As a music teacher for 10 years and a musician for over 30 years, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the phrase:
Let’s be clear: You’re not!
What you need help with is learning how to sing on key consistently.
Learning how to sing on key consistently isn’t as scary or impossible as it seems, but it does take work. You need to find out if you’re tone-deaf (unlikely), practice matching pitch, pick a good key, and develop good singing habits. It takes time, focus, and dedication but anyone can do it.
In all my years of working with people and singing, I’ve never met a single person who couldn’t improve their ability and learn to sing on pitch.
Let’s dive in and break this down together.
How To Sing On Key Consistently: In Tune, On Pitch, In Key?
You’ve probably come across and used the words “in tune,” “on pitch,” and “in key” when it comes to singing.
But what do they mean?
This section will cover the small difference between them.
Essentially, they all are parts of the same concept.
How To Sing In Tune: What Does It Mean?
When you sing in tune, it refers to singing in a way where your frequency matches the standard of pitch.
This sounds hard, but it’s not. And it’s also not an idea you really need to worry about.
Hundreds of years ago, there was no “standard” tuning. People just kind of sang with whatever tuning they wanted to.
All on your own, you didn’t notice a difference. When everyone got together, the instruments sounded terrible together because most instruments were all in a different tuning.
Then, people got together and decided on common tuning frequencies.
To sing “in tune” means to match the frequency of this standard.
You don’t have to know the exact standard, but all tuners (including this one by i-music school) adhere to this tuning.
If you’re interested, the frequencies based around A4 are 440 Hz.
The thing is, as singers, you’ll develop this skill by focusing on the other two.
How To Sing On Pitch: What Does It Mean?
Singing on pitch means to match pitch with the instruments and singers around you.
Instruments and singers won’t always be perfectly “in tune”. If you stick to standard tunings only and everyone else around you is slightly off, guess who sounds wrong?
On pitch singing is matching your pitch to others. This is largely developed through ear training, but good vocal habits are also essential in this skill as well.
I’ll talk about this below.
Singing In Key?
Singing in key is similar to singing on pitch with a bit more involvement.
The pitches and harmonies in songs are connected by something called a key.
Check out the explanation of keys in our article on guitar chords.
Singing in key means you keep your relationships between the notes correct.
This is where you often hear the singing experts and coaches on vocal competitions tell the singer they lost their key or “modulated.”
When you sing with instruments, they’ll help you stay “in key”. When you sing all on your own, it’s completely up to your own ear to stay in key.
Singing practice over time and ear training are the best ways to improve this as with the pitch matching above.
How To Learn To Sing In Key In 4 Simple Steps
These 4 steps are good for practicing all the time, especially 2-4. These you’ll want to spend a little bit of time as much as you can.
I recommend practicing singing at least 5 days per week and 10-15 minutes on those days.
#1 Check Your Ears
First, you need to accept and prove to yourself that you’re not tone deaf.
Tone deafness is a real condition an extremely small percentage of the population has.
Tone deafness is the brain’s complete inability to hear changes in high or low, or pitch.
People who have tone-deafness will often speak in complete monotones because they don’t hear the difference.
Do people know when you’re asking a question?
When you read these questions, does the voice in your head go up at the end?
If so, you’re not tone deaf!
If you don’t believe me, take this tone-deafness test.
I’ve given this test to over 5,000 people and students in the past and found one (1) ONE person who qualified as tone-deaf.
Even if you are tone-deaf, you can learn to sing on pitch, it just requires a whole different type of training.
#2 Match Pitch: How To Know If Your Vocals Are In Key
Once you’ve accepted you’re not tone deaf, you need to learn and practice what matching pitch sounds like.
Matching pitch is when your note’s frequency and the frequency of another person’s note or voice align.
For example, if someone sings at the frequency A = 400Hz and you sing at A = 440Hz, you’re matching pitch.
You don’t need to measure the frequency of your voice to match pitch though.
When two sounds are matching pitch, they blend into one another. They sound the same.
When one sound is off from another, the sound waves collide. When they collide, they create ripples.
As you sing, listen for the ripples in the sound. Adjust your voice up and down slightly until the ripples go away.
The best way to do this is by practicing singing one note at a time with a drone first.
A drone (not the flying thing) is a single pitch held for a long time without changing.
