Is it important to sing a few cents less

Intonation while singing - how can you practice it?

9 learning steps to better intonation

We take a close look at the tones

(Image: © Shutterstock, Photo by Andy Dean Photography)

There are fantastic singers who seem to have a limitless vocal range. You can seem to sing anything and never have voice problems. But when the notes are not right, doubts arise. Neither the best voice nor the greatest talent can hide insecure intonation.

Anyone who has only ever worked on their voice and repertoire, but never really on their intonation, may one day have to start practicing from scratch. Because just as the correct understanding of rhythm is a basis for all musicians, a clean intonation is also the basis for harmonious interaction with other musicians.

But where does an unclean intonation begin? What else is accepted as artistic design and when does it become uncomfortable for the listener?

Why is it that some singers don't hit the right note? Do you hear it and just don't know what to do about it, or does it just sound good enough to your ears and you never get the idea to hone it?

When do we speak of an intonation problem?

Intonation weaknesses can have a variety of reasons. Initially, the difficulties with intonation are often due to the fact that the vocal technique is not yet balanced or that the correct frequencies are not yet anchored in the memory. so it is in the end. With advanced players, the weakness is simply measured by one's own demands, that is, whether and how exactly one actually wants to sing.

Of course, there is always a certain amount of leeway in which you can move - this is called artistic freedom. A slightly crooked intonation can even become a recognition feature. But that only works if the audience realizes that this is intentional and does not happen because there is no other way to do it. In addition, such a daring "game" must of course also be coordinated with the accompanying musicians. Otherwise it can happen that they do not want to accompany you again.

Even if blues phrasing often results in "smeared" transitions, you can still hear very clearly whether the singer knows which target tone he or she is heading towards. If this is not clearly prepared in the mental imagination, the sound will end in nowhere after a "slide". This results in a blurred picture of the frequencies and then the audience no longer knows why it is that the singer does not particularly like.

What are the causes of skewed intonation and what can be done about it?

The most common causes are likely:

  • lack of idea of ​​the exact pitch
  • insufficient vocal technique (control of vocal fold vibration)
  • too little energy expenditure
  • too much breath pressure
  • imprecise intonation of consonants and doubles
  • anatomical problems (swelling of the vocal folds, nodules, etc.)

Nine steps to improved intonation

1. Root cause analysis: Why can't the tones be reached? Is it a technical error or a lack of understanding of the frequencies?

To find out whether it is perhaps your vocal technique that is causing the tones (especially in high voices) to become more and more unclean, just sing the same melody once in a quieter, "heady" tone. So choose a mode that requires little force.

If you find that the notes sit much better, you can assume that you are singing with too little energy in your loud, "chesty" mode. Here you have the option of either changing the mode from a certain pitch or of staying in the strong mode with more energy and, if necessary, more volume.

However, if you find that the same problem arises when you sing softly, it is more likely that you have not yet fully understood the spacing between the notes.

2. Learning to play an instrument

Instrumentalists, who, due to their good hearing, can often intone very precisely when singing, usually know little about vocal technique. It may not sound optimal when they sing, but most of the time they can place the notes correctly simply because they know what frequency range the note should be in. So it's not always about having a perfect voice and a balanced technique. Sometimes a simple vocal sound with very good intonation is enough to make your performance successful.

So in the end it doesn't matter HOW you sound. It is important that your notes are intonated correctly. You don't have to master an instrument perfectly, but you should already have a piano, keyboard or guitar at home. Take a few hours of lessons and do a little bit of instrument work every day.

3. Intensive listening to music

It is different with singers who have never played an instrument before. Here it depends on how intensively you have dealt with music. Listening to and imitating music intensely, paired with great talent or empathy, can be completely sufficient to learn how to intonate safely. For example, some of my colleagues from the pop music industry have acquired good hearing simply by singing a lot very early on. By imitating good singers, you can get a pretty good impression of the sounds.

4. Play a melody or individual notes slowly on the piano (or another tuned instrument), "record" it by ear and play it back.

A weak intonation is often due to the fact that the singer has no idea of ​​the correct pitch or frequency of the tone. One could say that the hearing is not sufficiently developed.

In order to be able to reproduce a sound at the correct frequency, it has to be stored in the brain. Those who learned to play an instrument in childhood often have very good hearing, because by playing the instrument they have anchored the "correct" sound frequency in their brains. So all you have to do is remember this acoustic imprint while singing.

Exercise: Let sound waves in your ear

Play a note on the piano and wait for the wave to hit your ear. Take a lot of time! Wait for the cape to subside. Try to really listen carefully until the end. (You can also use a tuning fork as an alternative. However, you only have one note available.) Now repeat the note with "LAAAA". Check in between by playing the note on the piano again. Correct yourself if necessary, repeat this exercise several times. Play and then sing more notes.

DANGER: Be careful not to change the sound much when you go up. Watch yourself in the mirror and make sure you are not pushing your lower jaw forward or holding onto it. Choose a specific sound and sing your exercise in the same sound, without singing nasally or breathily in between.

