Particularly in barbershop singing, because of its emphasis on “ringing chords” singing in tune needs almost constant attention with most groups and people.  It’s true that some seem to almost always sing in tune but that’s probably not the norm.  Almost always when the singing is out of tune, it is flat.  Singing sharp is a rarity, usually caused by over energetic compensation for trying to not sing flat.

Here are several factors that make tuning a challenge.


First let’s explore how people who sing in tune do it.  Probably because of extensive musical experience they hear music very strongly in their heads.  Everyone needs to hear the pitches internally before the sounds can be produced by the voice.  And if a person needs to rely on an external source such as other singers or an accompaniment before knowing what to sing, they will be late and probably out of tune - at least at the beginning for the note.  That balance between internal hearing and external hearing is an interesting one.  We can’t rely entirely on the internal if we are going to sing with others.  But the percentage of each that controls what we produce in our singing is different for different people and thus may account for the accuracy of some and the inaccuracy of others.  A major problem is that some hear their own voice as a reference and when it is not in tune, they use that out of tune note for adjusting subsequent notes.  The solution is to listen more to the sounds around us and/or our internal sense rather than what we are producing.


When the singer does not know his notes very well, he may aim the jump at  the wrong note and then adjust into the correct note as he hears others.  But that usually makes the note out of tune.  A particular problem is aiming a half step off - a common bass error and then sliding in.  Obviously the solution to this problem is to learn the notes thoroughly.


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