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Beginning singers: Can't Match pitch in high school

Finally, here is the compilation. I continue to do battle with my
computer and had to type this in more than once. Thank you to all who

Choir Directors,
I have two girls in my choir who absolutely cannot match pitch. I
teach at a small hgih school and we do not have an auditioned group.
Most of my students do very well, but I don't know what to do tih
these girls. I have them on the soprano part because if they are
going to get any part I think it will be the melody. I have dealt
with this with boys before and it is usually a result of the voice
change, but I don't understand it in the girls. I have tried simple
melodies like "Three Blind Mice" starting on what ever pitch they want
to sing and still no luck. Any tips or suggestions you have would be
greatly appreciated. Thank you.
Wendi Bogard
Cimarron High School
Cimarron, Kansas

Hi, Wendi! I assume that your choir is high school or MS level, since
you have dealt with the boys' voice change.

Pitch matching is like many other human abilities: It is not
developed automatically, but through experience, and there is often a
"readiness" period when these things are most easily learned. If your
girls speak with normal pitch variation and expression in their
speaking voices, then there is no physical disability. They probably
just misses the boat as todlers. There is a REASON for the nursery
songs sung to infants in every human culture, and that's where the
skill is developed.

My wife, a trained and experienced Kodaly teacher, has worked with
more than one older person and has always managed to expand their
range and improve their pitch matching. It is a very slow process,
because you are taking someone through a developmental process that
comes effortlessly at the proper young age, but is does work. Working
with a skilled Kodaly teacher might be the best therepay for those

I assume that for social reasons you want to keep them in choir. You
can help hide their sound by placing them in the very back row on the
riser, and surrounding them with stronger singers with voice qualities
that tend to blend out the unwanted voices. You may need to
experiment with various combinations. I wish you the very best of
luck. If you CAN help these girls, it can make a difference in their


Dear Wendi,

You can try the following to establish 'rapport' between vocal chords,
pitch and hearing. Needs lots of patience in the beginning.

Step 1. Have each one sing a 'favorite' pitch she can repeat
reliably. You match that pitch. At some point reverse and you sing
the pitch first and she imitates.

Step 2. See if you can get her to reliably sing a pitch higher than
the 'favorite' one. Repeat the procedure.

Step 3. Lower pitch.

A long procedure but if you can establish 3 pitches you can then go on
to scales.

If you learn of any other methods that seem promising, please let me
know since one of my choruses is non-auditioned (community).

Good luck... I think it's worth the effort because singing is the
heritage of all.

Arlene Sagan

I strongley believe there are no tone-deaf people. Unless there are
real physical imparements.

My experience with teenagers are that lack of pitch accuracy is
usually due to:

in experience - they just haven't used thier voice enough to get used
to how the muscles work.

undersinging - if they don't sing loud enough, they can't hear that
they are off the pitch.

Both of these problems are fixable but sometimes a great challenge.
Many times the students confidence is so low that it is difficult to
get them to sing out. The only real fix I have found is the one that
takes the most work from the director. Individual attention. I try
to get with my problems for 30 seconds before each class for a quick
pitch-matching lesson. Doing this often enough has produced great
results for me.

Good luck with your challenges.

Gregg Lapp (Lappers2(a)
Centennial High School
Bakersfield, CA

Give them tons of individual attention outside of class and work from
siren sounds to matching pitch. If they can't find the top register
then work in the lower speaking tones first and differentiate between
the sounds and different vocal feelings. Find out exactly what they
can do and go from there. Important thing is to capitlalize on their
issures and you don't want to focus attention on singers that are
trying their best.

Hope this helps... Let me know how it goes.

Jeff Prillman (jeff-trac(a)
Minister of Music/Tenor

USUALLY (but not quite always) increased singing experience improves
the problem. Sometimes having them sing more lightly (on a light,
very rounded "oo" helps.

Two exercises that I find helpful are to find a note they can sing and
have them sing "do re mi re do" and keep trying to stretch the range
where they can sing those notes. Another (which works really well
with boys--actually both of them do) is again to find a singable note
and have them sing "yo ho ho" on do sol (up) do (1 up to 5 and then
back dow to 1). Have them sing it strongly--almost like a siren.

Two problems for monotones is that either they are singing too heavily
to be able to accomplish the adjustments necessary to sing higher
notes (oo's and sirens help) and/or they don't use enough energy to
control the pitches (the yo ho's seem to help).

Regarding their placement in you choir, I sometimes put them on sop.
and sometimes on alto. If they are relly limited, you need to find a
place for them where they are the least intrusive while they try to
expand there singing range. No, they probably won't be able to sing
alto, but they're not singing sop. either. Most important is to try
to schedule 2 minutes a day working with the ranges, or if you have a
couple of kids that you can send out with them during rehearsal, thqt
works too. Trying to match another student's singing voice works
better than trying to match a piano.

