My Personal Experiences With Inaccurate Singers

 

Let me tell you of my experiences with various inaccurate singers.


1. My children’s experiences.

  1. One of my children seemed not to be matching pitch very well so I made a concerted effort to work on vocal experiment with this son.  We worked on voice flexibility and especially getting into his high register.  (I may have some old tapes of his development which I will try to look up sometime.)  So by the time he was ready for kindergarten, he could sing as accurately as his classmates and developed normally.  Of my three sons, he has been the one most active in singing as an adult.


2. School Setting:

  1. As Coordinator of Music Education in Houghton College, N.Y., for 37 years, I worked with music teachers as I observed music student teachers.  I had a few music teachers who were very receptive to ideas about working with inaccurate singers.  One was notably successful.  She would work with each class starting in Kindergarten until the problem was solved.  According to her testimony and my observation, by 3rd grade 100% of her students sang in tune.  The only exceptions were students who transferred in from other schools.  I believe she met with students only one or two times a week for about 20-30 minutes each class.  And of course, though she worked on voice flexibility exercises a few minutes in each period, she did many other things than that in each period.


3. My grandchildren

  1. In questioning one of my grandsons when he was in about 3rd grade, concerning how he liked music class, he gave me a negative answer.  I asked him why.  He said it was because some of the other kids made fun of the way he sang.  I determined that something needed to be done. 

  2. At that time I was establishing our music lab in Houghton College and was working with a “Pitch Master” Machine, produced by the TAP Company which is now defunct.  This machine was not digital but electronically worked with audio cassettes,  On one track, was the background music, on the other was the track the student was supposed to perform.  Electronically it took what the student sang into the microphone, compared it with the other track and gave feedback to the student in two ways.  If his response was wrong, his response was blocked from his headphones so he could hear immediately if he was right or wrong.  Secondly,  was a VU meter which showed whether his pitch was above, below or right on the pitch.

  3. So I made some simple tapes which simply had long slow pitches on them.  This grandson was visiting us for a week during vacation, and so he worked probably about an hour or two each day.  Within 5 days this grandson was able to match pitches and has gone on singing for the rest of his life.  He has sung solos in NYSSMA Contests.  He plays guitar in a church  “Praise Band”.


  4. A second grandson came along a few years later and also seemed to have some problems in matching pitches.  He also used the Pitch Master Machine with the same tapes.  Today he sings well and has sung with me in a barbershop quartet for a time.


4. My Wife’s Experience in Nursery School

  1. For several years my wife taught in a nursery school.  During that time she would regularly work with the 3 & 4 year olds by having them experiment with making various sounds especially “Whoops” and higher sounds.  Walking up a scale steps of a slide and then sliding down - all with the voice. They’d be “fire trucks” etc.  Pretending to be balloons they would float around on high pitches. She testifies that from the beginning of the year to the end of the school year, there was drastic improvement in their singing abilities.  Of course this was only with a few minutes of working on this three days a week. She got compliments from a music teacher who said, “ It’s nice to hear children of this age singing in tune.”


5. Adult Barbershop Singers

  1. I have had several experiences with barbershop singers and prospective barbershop singers related to inaccurate singing.  A couple of men have come into our Chapter and we found that they could not match pitches hardly at all.  Most could sing a few notes accurately but not enough to sing even a simple melody.  I took it upon myself to take these people aside and work with them individually.  Frequently they would be classified as basses. 


  2. In one case the man had a great booming bass voice, very evident in his speaking.  I found that he could match pitches between the range of C BELOW the bass clef to G at the bottom of the bass clef.  In working with him in matching pitches we could get him up to accurately matching up to about A at the top of the bass clef and even up to Middle C.  I gave him exercises to do and tried to encourage him to work with me frequently.  Unfortunately because of a busy schedule and probably because he might have thought it not worth the effort he didn’t continue.  He says that he would like to work with me more but it never happens.  With the proper motivation and effort I’m sure he could have been a fine bass singer because of the unusual bass resonance of his voice. 


  3. The previous case reminds me of a regular Chapter member who is a bass.  When I came into the Chapter, I became aware that he frequently did not stay on his part.  I arranged a special private session with him and found that his problem was simply that he believed basses ALWAYS sang low.  When I showed him how high basses sometimes have to go and had him experience it, he became a much better singer.


  4. In another case, after taking the prospective member aside and working with matching pitches I gave him a $ 10 kids keyboard for him to match pitches with.  He worked with it a few weeks but from lack of motivation, did not continue and returned the keyboard.


6. High School Students

  1. Once a high school students music teacher wanted me to work with about 4 boys who wanted to sing in her chorus, but couldn’t match pitches.  I found that at the beginning, most could not distinguish between high and loud or between low and soft.  This is not too surprising since we confuse them in our every day speech when  we say, “Turn the TV down”, meaning volume rather than pitch.  Within a period, they were beginning to make the distinction between volume and pitch.


  2. One high school boy, desperately wanted to sing with his high school barbershop group but again could not match pitches.  I made him a CD.  First I simply gave him a series of long pitches starting in his best range and moving slowly from it.  Later I gave him the bass part of the song his group was working on but sang the CD track VERY slowly.  He worked with it and was able to sing the bass part on stage with his group.


I believe almost anyone can learn to sing in tune if they will work on it diligently enough.  It certainly is harder if they get to high school without their problem being solved.  In Middle School, the age when most boys voices are changing, we discover that some “find their voice” which more properly means that we allow them to sing in a limited small range that they can handle.  Then with success at this range they go on to develop a normal range.


Even with maturity, many men are reluctant to experiment with their falsetto range and thus never develop the “sotto voce” aspect of their voice which allows a full range to their voice.  For further information on this, see my Website on “Singing Better Thru Register Understanding”.


Happy Singing!


Music Ed Ted

                         If you have any confusions or suggestions,

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                                    tednorton@roadrunner.com