What Is Pitch In Singing?
A simple definition of pitch
Pitch in singing is the voice creating a noise that has a regular number of variations per second. Other items such as rulers, bells, and instruments also create pitch. Put simply, it is the high or low frequency of a sound. When you sing, you create a pitch and it is either high or low. Singers often speak about the pitch they sing in. Whereas ‘tone’ describes the pleasing sound a singer’s voice makes, ‘pitch’ is the technical level someone sings at. You can be on the pitch, which means in tune, or off pitch, which means out of tune. To create a pleasing sound for the listener, it is important to pay attention to pitch and make sure you are generally ‘on the pitch’, and in tune.
High And Low
Some people sing at a higher pitch (think Christina Aguilera, Mariah Carey, Sam Smith) while others like Johnny Cash and Leonard Cohen have a noticeably lower pitch. Different instruments operate at different pitches too. A bass guitar sticks almost exclusively to notes of a lower pitch, while a violin or a bell-like instrument will be at a much higher pitch. An instrument like a piano has notes of both a high and a low pitch. The piano is a good example to illustrate how pitch works.
If you take a piano, looking down at the keys, any notes below the middle C(to the left) will be at a lower pitch than those above(to the right), which will be at a higher pitch.
What Pitch Do I Sing In?
Singers often use a piano when practicing, as it is a good way to determine what pitch their voice is set at, and also helps them to stay ‘on the pitch’. Singing teachers regularly use the piano to help singers stay in pitch when practising their scales, or to illustrate the pitch they should be singing certain parts of the song at. Whereas you cannot change the tone of your voice to any great degree (you are born with a certain tone), it is possible to practice your pitching. Some people are naturally good at it, others need more practice and guidance.
What Is Perfect Pitch?
Perfect Pitch is the ability of a singer to identify any note, just from hearing it. It is a rare phenomenon, but looking around your peers, you will probably be able to find someone who has it.
It also allows them to sing in tune and ‘on the pitch’ all of the time. If someone has a perfect pitch, you can name a note and they will be able to pluck it out of the air and sing it perfectly. It would be a fun game to get on a piano and play certain notes for them to sing, to test their invaluable skill.
Can You Learn Perfect Pitch?
For a long time, it has been accepted that perfect pitch is a natural genetic ability and not something that can be learned. Whilst it would be unfair to say that yes, you can easily learn perfect pitch, there have been studies that point to it being a definite possibility. Research at the University of Chicago has hinted that it may not be just an innate, natural ability after all, and that can indeed be learned in some circumstances.
They are keen to point out that whilst the natural ability to have perfect pitch cannot be just simply learned, over time and training of the ear, people can indeed begin to identify different notes on the musical scale.
It seems that the more you practice, the more likely you are to become closer to a perfect pitch, so it is certainly worth persevering with. Professor Howard Nusbaum has this to say: “The way you start learning something changes the way you pay attention to it.”
So the key thing here is, the more you immerse yourself in something, the closer you get to it. So start by trying to pick out pitch and go from there – you never know, you might get close to perfect!
Highest Pitch Singer In The World
A question that is often asked is, who is the Highest pitch singer in the world? And it’s not an easy question to answer. Whilst it would be impossible to assess every person who has ever sung in the world, what we can do is look at our most popular singers and see where they sit on the pitch map.
This study from 2014 found some interesting findings:
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the two highest pitch voices were female singers in Mariah Carey and Christina Aguilera. Carey is known for showing off her incredible range in her songs, and her voice often sounds more like a high pitched instrument than a human! Prince and Axel Rose of Guns n Roses came in third and fourth, which is perhaps slightly surprising. Rose’s sheer vocal range is also very impressive. Barry White and David Bowie share just as deep a voice as Axel Rose in this chart.
In recent years, the likes of Sam Smith, Thom Yorke, Matt Bellamy and could also have been said to stretch to the higher ranges of pitch at times.
How To Sing At The Right Pitch
When first starting, it is often very hard to tell whether you are singing at the right pitch or not. You could enlist the help of a singing teacher, but this can be expensive and not always necessary when you are first starting to get to grips with singing. It is, however, good to get other musicians opinions or help in your quest to find your pitch.
A good way to find out whether you’re on the right track is to record yourself and play it back. You could even play it along with a backing track or against the original song to see if you nailed the pitch. You can also get tuning/pitch apps on your phone to help with this.
Learn To Sing In Pitch
Here are some simple steps to take to help you find that pitch:
1. Find the note that you are trying to sing on your chosen instrument (ideally a piano/
Try and pick a note that feels comfortable to start with, as you don’t want to be stretching your voice out too early in the process. It’s easier to sing in tune when you are comfortable and relaxed.
2. Play the note on your chosen instrument.
If you don’t have an instrument to hand, you could use one of the apps that are often free to download.
3. Try picturing the note in your mind.
It’s often good to use hand gestures to signify high or low or imagine a bookcase horizontally standing, and picture your notes either at the top, bottom or in the middle. Picture it – and then go for it!
4. Play the note, and then try and match your voice to that note.
It can be daunting when you first hear your voice back, but if you keep picturing it and keep confident – it will get easier.
5. Really listen in to your voice, and try and feel where the notes should go.
The important thing to remember is that it’s ok to correct pitch when you are starting. No singer is perfect to begin with (unless they are genetically very lucky!), so take your time and try and feel into that pitch.
6. Try and hear whether you are flat.
If it’s flat, bring your voice slightly higher. A lot of people hover above or below the note, and that is often due to confidence. If you really go for it, you will usually get it. Go gently at first though.
7. If your note is sharp, bring it down a bit.
It probably won’t take much to bring it down, just a slight lowering should do it.
8. Over time, singing in tune will become a natural reflex.
As with anything, the more you do it, the more natural it becomes. Ultimately, it is a case of muscle memory, with your voice one of the most important sets of muscles you own! As with an athlete, the more you work it out – the better it will become, Eventually, it will become a sensation you will remember, and a natural reflex – just like writing or brushing your teeth.
Pitch Problems In Singing
As we have already discussed, pitch problems do arise from time to time, and they can be remedied mainly by listening back to your voice, adjusting certain notes or enlisting the help of a musical friend/colleague or a professional teacher. It’s not unusual to go off the pitch when learning to sing, or even as an established singer learning a new piece of music. Just keep persevering, learning from feedback and trying again with confidence.
How To Know What Pitch You Sing In?
It’s not imperative to know what pitch you sing in, but it can be useful when working in certain areas of the industry such as session work, theatre and the performing arts because you may be asked to have a certain type of voice for a certain type of role.
If you would like to know your pitch, you can do a simple exercise with a piano to see where you can get to, both high and low, or you can get it assessed by a professional coach or tutor. There are also apps now available, but it would still be sensible to do it the organic way.
Hopefully, this has shed some light on the definition, function and role of pitch in music. Pitch is very important as it enables us to put together pieces of music, singing arrangements and at a basic level, stay in tune. If you are learning to sing, keep working hard on your practice and your pitch will naturally get stronger and stronger. As long as you hit those notes with confidence, the rest will fall into place.
Showcase Your Talent
Our TeenStar competition applications are now OPEN. Apply here! TeenStar is the biggest search for teenage and pre-teen singers, with prizes and opportunities for young artists looking to develop their talent. With industry judges including TV scouts, Record Label A&R, Management companies and more, TeenStar is a great place to for young artists to get started in the industry and auditions are open right now!