is to carefully examine the way you breathe and make the necessary adjustments and corrections.

The singer who controls his air, controls his voice.

Photo Showing Where Inflation Occurs When Taking a Breath Before Singing

The hand is resting on the belly to indicate where inflation occurs during inhalation.
The hand is resting on the belly to indicate where inflation occurs during inhalation. | Source

Prepare to Sing by Inhaling Air Correctly

Upon receiving an award for my Ear-Training class (which was held three days a week at the local college), I was asked to share my secret for teaching musicians to match the sounds of notes so well. I didn't hesitate with my answer; "Preparation!"

I went on to explain, "Preparation for matching a note is important for the beginning singer. Unless you begin to form your sound by inhaling correctly (using your singing muscle, the diaphragm), you’ll have no assurance that the note has a cushion to ride on. Surprised to learn this? It’s absolutely true. This is what the term “support” refers to.

Let me explain this in another way. Have you ever experienced a weak, shaky sound when you sing? Or, do you run out of breath before you complete a phrase? This is due to lack of sufficient, controlled air. Not only do you want to inhale the right way, you also want to control the air by letting just a little bit out as you sing. The reason many vocalists run out of air is because they allow too much air to escape as they sing.

As you focus on diaphragmatic breathing, and how to control the air you take in, you’re learning the first secret to training the ear to produce just the right sound, on pitch, every time. Nice, huh?"

The Health Benefits of Diaphragmatic Breathing

Changing the way you breathe will automatically bring changes in your longevity and quality of life. Diaphragmatic breathing is essential to your brain health and includes the following benefits.

Benefits of Diaphragmatic Breathing

  • Helps with sleep problems.
  • Is a natural cure for reducing stress.
  • Helps your center of gravity while running.
  • Creates more energy.
  • Helps to focus.
  • Twenty percent of the oxygen you breathe is used by your brain.
  • The entire body breathes and is positively affected by your breath when you breathe right.

In Conclusion: Points to Remember

When we sing out of tune, we either sing different notes that are not in the original melody, or we sing slightly down or up the note (singing flat or singing sharp). It’s similar to trying to hit the bullseye on a target. The center of the target is what we aim for (this represents the note itself). But, when we fail to hit the target, we end up somewhere outside, represented by a variety of circles. This is what happens when we sing off-key; we end up in one of those circles. As we practice ear-training, we will learn to judge our distance between notes, hitting the target every time by:

  • Relearning how to breathe, by using the belly and not the chest, we supply the energy needed to support the notes we sing. This energy provides a cushion for the tone to ride on, giving us accurate pitch (the highness or lowness of a tone).
  • Relearning how to breathe is different than other types of learning because we can’t see our breathing and we can’t see our lungs. So, the best way to get comfortable with belly breathing is to practice it often, until it becomes natural for you.
  • Watching yourself practice belly breathing in front of a mirror helps you to clearly see your belly expanding and contracting instead of your chest doing all the work as it rises and falls.
  • When we have a pitch problem we also tend to have a habit of not listening to the notes. If you’re a musician, it’s much easier to hear notes accurately and. for this reason, and because its great exercise for your brain, I recommend learning to play an instrument. (This keeps your brain young too).
  • If we have a clear aim and sufficient perseverance, little by little we will hear a note and easily match the exact pitch. Eventually, we memorize a sound and spontaneously react to it accurately.
  • If you’re a critical person, it’s time to stop judging your singing as good or bad. Judgement is based on the past, leaving patterns of rotting thought-forms which could be better put into the compost heap. As we work toward training ourselves to be better at singing on key, we want to be careful to avoid negative thoughts that creep into our minds. This can hinder our progress.

When we take a conscious breath, it’s not limited by walls, floors, apartment buildings, or high rises. We all share the same air. Breath in what you need, and as you exhale, send out light and loving thoughts to the world.

If you find yourself thinking, "Ear-Training sounds too hard," I want you to squash that thought. Anyone can learn to sing on key, to be pitch perfect. It may take a bit more work for some of us, but it will be worth it!

Teaching vocalist and actor, George Rose, how to read music and sing on key.
Teaching vocalist and actor, George Rose, how to read music and sing on key. | Source

Live your joy first, then sing it.

— Audrey Hunt

Do You Have Trouble Singing on Pitch?

