Magic Choral Trick #216 Why Choirs Sing Flat
So much about tuning in a choir has to do with the singers not knowing something, and not knowing that they that don’t know it.
Here are a number of things that many choral singers don’t realize that they don’t know:
1. Singers are often unaware that they’re not getting up to the pitch.
(Fix: Work with Korg Chromatic Tuner, https://betterchoirs.wordpress.com/2011/12/08/magic-choral-trick-21-the-korg-chromatic-tuner/ , mp3 recordings during rehearsal and at home)
2. Lack of awareness about the physical involvement that it takes to sing.
(Fix: Brass Buzz,https://betterchoirs.wordpress.com/2011/11/18/magic-choral-trick-1/ ,
Breath of Fire https://betterchoirs.wordpress.com/2011/11/21/magic-choral-trick-4/ ,
Breathing In Through an 8 Foot Straw https://betterchoirs.wordpress.com/2011/11/19/magic-choral-trick-2/ ,
3. Individual singers don’t realize that it takes only one voice in the crowd to pull the pitch down.
(Fix: Each chorus member needs to take responsibility for his or her own pitch. See fix for #1)
4. Traps: Repeated notes; Descending melodic lines (steps too big); Ascending melodic lines (steps not big enough). Tendency to undershoot upward melodic leaps, and overshoot the downward ones.
(Fix: Repeated notes https://betterchoirs.wordpress.com/2012/12/16/magic-choral-trick-213-pancake-flip-for-pitch/ , work with Korg Tuner on specific intervals, very slow scales, Drill during warm up at rehearsal. Try having half of the chorus listen to the other half)
5. Not enough work on discrimination between tones and semitones
(Fix: Drill during warm up; Korg Tuner homework)
6. Swooping upwards to the pitch and never quite making it.
(Fix: Record yourself and find out if you’re sliding upwards into pitches)
7. Vocal production techniques in the Bass line – usually too chesty.
(Fix: Basses – practise singing more focused, pointed, heady tone. Very clean, instead of woofy)
8. Bass singers are often unaware of the importance of their part with regard to overall tuning – and tend to be a little less vigilant about pitch than the other parts. As the Basses sink in pitch – so does everyone else. There’s a feeling of “just relax and let ‘er rip” because the audience is really only listening to the melody line.
(Fix: Ok Basses – now you know)
9. Sopranos, or top voices that are singing a part that is too high for them.
(Fix: Sopranos, you may need to learn to sing Alto)
10. For Sopranos whose voices are capable of high notes, but aren’t quite making the pitches, tension is often a problem.
(Fix: Sing the high section first on Zzzzz https://betterchoirs.wordpress.com/2011/12/05/magic-choral-trick-18-zzzzzzz/ , then sing it using words while putting your hands in the Cheek Wings position.)
11. Unmatched vowels pull the pitch down.
(Fix: Drill clean vowels until everyone hears them lock in)
12. Not enough drill on singing specific intervals in tune
(Fix: During the warm up is a great time to do this)
13. Trained singers whose vibrato oscillates between the pitch and something lower will tend to pull a groups’ pitch down – especially when singing in a choir with many untrained voices.
(For those of us with trained voices, we have the option of singing anywhere on the vibrato spectrum – from sine wave straight to full blown unsupported wobble, and all the gradations in between. We can take our cue from the singers around us. Are we singing with singers who all have similar training and vibrato, or are we singing with people with untrained, straighter voices? To make the maximum contribution to the group, we can use our super power for good, and blend in with those around us.)
14. A lack of mental intensity, and attention to the present moment. Good pitch takes constant vigilance until it becomes a habit.
(Whether we know it or not, this is probably why we sing in choirs – attention to the present moment. Being present right now, right now, right now feels wonderful, energizes us and points us beyond the ordinary to something magical.)
Directors – You need to have the serenity to accept the things you absolutely know that you cannot change, the courage to change the things you can, and of course the wisdom to know the difference. Most of what I’ve suggested here is possible with any group that actually wants to improve their pitch.