"A Little Pitchy": Solving Common Intonation Issues
Camille van Niekerk
Randy Jackson, during his time as a judge on American Idol, famously used the word “pitchy” when a singer wasout of tune. If you were asinger on the show, you wouldn’t want to hear that feedback, because even if you sang with excellent tone and control, poor intonation could easily put you in danger of getting voted off.
If you’re new to singing and aren’t sure yet if you’re singing in tune, read this article for some instruction and tools to help you: https://www.30daysinger.com/blog/how-to-tell-if-you-re-singing-in-tune-using-free-websites-apps-to-improve-your-pitch-accuracy.
This article will outline some common intonation issues with adjustments and tips to keep your pitch on point!
1. Breath Support
An unsupported sound can easily fall flat (lower than the desired pitch). If you find that you’re running out of air or falling flat towards the end of phrases, focusing on your breath support can help fix your intonation! Try the following:
-Check on your posture: make sure you’re standing tall, with your chest & rib cage lifted.
-Take low belly breaths, in which your belly expands as you inhale.
-As you sing, maintain that tall posture AND expansion. It’ll take some time and experimentation to feel “supported” by your abdominals without locking up or causing excess tension.
-Feel the correct amount of abdominal engagement by singing themelody on a lip trill.
-Sing on the syllable BUHB or GUHG to continue feeling that support, with the additional resistance of a hard consonant.
-Push your hands down at your sides or hold your fists in front of your hips as you sing to further connect with your low body support.
Tension in your jaw, tongue, neck, and abdomen can often result in sharpness (singing higher than the desired pitch).
A good approach to reducing tension is to first pinpoint what part of your body is tensing. Then, either:
(1) Move those muscles to prevent them from tensing in the first place (i.e.: softening and mobilizing your jaw by singing on the syllable YAH so it cannot clench, or slowly shaking your head “no” to prevent the neck muscles from “grabbing”)
(2) Remove those muscles from the equation as much as possible (i.e.: preventing tongue tension by singing with the tongue totally relaxed, out of your mouth and resting on your bottom lip).
The ultimate goal with all of the above is to let the correct muscles do their job without the "help" of those extrinsic muscles that are tensing. Once your singing feels more relaxed and free, sharpness should be much less of an issue.
3. Vowel Shape
Vowel shape impacts tone, registration, and tuning. If the vowel you’re singing is going flat or sharp, try singing on a different vowel to see if that’s the issue. For example, if you’re singing the word “you” and it’s falling flat, try opening your mouth to an UH vowel (sing “yuh” instead of “you” to try it out). If UH stays in tune easier, then you can modify the “oo” vowel to be slightly more open, containing just a “shade” of “UH” so it still sounds like “you” but also stays in tune.
See here for a workshop on vowels and vowel modification: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KSp5yKVakmo.
4. Soft Palate
When the soft palate is low, it’s easy to go flat. Lifting your soft palate can be a quick fix if you’re slightly flat and need a little boost. The soft palate is directly behind the hard palate (or the roof of your mouth). Because of its position above your throat, its height has a big impact on the amount of resonant space in your mouth (and the resulting tone).
The easiest way to lift the soft palate is to inhale as if you’re at the beginning of a yawn - and then keep that lift in the soft palate as you sing! Some other ways to keep the soft palate lifted include:
-Lifting up your eyebrows
-Raising your cheeks (smile)
-Flaring your nostrils (sounds weird, but it works)
If you’re singing high in chest voice and going flat, it may be time to start mixing! (If you’re new to mixed voice, check out this article: https://www.30daysinger.com/blog/mixed-voice-why-is-it-so-important-and-how-can-i-develop-it). On the other hand, if you’re singing low in head voice or mix and going sharp, it may be time to use more chest voice. Keep your registration in mind the next time you struggle with pitch accuracy!
Great tuning doesn’t happen by accident. It takes training and concentration. Use the above tips the next time you’re sounding “a little pitchy” and remember what works for you. Happy practicing!