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© 2020 Audrey Hunt

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    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      6 months ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Hi Marlene

      Thank you for your words of kindness, my friend. Playing an instrument is super helpful for developing the musical ear. I recommend this to all my students.

      Blessings to you...you are a treasure!

    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 

      6 months ago from USA

      What a wonderful lesson. I do not sign anymore, but I still use my voice in my career. I like your idea of learning to play an instrument to help recognize and sing on key.

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      6 months ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Dear Maria

      Music plays a big and important part in your life and I often wonder if your beautiful mother influenced your love for music. Thank you for being here and I want you to know how much your support has meant to me throughout the years. Blessings and joy to you, dear one.

      Audrey

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      6 months ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Nell

      Aren't you cute! You tell that husband of yours to stop comparing your singing to a dead cat or he'll have to deal with me. :) Keep on singing, my friend, and enjoy every minute of it. Thanks for your wonderful comments.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      6 months ago from England

      Hi Audrey, such an inspirational article. I love singing, and sometimes I can sing, other times it just seems to disappear again, all depending on the weather. But I do tend to sing most days, even if my hubby moans that I sound like a dead cat! I told him to change my name to Schroedinger! lol!

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      6 months ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Hi Dora

      Thank you for your valuable comments and for letting me know the lessons on diaphragmatic breathing have been helpful. I have another hint for you. After printing out your choice of hymns, draw an "eyebrow" over each phrase of music to alert you when to take a breath. Measure exactly how much air you will need, depending on the lenght of the phrase, and the dynamic (loud vs. soft) you intend to use. Taking more breath then is needed makes it difficult to get rid of the uneeded air. It's important to "recover" after each phrase. I hope this helps.

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      6 months ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Road Monkey

      What a wonderful thing it is to have been brought up in an environment where daily singing is available. I would love to see this available to children here in our country. Thank you for sharing and it's a pleasure to "see" you.

      Hi Flourish

      I know how important music is to you which makes it all the more meaningful to know that you've read my article. Take care!

      Hello James

      I'ts always rewarding to know you've taken the time to look over my latest singing suggestions. Being a professional artist, like yourself, your opinion is valuable. Thanks, James.

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      6 months ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Pamela

      Improving the way you breathe is worth all the practice. Soon, you'll begin to notice a slight improvement in your singing and gradually your voice will take on a new luster. When the time comes that you are breathing automatically by inflating around the belly, you may notice increased energy, not just in your singing but throughout your entire body.

      Keep up the good work, Pamela!

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      6 months ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Liz

      When we inhale air it's crucial that the diaphragmatic muscle is set in motion. I'm glad your previous choir teacher insisted on proper breathing techniques.

      Thanks

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 

      6 months ago from Jeffersonville PA

      You are a natural and motivating teacher, dear Audrey.

      This article is a keeper, like you.

      Love, Maria

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      6 months ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      manatita

      Music is one of our most powerful gateways to connect to our spiritual nature -- our divine source. Singing is our earliest form of communication. The first sound we make upon entering this world is a cry which is actually releasing our first tone.

      Ear-training must be introduced to each of us at some point in a non-threatening way with as much love as possible.

      Thank you, dear friend, for your visit and comments.

      Sing with joy.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      6 months ago from The Caribbean

      Audrey, thanks for this excellent lesson diaphragmatic breathing. I'm taking the practice seriously. Ever so often you come to mind when I sing during my morning devotional. I have downloaded a hymnbook app that includes the music which makes it easy to sing along. You're my inspiration.

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      6 months ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Stephen

      So happy to see you here. I love reading your comments and knowing that you've gained some knowledge about this subject. And...for what it's worth - I believe you have a singing voice in there, somewhere. How great, that you are a guitarist. Now, it's time to start working on that singing voice!

      Thanks, a million.

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 

      7 months ago from Chicago

      Thank you for this most excellent article. I enjoyed reading it and I think you are right on target.

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      7 months ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Devika

      Yes, music has been my life and I love teaching and sharing with others. Thank you for your sweet comments as well as your support.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      7 months ago from USA

      This was excellent and I will be returning to it to do some practicing.