Good luck!

Lynne Bradley(lbradle(a)

PS I am noticing more students with problems than in the past,
especially since I moved to CA 12 years ago. probably attributable to
so many student who haven't sund as children, but I don't know that
for a fact. Wonder if anyone has done any research in this area?

Dear Wendy:
Boy O' Boy, does this sound familiar! I have a choir of 170 spread
out over 6 classes of about 25 to 30 each in a 1000 student city
school and I have about 6 such girls. I have always had them (this is
my 25th. year) and they usually love the choir, like me, and choose to
stay all 4 years. So, what do I do. I have also tried putting them
on Soprano. It doesn't help. But, the experience of singing usually
does. Next, I actually ask them if they know that they are not
matching pitch. Usuall the don't. I tell them don't panic. They
have a common problem and it can be fixed. Now if I only knew how to
do that. Try this. Have them sing a pitch and then you match
them.sometimes a light will go on because they never knew what that
"felt" like. Then try to get them to move with you just one step up
or down. Repeat this many times throughout the year. Complement them
when they do even a little better or just because they are keeping at
it. Often it is the next year before I hear an improvement and
sometimes it just doesn't happen. Although I never discourage or try
to get rid of these kids I do make sure that they understand that they
are not matching pitch and that theyt ought not to sing too loudly and
so draw someone else off. I also try to seart them near an
understanding person. Always smile and remember "If a thing is worth
doing, it's worth doing badly"

God bless,

George A. Hughes, Director (CHORALCAT(a)
The Chaney Choirs
Chaney High School
731 South Hazelwood
Youngstown, Ohio 44509

PS: How about an exchange of tapes? I love hearing or seeing other
peoples groups.

Hi! My name is Rhoda:)

Re: Your dilema with two young singers

You may try getting them to sing with singers who have better pitch at
regersal. Maybe playing a note on a piano (or something) and getting
them to match the tone, and then build up form there... Maybe if they
try to hear the notes from a passage intheir head, their accuracy
might improve.
Are they practicing good posture, breathing? In ou choir, that is a
common problem.

I hope this helps:)

Rhoda Popson (rhoda_popson(a)

Tape and listen to themselves. I would be interested in any
compilation. I had the same problem but never cured it.



Try singing into their ear with a dryer hose. It works like magic! I
learned that from Janeal Krehbiel, director of the Lawrence Children's

Ryan Hebert(rhebert(a)

Hi Wendi,

I saw your question on choralnet. I teach Jr. high and have come
across this problem. Are the girls in deadtone? Try vocalizing with
sirens to bridge from chest ot head tone. then try simple intervals
like Sol- Mi. or simple chords. The trick is to keep them in head
tone with lots of breath support.

Unfortunately, some kiks may not be able to ever match....I've had
them...and they do stick out and drive you nuts.

Good luck,

Wendi, I have a few of these too, mostly in the junior high. I have
gradees 8-12 choirs. Also, my first year of teaching there were two
mainstreamed EMR boys in my senior high choir. They loved choir, and
I enjoyed them. But they stuck our horribly, so I can understand what
you're going through.

Jame Jordan at Westminster had an interesting way to arrange each
section that I tried last year. It seems to work by placing the
strongest singer toward the center of the group, and puts the weakest
in the back. They will complain at first, but don't buckle because it
makes a difference in the quality of sound of the group.

Line up the members of the soprano section, have them all sing a short
melody in their upper range. Then go down the line and have them sing
it each individually. Pick the strongest singer for your anchor.
Then try to match tone quality by placing the next strongest singer
next to your anchor and so forth down the line. The anchor singer
goes in the center, and keep going until you fill the first row. Then
the next person goes behind the anchor and out to the end of the row
and so forth. This will place your two monotones in the back.

I'd be interested to hear what other directors have to suggest also.