  • First you listen to the sound for a while.
  • When the sound wave hits your ear, sing along the note with "Laaa".
  • Keep interrupting your tone and listening to the sound wave.
  • Then start singing again.
  • Repeat this exercise often and take your time with it. It's almost like meditation!

5. Sing sequences of notes in slow motion in a controlled manner

Make sure that your intonation is always in a frequency range that is still acceptable for the tone you want to sing. Focus only on your sound waves and not on your vocal technique or your sound.

You should be able to sing the correct note in whatever vocal tone you can master. Voice sound and intonation are not necessarily related. However, it is often easier to reduce the sound of the voice (e.g. with the help of Twang) in order to get higher. Find out whether this is really necessary or whether you can still sing the entire line in your favorite sound.

Note, however, that a melody sung downwards requires just as much control and body tension as one sung upwards. Otherwise it can happen that the tones get deeper and deeper.

Exercise 1 - Laa, laa, laa, laa, laa (12321) *
Exercise 2 - Lee Lee Lee Lee Lee Lee Lee (1234321) *
Exercise 3 - Li Li Li Li Li (13531) *

  • First, stop briefly between the syllables.
  • In the second round you connect the syllables in legato.

* The numbers in brackets indicate the degrees on the major scale. The beginning of the nursery rhyme "Alle meine Entchen" is e.g. B. on the first five pitches.

6. Learn to pitch

(pitch English for pitch)

If you notice that you are lying something below or above the tone, try to pitch your tone "right". Just like twisting a guitar string until it has the right pitch. Imagine turning a crank in your ears. Or see how your vocal folds stretch (and back) like rubber bands.

With high notes, the vocal folds become longer. At low points, they are shorter. Singing up requires more physical effort than singing down. However, if you give in too easily while singing down, you will lose control of the notes.
Do the "Siren Exercise"! Like a siren you sing a glissando up and down on the consonant "ng". The slower you sing, the more precisely you can aim at the next note.

Exercise 4 - The siren NGngngngngngnNGNGNGNGNgnngngn
Exercise 5 - LaaaAAAAAAaaaaaa, LiiiiIIIIIIiiiii, LeeeeeEEEEEeee, LuuuuUUUUUuuuu

7. Voicing of doubles as well as voiced and unvoiced consonants

a) From one vowel to another.

Double sounds are often in the middle of a word. But they also appear at the beginning. In the English language, the "W" is sometimes spoken more like a "U". Thus, the word "water" results in a double sound. In the German language, too, there are double sounds at the beginning of the word, e.g. B. in "eye", "once", "you" etc.

Realize that you should be singing the two different vowels on the same note. Make sure that the first vowel of the double does not come from nowhere, but that it already has the right frequency when you start singing.

Exercise 6

- When, Where, Why, Water
- angel, I, only
- shine, mine, time
- late, say, gain
- now, cloud, proud
- point, boy, toy
- Don't, go, show

b) From voiced consonants to vowels and voiced consonants in the middle of the word.

Exercise 7

- V.alentine, very
- Zoo, Zebra
- L.ullaby, love
- man, mOnday
- new, nobody
- you, year
- read, right
-try, pray

c) From voiceless consonants to vowels.

Of course, you cannot prepare the vowel with the consonant tonally. Nevertheless, it is helpful if you visualize and control the tone in its frequency even with consonants such as p, t, k etc. Then the vocal cords adjust to the appropriate length in good time.

Exercise 8 - ppaa, kkaa, ttee, gguu, ssii, ddoo, chää

8. Practice controlled phrasing

Of course, in popular music we want the freedom to phrase and shape our melodies according to our taste, with the aim of expressing our musical idea in a coherent way. This is done with the help of a personally (and often spontaneously) chosen dynamic, the type of articulation, the accentuation and also the intonation. Instead of always singing the notes directly and precisely, we either want to "grind in" them from below or pull them down from above. And that's a good thing, as long as we pursue a thought-out idea and do not neglect the rhythm or the pitch.

Exercise 9 - One semitone below the target tone: LAAaaa
Exercise 10 - A whole tone below the target tone: LAAAaaa
Exercise 11 - A fourth below the target tone: LAAAAaaaa
Exercise 12 - One semitone above the target tone: LaaAA
Exercise 13 - One whole tone above the target tone: LaaaAAA

Video - "AT LAST" + Lyrics ETTA JAMES - Original Version


In the case of "slides" from below or from above, care must be taken to ensure that these phrasing are sung at a precisely chosen distance from the target note and at a precisely defined time. In general, such notes "sung from below" are sung in a short time and over the pitch range of half a tone or a whole tone. But sometimes the interval is larger.

It is important that these phrasings are sung "in time", otherwise they will be perceived as weak intonation. The consonants can also come from a different tone and only the vowel then lands on the target tone. Such phrasing techniques are often found in soul, blues, and jazz.

9. Sing and recognize intervals - sing chromatic scales

Practice the intervals! You should be able to sing them up and down. Make a careful distinction between semitones and whole steps. If you do not even perceive your weaknesses in intonation, but only your audience, you should grasp the frequencies of the tones more precisely. To do this, go back to step 4 again.

Exercise 14 - chromatic scale: la la la la la la la la