    • RoadMonkey profile image

      RoadMonkey 

      7 months ago

      I was lucky enough to be brought up in Wales (the UK), where singing was part of everyday life, including part singing and harmony. We learnt that in elementary school along with diaphragm breathing. Great Hub, so nice to read all about that in more adult language, when we only heard and understood it as children.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      7 months ago from Sunny Florida

      Audry, I so appreciate your remarks. I have bookmarked this page for future reference. I have finally have some hope that I can improve the quality of my singing by following your directions. Thank you so much, my friend.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      7 months ago from UK

      I once had a choir master who spoke a lot about the importance of breathing techniques. Your article confirms that his approach was correct.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 

      7 months ago from london

      A lot here but some very good advice. I seem to be doing the right thing but I'm not a master here. I sing a lot, as music is central to our Path and yes, we do get the odd boy or girl who are off key. We can hear them and so over the years they have had to be silent or tone down (sing softly)

      Your videos, particularly the second is quite good. Excellent work!

    • Stephen C Barnes profile image

      Stephen Barnes 

      7 months ago from St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador

      Hi Audrey, excellent article, I gained a great deal of knowledge from it and have already begun putting it into practice.

      My wife and two stepdaughters sing beautifully and me, by all accounts, not

      so much. Oddly enough I am the only one of us that plays an instrument. My wife can’t understand how I can play a guitar so well but sing so poorly. She suggests that it may be due to the tinnitus I suffer from but I disagree, as it does not seem to affect my guitar playing.

      I can play a note for my wife or daughters and they can instantly replicate it perfectly. I ask them how they do it and neither one can tell me, they don’t know.

      I love playing guitar but rarely do it for others, at parties where the instruments come out for example, because when you play people also expect you to sing. This has always been a disappointment for me. Your article has taught me much and I started the breathing exercises as I was reading it. When I get some time this evening I will sit down with my guitar and practice trying to hit notes. Thank you Audrey.

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      7 months ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Linda

      Some of us are born with a well developed "ear" and have no problem matching a pitch. Others have the ability to sing on key, however, because of one thing or the other (distractions, lack of focus, fear or even low self-esteem) blocks an ability they have but think they don't have it.. Perfect pitch may be part of the genetic programming of certain individuals.

      Very few people are truly "tone deaf", or unable to distinguish one note from another. It is a recognized medical condition, and being unable to sing in tune doesn't mean you're "tone deaf".

      Most of us have little to no understanding of what actually goes on when it comes to duplicating sound. Studying this process can be a great help.

      Thanks, my friend.

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      7 months ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Hi Bill

      Chapter 13 is out of the oven and cooling. Muchas gracias for helping me with this project. I wouldn't make it out of the forward section without you!

      love,

      audrey

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      7 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Hi Audrey you have made music a big part of your life and sharing your skills with us is another step forward to a positive lifestyle. Music is a best therapy, in my opinion

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      7 months ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Hi Pamela

      Oh, boy. Nothing gets my dander up like those that tell others "you can't carry a tune or you sing off-key". For one thing, unless they are a qualified instructor they have no business judging anyone's voice. Also, 99% of people that use these phrases know little to nothing about the vocal mechanism and use these phrases because they don't like the singers' sound, or the song itself along with a million other reasons, most of them being personal. In other words, Pamela, ignore what you've been told.

      Recording your voice will help you as you work on matching a pitch. Listen intently, making your goal to blend your pitch to the sound you want to duplicate.

      I commend you for all the work you've done to strengthen your breathing. Diaphragmatic breathing is crucial for matching a pitch.

      Thanks, my friend and let me know how you're doing.

      Audrey

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 

      7 months ago from Washington State, USA

      I love to sing and feel sorry for those who don't. Perhaps if everyone followed your instructions they would gain the confidence they need. Is "not being able to carry a tune" because people do not breathe correctly, or is it because they aren't paying attention (singing lazily), or a combination of the two?

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      7 months ago from Olympia, WA

      You are the singing guru and we really need to get your book published. Far too many people out there need to read your wisdom.

      love,

      bill

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      7 months ago from Sunny Florida

      I remember another time where you explained correct breathing and I make sure I do it right. As for singing, I have been told “You can’t carry a tune in a bucket”. So, don't sing where anyone can hear or just very softly in a group. I will try standing in front of a mirror and try to improve.

      Thanks for all this new information, Audry. I had no idea my breathing was such an important componet to singing better.

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