To Learn To Sing On Key: What You Must Do

Posted on 28. Jun, 2011 by in Performance, Singing

In the free video that I provide at www.TheSingingZone.com, I discuss strategies to learn to sing with freedom effectively. In this article I’ll address this in relation to people who have a hard time singing the right notes and melodies – i.e. those who have a hard time “singing on key”. The truth is that lot of people have a hard time with this. Maybe you’re one of them. But how do you learn to sing on key? What is the problem with someone who sings “off key”?

Most people would naturally assume that the problem is in the hearing.

The common belief is that in order to learn to sing notes and patterns of notes you must do exactly that – sing notes and patterns of notes. You are, therefore, in most singing lessons encouraged to sing along with scales and other various patterns of notes. If you can’t sing the right note, you are encouraged to listen.

Unfortunately, numerous people spend years and decades (unless they give up) on these detrimental strategies. In fact, the consequences are often even greater…

To illustrate why this is detrimental, let’s look at a child who tries to throw a ball at a target. Most well-meaning parents would tell the child to “look at the target”. That is understandable. After all, professionals focus on the target. In fact, how can we accomplish anything without being focused on the target or the outcome?

But what if the kid who has a hard time throwing a ball continues to miss even when he is looking at the target?

It is interesting to observe that the singer who has a hard time hitting the notes and who doesn’t sound good, is often well aware that he doesn’t sound good (although he may not know how and why and what to do about it).  Likewise, the kid who tries to hit the target knows perfectly well when he fails. His vision is evidently good enough to notice when he misses.

Unbeknownst to those who want the child to focus on the target, the child’s visual sense is completely irrelevant at this stage. In fact, it is exactly because he is so focused on the target (i.e. using his visual sense) that he will never learn to confidently hit the target.

It is because he is so focused on the target – i.e. using his visual sense – that he has no clue of what his feet, hips, torso, arms, shoulder, wrist are really doing. 

Nor is he aware of what his mind is doing.

The reason he isn’t skilled at throwing the ball is not because of faulty vision, but because he hasn’t discovered the mechanics of how to effortlessly and effectively use his body to throw a ball with flow and balance (which creates a trajectory that goes straight at a target). 

But worse….

Since the sole goal is to hit the target, he becomes trained to judge success versus failure.  He becomes outcome-oriented and has little knowledge of what kind of process is required to achieve success. Since he is set up to fail more often than not, frustration naturally builds with every failure. Very soon the child won’t want to engage in this activity anymore. He will believe he has no talent.

We can argue that he has little skill in throwing a ball. But what he really is lacking is the knowledge of how to engage in a process to learn effectively.

The effective coach will immediately make the result of the throw irrelevant. First of all, to help the kid move away from anticipating and judging the results (the failure). Secondly, to give the kid a chance to finally focus on the mechanics. The effective coach will devise a strategy where success is inevitable – where each discovery becomes interesting.

Many sports trainers do understand the importance of form and mechanics and how to shift your mind depending on what you are trying to accomplish. Unfortunately, this is seldom the case when it comes to singing training. Singing training has never been designed to help those who don’t find singing “natural”. And unfortunately singing training has been so captured in tradition and old beliefs of "right" and "wrong" that it has evolved very little in comparison to many other principles.

I don’t know how many hundreds of people I have seen who have wasted years and fortunes with very little progress. As gratifying it is to see how these people’s lives change when their limiting beliefs are shattered, I also know that there are even more people out there who never attempt to sing again, because they have come to believe that singing is not for them.

The bottom line is that the more difficulty you have singing on key, the more you need to let go of using your auditory sense. This is sometimes hard to do on mental level. Your brain goes: “ But I want to sing the note, therefore I should be listening to the note” – just like the kid who has been conditioned to believe he must focus better on the target. 

Am I saying hearing and vision are not important? Of course not. The issue is what to focus on at any given moment.

The reality is that as long as you are engaged in singing scales, your auditory sense will automatically turn on and you will likely never truly discover your body.  And you will likely make even less discoveries as long as you are engaged in the common artificial ways of manipulating your body, such as “feel as if you’re yawning”, “stand with good posture”, “widen your throat”,  “sing through your mask”, “use stomach support” etc. 