Andrea Brumbach (legato(a)


I taught hgih school for 15 years and each year encountered several
boys who had pitch matching problems. Sometimes they were due to the
change in the voice, but most times they were simply due to the fact
that they had never been trained or were naturally unable to activate
the muscles required for singing. Most of the time they simply did
not have enough air in the tone to make anything happen anyway. In
some case, they were perhaps able to activate the muscles but lacked
the ability to coordinate

If I were encountered with your situation, I would do the following:

1) IDENTIFY PROBLEM - Meet with the girls privately and discuss the
situation in a very positive, open, and frank way. Tell them the
problem (they are probably already aware of it and embarrassed by it),
but also tell them that there is a solution. The solution would
require them to meet with you for a time until they are able to match

2) ENCOURAGE AND EXPLAIN - Encourage the girls by telling them that
singing is a very complex activity, but an activity that they
nonetheless can learn. Briefly explain the singing process and what
muscles singers must coordinate. For their sake, keep it simple.
They need to be aware primarily of the diaphragm - that they diaphragm
releases are from the lungs through the larynx - inside the larynx are
vocal folds that when placed together, vibrate thus producing sound.
They need to be aware that there are muscles in the larynx that govern
the tension of the vocal folds. The more taught they are, the higher
the sound will be. The looser they are, the lower the sound will be.

3) EXPERIMENT WITH THE VOICE - Have them begin to experiment with the
voice by making some sounds - high, low, soft, loud, etc. TELL THEM
with them the various ways in which we can use the voice -
Conversational (lacks energy, projection, probably used by most people
99% of the time), Elevated (the voice we use when we get excited or
angry), Dramatic (a voice involving sustained use of energy, a lot of
projection, used by actors). Explain to them that in order to sing
effectively, they must learn how to use their Elevated or Dramatic
voice. Experiment with these different types of voice by having them
saying something familiar in all those ways.

4) TEACH BREATHING - Discuss breathing, its importance in singing.
Discuss posture and how it relates to good breathing. Do some basic
breath excercises such as teaching them to inhale very deeply and then
releasing the breath on a controlled hiss. See if they can buzz their
lips together or roll their "r's". Both exercises are very good for
being sure htere is enough air passing through. Have them take a huge
breath and then time themselves on how long they sustain a hiss or a
lip bzz.

5) TRANSFER ALL OF THESE IDEAS TO SINGING - The first objective here
should be to try and get them to sing and sustain one pitch for
anywhere from 5 to 10 seconds. Do not give them a pitch on the piano
and ask them to sing it. Rather, ask them to sing a familiar song
like the refrain of "Jingle Bells" having given them NO pitch. They
may need some encouraging, but once they have sung the first few
pitches, stop them and find their first pitch on the piano. No matter
how monotone they are they will be singing some pitch. By finding
that pitch on the piano, you can begin to find where their current
voice lies. Encourage them by saying, "OK, this is the pitch you are
singing." Then, have them try to sustain that pitch on a sung "zzzz"
or a sung lip buzz. If they are successful with that, then have them
try to sing pitches immediately above or below that. See how high and
how low you can take them.

6) MEET WITH THEM ON A REGULAR BASIS - and each time go through the
same procedure. They will become comfortable with the procedure and
thus begin to gain more confidence. Record their progress in each
session so that as time progresses you can show them how far they have
come and how their range has increased.

You may have already tried some of these ideas, but perhaps you might
find something new in them.

I would be interested to learn how you end up approaching your problem.


Martin Dicke

There are two things I would suggest. first, check to see if they are
finding their head voice. Many girls have trouble matching pitch,
actually could match low pitches, but were unable to make the
transition to head voice, and would begin to drone at a single pitch
when they reached the point where they needed to flip to head voice.

My other recommmedation is for when that doesn't work. First, have
them sing a song a cappella, and you match the key they are in, rather
than having them match a key you establish. Have them sing something
simple, and find which key they are in, and gradually play along, then
try to change keys. Also, have them cup their hands behing their ears
and make a tunnel for the sound to come from their mouth. Some times
they are not able to hear what they are singing, and this can help
them become aware of what is actually coming out of their mouth.

Hope this helps!

Daniel T. Anderson
Director of Vocal Music
Valley Southwoods Freshman High School
West Des Moines, IA 50265

Oh gosh, that is frustrating, isn't it? I believe that your students
will need quite a bit of individual work (call them private lessons)
so you can try different approaches with them, and drill and practice
matching pitch and reading notation as well.

You might try asking each one to sing a pitch, and then you should
sing one note at the same time (not necessarily the same pitch), and
ask them whether the notes match or not. Do this a few tims in
different registers. They should be able to learn what it feels like
to sing the same pitch as anoter person, and what simultaneous
different pitches sound like. When they're good at identifying "same
pitch" or "different pitch" reverse the process. Sing a note, and ask
them to sing the same note you are. Ask them to evaluate immediately
whether they sang the same note or a different one. Once they are
reliable with this, try groups of two notes, then three, and so on.
Try different registers, too; they'll probably have the greatest
success with pitches close to their speaking range at first, and may
not have found their head register. girls' voices change too in
puberty, although obviously not as significantly as in boys' voices.
They may have never experienced using their upper register, and that
might be part of the problem, although I'm guessing here.

