It is recognised that the biggest insult we can give to people singing is that they are out of tune. Or flat (which means the same). Or they simply ‘can’t sing’. Ouch. Nasty.
Pitching notes is really important in a choir but it’s also important to recognise when we are out of tune and understand what to do about it without feeling embarrassed.
Last week, I was in my studio arranging a song for the next workshop. 2 hours disappeared very quickly! I mixed it roughly then outputted to mp3 so that I could listen on other devices to check that the balance was good and that the parts worked together. They didn’t. It was pitchy here and there – some harmony lines clashed in a way I hadn’t heard whilst recording. I’d made tuning errors. Is this something to be sad about? No. I shared the experience with the choir as an example. It was a rough edit for teaching purposes and I know what’s wrong with it. Just a small matter of getting back in the studio and re-recording the bits which sound less than lovely and changing some of the harmonies.
It was important for me to share with my singers that I too get the tuning wrong. I’m not a machine and I don’t have totally 100% perfect pitch. This lead to a lovely discussion about how we can tackle this head on in rehearsal without anyone feeling embarrassed or that they are committing the worst choir sin! We agreed on some phrases together which I could use which had clarity but not recrimination to address any issue the choir were having with pitch and tuning.
Rehearsals are just that. We are practicing. Often, when singers mis-pitch they know where and I can help them with some techniques to improve that. The essential thing is to listen – mostly to yourself but to all the singers around you, to the backing track and to the recorded harmony parts. I ask singers to listen to the harmony in rehearsal before even attempting to vocalise it – they can sing using their head voice (the internal one that nobody else can hear) before singing the sound out loud. It works! Otherwise, singers sing along with the harmony, botch it a bit, know where they’ve gone wrong but the person siting next to them make have picked up the incorrect harmony and so they are disadvantaged. Especially if that other singer seems confident and loud. It’s helping the teamwork aspect of being in a choir.
Recording yourself to pitch matching exercises is a great way of understanding how you sound and if you’re hitting the mark. Some singers need more support for this than others and that’s what I’m here for.
Our choirs are for fun and wellbeing. The fact that we sound fab is the icing on what is already a very, very good cake. These little details are what make it special – and let’s face it, there’s nothing like it when all the harmonies line up together and everyone is smiling!