Help me out here, people!

I'm working with a singer who consistently goes flat in his singing. I'd say it's about 70% of the time. And it can occur at all ranges, in the low, mid and high range. Also, if he goes flat for the first note of a musical phrase he's flat for the entire phrase.

Problem is, I am a musician, not a singer. I did go for some singing lessons before, but I am not sure how to actually deal with this problem. Many times I can't hear it if someone sings flat. And if I ever DO pick it up, many people just need me to point it out ONCE and they're fine after that. Not so in this case.

Any help? Or am I just seriously out of my depth and ought to refer this case to the professionals? :)

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Great comments so far ... I second the motion for Vocal Artistry's CDs or DVDs.
Also, something I remember from my high school choir years (and we had a good choir) - my director would always say that if we err, we should always err on the sharp side, rather than the flat side. He didn't want us to go sharp of course, so apparently we must have been pretty flat for him to say that!
Putting this into practice, I always think high. And I think face lift: corners of the mouth up, eye brows up, etc. Sometimes with singing songs of worship, we are worshiping so hard (serious face, brow furrowed, etc) that the tone gets dragged down as a result.
From the remarks it would appear that this person has a desire to learn. First off, can this fellow differentiate between minor and major and the different intervals between notes? If not, you may want to let this person listen to a few recorded examples of familiar tunes in major and minor keys. You may want to play for him the different intervals (m2, M2, m3, M3, P4, aug 4, etc.) on a piano or guitar as well. Maybe a few warmup exercises would help. For example, have a pianist or guitarist play a major chord an octave below middle C followed by the first 5 notes in the major scale based on the chord. Then chromatically go up to the next chord/scale, etc. Secondly, have you tried visual cues as a conductor would give. My wife's choir conductor would place her hand over the top of her head as if to "pull" the note out of the top when she sensed the choir kids going flat. This cue coaxes the kids to reach higher for the note. Good posture is very important as well as breathing/singing from the diaphragm (as opposed to the chest or throat). Finally, there are some people that just cannot hear/duplicate correct pitch. This is unfortunate and I've encountered a few in my day.
I am in agreement with newman. Not everyone is meant to be on the platform so to speak.It is not a show that we put on but we need to strive for excellence in all we present. If there is one person in the congregation who will be distracted by the one bad singer on the team, then worship becomes a stumbling block instead of a stepping stone. It is your job as the leader to address the situation and ask the person to step down and seek to improve their skills. I am assuming this person sings harmony and maybe that is the problem. not all singers are gifted in that area. You could possibly ask the person to sing the melody and if they can't sing the melody in tune then they shouldn't sing at all in a public forum.
Hi Junjie, do you use monitors in your church ? if so check out the levels in the monitor for him. If the volume levels are too high or too low sometimes this can cause a singer to be either consistently flat or sharp.

Otherwise I would agree with the threads here that he should either get some tuition or training DVD's and work on it until he improves. If he won't accept he's out of tune, record him and play it back to him.
If he won't accept correction then he needs to re-evaluate his position.
Well, depending on how flat the singer is I try various quick fixes.
1. Explain to the singer that pitch basically has 3 positions:low, middle, high. A singer needs to shoot for the middle. Sometimes just pointing out that a singer is 'sitting' on the pitch will help them to move the note into position
2. Check the vowel that the singer is using. Moving the vowel to a more open position can correct a flat singer. Your singers need to be matching vowels in order to blend.
3. Sometimes I have singers place their hands on their faces to help them remember to think higher. Think 'Home Alone' only curve your fingers down so that so that they point to the chin. your wrists should be pointed toward the top of your head. Have them raise their eyebrows also. This is a physical reminder to create more space in the mouth. You want to raise the soft pallet (top-back of throat) and create a sort of spin effect for the sound. I often tell my singers to imagin there is a hard boiled egg in their mouth (fat side first). This is an exaggeration but they get the idea.

After I have taught these strategies to the team, I have found that being honest and direct about pitch problems is the best way. They have started automatically trying the above to try and fix the problem......of course if they cannot tell that they are flat then you have to start from the beginning of pitch training.

Hope you find something useful.
What do you mean by sitting on the pitch? Are you referring to starting flat and staying flat instead of shifting into the right place? And when you talk about an open position of the vowel, are you talking about relaxing the throat? Or something else?

Yeah, I am THAT much a singing newbie. Ask my younger sis. :)
sometimes i modify the vowels of a word depending on how i want it to sound. for example: In John Greens song 'declare your glory' in the chorus the end of the phrases end with the the 'EE' sound. We do not sing an 'EE' we sing an 'A' (modified 'A' actually)sound to open the vowel up and let the sound have more spin and yes relax the throat more.