Try singing and matching this drone until the ripple goes away.
#3 Pick A Good Key: How To What Key To Sing In
Singing with drones and training your ears develops your brain’s awareness of singing in tune, but if you try to sing beyond what your vocal muscles are capable of, it won’t make a difference.
Knowing what key to sing in is complicated.
First, consider your voice. Try to sing along with the song and if most notes are strained or impossible to sing, it’s not a good key for you.
Adjust the key or pick a different song.
Once you’ve got the right key, you need to feel the key in your ears better.
Do some singing exercises (such as the ones below), but start on the note in the key you chose.
This video gives more detail too and is clear.
#4 Develop Good Habits: Singing Exercises To Improve Pitch
Even in the right key and with good ears, your vocal cords are a muscle. They need to be used correctly, and they need to be trained.
I understand in my mind how to ride a bicycle. I’m even familiar with specific things professional bikers do to go faster and make their long rides easier.
But if I were to go out and try to ride the Tour de France, I’d never make it.
Singing’s the same. Yes, you need to train your ear (drones and tuning) and pick good keys, but you also need to do daily exercises.
A biker can know how to ride (ear training) and have a good bike (picking a good key), but if they never train on the bike, they’ll never succeed.
Develop good posture by lengthening and supporting your body.
Build your breath control.
Relax and strengthen your voice.
Develop agility and stretch your range.
Check out the whole article on vocal exercises.
Here are some of my favorite exercises to do.
This one is great for warming up the voice and relaxing the muscles.
Stepping Down And Up
The small steps are great for stretching vocal range as well as training the ear.
The slower notes and motion is perfect for matching pitch and getting the key stuck in your ear.
Interval palooza does an awesome job of helping reinforce the distance between notes. This, in turn, is great for making sure you stay in the same key.
Commonly Asked Questions
Here are questions I hear all the time related to learning how to sing in tune.
The answers are sometimes simple and sometimes complicated.
What Key Do I Sing In?
The perfect key to sing in is a personal thing depending on your voice.
Check out our post on finding your vocal range.
In general, though, sing where you don’t feel strained.
Straining to sing too high or too low is going to make your voice work extra hard.
This work tightens your vocal cords and other muscles.
Tension and lack of support are the biggest reasons for forcing your singing out of tune.
What Is The Easiest Key To Sing In?
As with the question above, the easiest key to sing in is going to depend on your voice type.
However, most people find it easy to sing in the following keys:
- D Major
- Eb Major
- E Major
These are middle enough that all voice types tend to sing in it well, though it depends on the range of the song itself.
Can Anyone Learn To Sing On Key?
Even those who are “tone deaf” can be trained to sing while matching pitch. They just require a different type of training.
The biggest difference comes with my least favorite word, “talent”.
Those with high musical talent will require less training and time to learn to sing on key.
Those with less music talent require more time.
But, both groups are completely capable of achieving great things.
When I started my college musical training, my friend and I were both in the same year.
He has a high level of musical talent. I have a medium level of natural talent.
In our singing classes, he started off way better than I was.
I kept practicing and improving; he stopped because he was “good”.
Eventually, I surpassed him, while he didn’t improve at all.
I put in the work. He rested on talent.
He quickly learned to put in the work too, and now we’re both considered skilled musicians, but hopefully, this story shows you how much and how little talent actually matters.
How To Sing In Key For Beginners
You may wonder: Wait! I’m a beginner. Will this work for me?
Good practice, ear training, and vocal development are good for everyone no matter their level.
How do you sing in key if you’re a beginner? The same way an advanced or professional does.
They just have more experience and skill. It’ll take you longer, but you’ll get there.
Don’t give up!
I hope this guide on how to sing in tune consistently is helpful.
I bet it’s not the magic answer you want. Singing in tune, on pitch, and in key take ear training and practice.
For some, this is a natural skill. For others, it takes some work. And there are those for whom it takes a lot of work.
In my years of singing experience, I know that everyone can do it!
Just like some people find sports easier than others, there are natural talents in music. But we need to get away from the fact that only the gifted can do music.
Everyone can get out a soccer ball and dribble. With practice, everyone can get better at it.
It’s the same with music.
Follow the suggestions in this article, and you will improve your singing in tune abilities.