You have to walk before you can run. In the world of singing, this translates to being able to hold one note before attempting to sing your favourite opera. We’re going to give you a simple yet very effective exercise to get you started and lay down the foundation for learning to pitch and sing in tune.
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Today we’re going to talk about finding “your note”. This is an exercise which George Bevan from the Music@Monkton blog developed, to help people who think they can’t sing to take their first steps to becoming a capable and confident singer. We talked about it in our recent interview here on the podcast.
If you’ve ever worried that you can’t sing at all, or you have a friend who’s convinced they’re tone deaf, the exercise I’m going to explain will be really useful for you.
I first spoke to George a few years back when we were developing SingTrue, our interactive app to help you learn to sing. I was so impressed by his approach we implemented his idea of “Finding Your Note” as one of the first exercises inside the app – and since then almost half a million people have used it to find their note and take their first step to singing.
It is a simple exercise – but it’s powerful.
When somebody joins Musical U and tells us they can’t sing in tune, we explain that there are two possible causes. The first is the voice – do you have basic vocal control, to make your voice produce the pitch you want it to. And the second is the ears – are you clearly hearing the pitch you’re aiming for, and accurately hearing whether your singing is on target or not.
This “Find Your Note” exercise tackles just the voice part: being able to sing just one note and hold its pitch. There’s more to come after, in terms of matching pitch to a note you heard, and having good vocal control to move between pitches accurately. Those are things we having training modules for inside Musical U. But none of that’s any use if you’re convinced you can’t sing a note!
The trouble is that most people jump ahead about seven steps. They immediately try to sing a song, maybe in the car or at karaoke night, and they’re surprised and disappointed when all the pitches don’t come out right!
That’s kind of crazy. First you need to be able to sing one note. Then you need to learn how to sing other notes and control your voice well as you move between them. Then you can worry about verses and choruses and lyrics and everything else!
George’s exercise is built on a key insight: we actually all have some degree of vocal control, whether we know it or not. As you listen to me talking right now, my voice is going up and down in pitch, as part of how I convey meaning with my words. My voice is moving through part of my vocal range, and it’s producing the different pitches that my brain intends.
So clearly we do all have a foundation for singing. Otherwise we would all talk like robots.
Unfortunately most people’s experience of checking if they can sing is to be played a note, often on piano, and then be asked to sing that back. That seems simple enough, but even that is actually skipping a couple of steps!
George spins that around. Instead of hearing a specific note and trying to sing it, he begins by having the student sing – and then tells them what that note is!
Now we can’t do this exercise fully right here because unfortunately podcasts aren’t interactive! But I’m going to talk you through it and tell you how to do it in full.
The goal of this exercise is to find just one pitch that you can comfortably sing. We’re going to call this “Your Note”. And you’ll know that whatever happens, singing Your Note will always feel easy and comfortable.
Here it goes. I’m going to ask you to sing “ahhhh” – on whatever pitch comes out. We know you can do it because you can speak. It’s like being at the dentist: “say ahh”.
So relax. Take a breath. And just sing a pitch, whatever note comes out.
How did it go?
With the SingTrue app you automatically now get told the name of that note. If you’re doing this exercise with a musical friend they can use an instrument and their ear to identify the note you just sang. Or you can also use a digital instrument tuner or a tuner app on your phone to identify the note.
Were you too nervous to sing? Try this instead: you remember the robot?
First say “Hi, my name is Jeff” (or whatever your name is).
Now say it in a monotone voice like a robot and hold the last word: “Hi my name is Jeeeeeeefff”.
That last sound you made was a note.
In my case “Jeeeeeeefff” was an F#.
Unfortunately in a podcast I can’t tell you the name of the note *you* sang – but rest assured, it was a note! And you can use the methods I just mentioned to find its name.
From there, you can try singing another note, a bit higher or lower. And we can start to build on that with, developing your ability to match pitch and have vocal control. You’ve sung one note, there’s no reason you can’t sing many more, all in tune. In the SingTrue app and our training modules inside Musical U we build on this, to producing a clear and steady pitch, and then beginning to match the pitch you sing to be the same as a specific pitch you hear. There’s lots of visual feedback to show you if you’re getting it right or wrong, and exercises for your ears to help you develop that side of things.
Sometimes people get a bit hung up, so I want to clarify: “Your Note” isn’t set in stone! While we name it like that, it’s entirely possible that if you do the exercise again tomorrow you’ll get a slightly different note. But we have put a pin in the range of all possible pitches and found that yes, you can sing a note that’s about this pitch. It’s not a defining characteristic of you forever more – just a strong starting point.
Naturally George also has a much more fully-developed process he uses in person with students. But personally I just love this initial exercise: to show you that if you can talk, you can sing. At least one note!
From there it’s a matter of building up your ability step-by-step. Singing isn’t all or nothing! Just because you can’t yet sing a whole song totally in tune it doesn’t mean you can’t sing.
If you’ve just gone through this “Find Your Note” exercise with me then you know you can sing one note. And there can be many more to follow.