Tricky Tuning and Timing Exercises

Some simple experiments can put you on the road to being a great musician -says Kathy Alexander

—from The Ultimate Guide to Singing: All aspects of a singer’s life are covered in this ultimate companion to your singing with Top Actions for Moving Ahead with Your Singing, Sound and Career. Contributed to by Over 100 professional contributors with 94 Grammys and Grammy nominations, 193 Books, 1,772 Albums and 280 million YouTube hits!

Authentic emotion is key to great singing. Yet, if you want your listener to truly experience the emotion you’ve expressed, you have to sing in tune and in time.

Poor intonation and poor timing can distract your audience and make them miss your message. If you want to be an excellent singer, always challenge yourself as a musician, starting with these two skills.

Here are two deliberately tricky training exercises you can use to find out just how slick or sloppy – you are with pitch and time.

A Time Exercise

First, get out your metronome app. Make sure you can fade the volume right down to nothing while the beat still continues. Start clapping to the beat – be perfectly precise.

Now have a friend fade out the volume for about a minute, while you keep clapping. Then have your friend fade the volume back up to see if you are still clapping precisely on the beat. Make sure a ticking clock isn’t throwing you off. Choose a relaxed tempo, such as 63 BPM.  You can make this more challenging with slower tempos and for longer stretches.  

Every singer should have a set up to record themselves at home. As a singer or songwriter, your home studio is your musical kitchen. —Darrell Smith

A Tuning Exercise

Here is a similar exercise to challenge your sense of pitch. Choose a song for which you know the starting and ending notes. Play your starting note on a piano or even a keyboard app, then sing your song a cappella (with no instrument but your voice). When you get to the end, play your final note to see if the note you are singing matches it.

If you are off pitch, start at the beginning again, this time checking your sung pitch against the actual pitch at the end of each phrase. As soon as you find a phrase where you are not perfectly in tune, try to find the exact spot where you went off.  Try to hear that starting note as a constant reference in your mind, against which every note you sing can be compared. Make sure you are singing free of tension, and with healthy technique (see chapter 10).

Even singers with a great ear can sometimes go off-key because of poor technique. You may need to take an extra breath in certain spots. Make sure your room is silent. Even a slight buzz or hum from a fridge can interfere. Work on each wavering phrase until you can sing whole sections  even the whole song — in tune with no pitch reference. 

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