The fact that this is the main vocalist is a problem. I agree that vocal warmups are a must. I have been meaning to create a warmup CD that I could give to my vocalists to practice with on their own, but I have not done it yet. I'll let you know when it is completed and if you would like a copy, i'll get it to you.
OK, everyone. Looking at the replies I realized that I have been VERY unclear about the details of the situation. (And I used to think it was easy to start a topic...)

It's for a small church service, with one or two musicians at the most. And this singer is the worship leader.

Yeah, Bizzy, I hear you. But the call isn't mine to make. In this church I am not in a position of official leadership, just a well-respected helper. So I just do the best I can to help. :)

I'm thinking through the loads of advice given here. I'll be starting on the warm-up exercises Mark from Hawaii recommends (If it was good enough for my singing class, why didn't I think of using them???). I'll use the visual cues during the practice, during the worship I'm too busy playing the piano and trying to be Mr Harmony at the same time (amazing how bold I get when I don't have a mike in front of me).

As for the monitors, Phil, he gives flat even during the rehearsals when it's just him, me and the piano, so I don't think it's the problem. I'll take note of that though.

Anyway, the pitch is the biggest thing, the one we spend the most practice time on. We do take some time on a few hiccups here and there, like the chewing one Alicia CoAnn mentioned before in the peeves thread. But yeah, it's the pitch thingy that gives the most problems.
Hey, there. I am a singer and, if I may be honest in my humility, I'm a darned good one. But I certainly wasn't born that way, and with it came some heavy training sessions. The biggest problem I had to battle was singing flat and, for some reason, no matter how hard I tried, I could NOT hear that flatness from my own head. I really had to start listening to myself in recordings to notice it and to start focusing on the problem. Eventually I could connect what I was hearing in the recordings to the voice in my head... but it took a lot of concentration. I would suggest you have your singer do the same... and don't let him get discouraged. It will probably take time.

I wouldn't just let it go. You have a responsibility to train your worship team members to a point of excellence... yes, as we all know, God is our focus, not us. But if we allow our members to be a distraction, we're doing a dis-service.

Just my opinion. Hope that helps! - Jodi
Ditto, Jodi...since I've started recording myself at home, it's made a big improvement to my own vocals. The tapes don't lie!
Not trying to be funny, but you could suggest one of these.
I have one in my humble home studio, and besides pitch correction, it offers perfect EQ and warmth, and phantom power.
Awesome little pedals, I'm planning on adding the "Create" effects pedal, too!

Flat singing is very tough to deal with, especially when it affects the other vocals in a team and you have a chorus of flat/sharp singing. That actually distracts a lot of people trying to focus on worship. If you have no need to expect singing to be in key, then the flat singing shouldn't be an issue. I have had people tell me to let the untalented/untrained have a spot in leading worship, because God is bigger than that. Made no scriptural sense to
Use who God has called for you to use. There are plenty of scriptures to show that you should always improve a skill or talent. If you are lacking a skill or talent, it will be hard to improve it. Not everyone is going to be able to train themselves to hit correct pitches. I saw horn players in school who were good horn players, but had severe issues hitting vocal notes in theory labs. We had to sing intervals, ID notes and intervals...basic voice training in a music Theory class. I had this class for 2 years. It was always interesting when the Horn players had to participate. We had a few vocal majors that never seemed to excel in this class also. I have 2 daughters who love to sing. My oldest one can ID any note from a piano and sing it. It is a struggle for the younger daughter. She is obviously going to have to work at pitch training her voice, where the other daughter has either developed that skill, or has it naturally. At some point, I may encourage my youngest to treat singing as a fun thing to do, and consider an instrument if she intends to stay serious about music. I worked for years at my voice in college and never made it to the point of being an opera soloist. My vocals lend more to a rock or worship arena. My Opera buddies wouldn't have made it in the "Rock" bands I played with in my younger years.
Try simple training of playing some single piano notes and have the vocalist match the pitch. Start off with notes in a specific key...such as C major. If they are hitting the pitches, do triads...C -E - G etc.
Play each note separately in any order and have the singer match the pitch. Move to Triads with octave root above...simple stuff for now. You eventually can move to scales played in order and then out of sequence...random notes of the scale. Hopefully this person is able to be ear trained.
BTW, in our main service, the sound techs used 4 - 5 pitch correcting modules on the backup singers and occasional soloists. Poor monitors may have been the issue
I hope sharing my personal experiences will help.
Jeff L.


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