As long as you are engaged in trying to “hit notes” and using your auditory sense to judge yourself, you will likely never experience what it’s like to confidently release free vibration, to experience wonderful flexibility and effortless breathing. You will likely never experience how singing “on key” becomes a natural by-product of free vibration, or when singing becomes the enjoyable experience that it can be. 

Please add a comment:


33 Responses to “To Learn To Sing On Key: What You Must Do”

  1. Lester Rollins

    09. Feb, 2012

    I have sung in public and have no problem but want to be more assureed when performing. What is your fee.
    You do not indicate an example of how one perfects himself.if are not the right way give an example of how it is done.

  2. Hank

    02. Jan, 2012

    I wonder if you’ve been able to help restore on-pitch singing in people with serious documented hearing loss. I am considered in the “profoundly deaf” category (acoustic trauma from all the cannons during my pirating years…), and can’t hear much at all without state-of-the art digital hearing aides. I was regretfully asked to take a “leave of absence” from our church choir last year, because I was singing off-key while thinking I was right on. Practicing the 4-video exercises and agreeing totally with the relaxation of customary forced habits has helped my voice quality, but the high-register tone deafness remains a problem. Any magic for people like me???

  3. Joyce

    24. Nov, 2011

    What I wouldn’t give to be able to have the confidence to sing in front of people, sure of sounding decent!

  4. Martha

    11. Oct, 2011

    Yes I have started the lessons and am trying to release a lifetime of “well meaning – I think, comments from family that I am as flat as a pancake, that I can’t sing, that I sound awlful, that I have no talent, to stick to doing dishes……etc…etc…… When you tell a child long enough it becomes a belief. Now upon reading and signing up with your program I am so hopeful and yes I do believe I may be able to sing. this would truely be a dream come true as I have always secretly and desperately wanted this more than anything througout my whole life, I am now 49. I believe you and I’m doing my best to release the resistance that interfers as you have advised.

  5. Martha

    11. Oct, 2011

    Per, I see you have workshops in Melbourne, any chance that you will be visiting NZ in the near near future??

  6. JURGITA

    07. Sep, 2011

    yeah, per, I know what u r talking about… I mean when it comes to good teachers and focussing on what your body is doing… I am so grateful that i have a singing teacher in Lithuania who somehow has the same way of thinking like you do she helped me a lot (with the range) when everybody else kept on telling me that singing is not for me. and you, Per, helped me to improve even more :)
    thank you one more time :) )))))))

  7. Fiona

    11. Jul, 2011

    I think I sing in tune, but do people always know?

  8. Maria N.

    09. Jul, 2011

    I noticed myself, years ago, that I would sing out of tune, that is, some notes would flatten.  My ears would detect this, but I felt as though my voice wouldn't let me sing the note on pitch.  It was an effort to push it up, so to speak.  I also knew that my tongue was a major problem, but I didn't know what to do about it.  More importantly, neither did my teachers.  I now realize how much other muscles (not just the tongue) get in the way of singing and that it is they that won't let the voice find naturally and easily whatever pitch is in my head.  What this suggests in terms of "how," is, first, the right approach to the problem (feeling instead of hearing or visualizing), and secondly, the exercises to help you do that (feel, that is).  Per, your program has made that happen for me, not just because of the exercises but because of your attitude, which has made me able to experiment and explore for myself in a non-judgmental way as I never could before.  Now, I sing truer (more on pitch), because my voice is freer.

  9. Linda R

    29. Jun, 2011

    I’ve noticed that a very large number of people who “sing off key” can actually sing very much on key — but only within a limited range of 4 notes or so. This proves what Per is saying. Their ears work just fine. It’s just that they haven’t learned how to make their vocal cords sing notes outside this range. They need to focus more on feeling/discovering what the vocal cords are doing, and less on the notes themselves.

  10. Ben

    29. Jun, 2011

    A brilliant assertation on the art of learning. Good stuff, Per

  11. fiona andreas

    29. Jun, 2011

    i love music in my own tongue, so i hope i'll success in learning per's tips..

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