How to Sing on Key and Match Any Pitch Using Proper Breath Support
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.
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
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
Try This Breathing Exercise to Help You Sing Better and Stay on Key
Breathe From The Belly
Hold on to the Note
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
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
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!
Live your joy first, then sing it.— Audrey Hunt
Do You Have Trouble Singing on Pitch?
© 2020 Audrey Hunt