You might try using hand signals (teahc them to the girls) or other
physical representations of the relation between pitches. Incorporate
the visual learning path by teaching them basic musical notation, to
link what they hear with what they see. John Bertalot's "Five Wheels"
book on sight-singing (published by Hinshaw, I think) has a useflu

Good luck. I'd be interested to hear other suggestions you get, and
to hear what works for you your students.

Kirin Nielsen

I am curious, since I teach voice classes in a community college and
deal with apparent students who are initially unable to match pitches.
Are either or both of these students educationally handicapped. I
have taught vocal music for thirty years, and in all of that time, I
have found only two students who could I could nt teach to match
pitches with any consistency; each was severely educatiohnally
handicapped and had rather profound memory issues in all areas of
their studies. Most of the apparent non pich matchers that I deal
with have problems changing vocal registers, and, with time, can be
taught to match pitches. Not all of these students are capable of
dealing with ensemble choral literature, even after they learn to sing
accompanied melodies.

I apologize for the late response to this message, but I do deal with
this problem on a daily basis and am curious as to the exact nature of
your students' problems.

Glenn DeLange

Please share whatever results you receive with me, please! I have a
similar issue, but I have the same size choir as you, but 5-6 girls
with this "issue." All of the girls have not sung since middle school
(I don't know if the problem existed then). Having a husband who used
to have a real problems singing in tune, I have worked with him, off
and on, for almost 10 years (he sings very well now), but we only have
4 years maximum with these girls, I understand. I have tested the
ranges of the girls in question, individually, and actually several of
them are actually better off on the alto part (they "stick out"
less...) One of them almost matched pitch, when I put her between two
students who sang well. I would suggest NOT putting any of these
students on the end of a row (they can benefit by standing/sitting
between two competent singers).

If you find any solutions, please let me know.


Lynda A. Maccini Pavloff
Choral Director
Walpole High School
275 Common Street
Walpole, MA 02081


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on January 9, 2005 10:00pm
I have a high school female student who also has the pitch-matching problem. I think her problem is one of inexperience and lack of focus. Working with her in private lessons, I discovered that she was always singing in her chest voice, so anything above her natural chest voice turned in to a sort of monotone. At a recent ACSI seminar that I attended by Phil Boehr, he suggested helping students to identify their head voice and chest voice in a way that was very effective for this particular student. Have the student give their best big German Shepherd dog bark (woof!) That is the chest voice. Then, have them bark like a little Taco Bell dog (ruf!) That is the head voice. (Of course, you'd have to be very enthusiastic presenting this for your choir, and it may only be effective in a one-on-one setting.) It made a huge difference for my student. I continually reminded her to sing in her head voice, and her pitch-matching is MUCH better. But, if she starts in to sing without pausing first to focus on what she is about to do, the pitch-matching can go out the window again. Anyway, best wishes and hope you find something that helps them.
on January 21, 2007 10:00pm
22 years old is not at all too late to deal with this. Sounds to me like it's mainly a vocal production problem, something that a good voice teacher could handle. If you're already taking voice lessons, and this isn't getting fixed, get a new teacher!
on January 21, 2007 10:00pm
I am also a very frustrated 22 year old singer who is now vey self- concious about my art becuase I am cosistently off-pitch I can match pitch usually but when it comes to singing and maintaing the tonic or key of the music all the way through I lose pitch direction ans have melisma problems as well. As far as my voiceit is a real beauty IMHO warm, and velvety, and pure, but I am always criticized for my lack of vocl tuning which I find embarassing at the age 22!
on January 29, 2008 10:00pm
"Pitch matching is like many other human abilities: It is not
developed automatically, but through experience,"

.. forgive me but I have to differ: I have a musical ear that I was born with, and cannot IMAGINE being unable to match pitch. I have been in a non-auditioned choir for the past 5 years and I have to say the tone deaf individuals drove me berserk inside.
It's not just a learned skill to 'hear' notes. I have music forever jumbling around in my head, and it's always in the key in which I first heard it. I'm frequently asked to hum a song's key to start the others.

I'm not saying this to boast, as I can't take credit for what I didn't work for; just that some people are able to automatically hear musical notes and MATCH them without effort. True, the breathing techniques are skills that are taught. Anyone can learn the recipe, so to speak, but not everybody has the ingredients.

It's non-auditioned choirs I will never join again. I have no beef with their existence but I won't go see them, as the pitch issue will always irritate me. I can't help that any more than a tone deaf person can control a lack of perceiving notes.

Cheerz, tho' ..
K. Furey
on February 15, 2008 10:00pm
I'm a guitar teacher, and a technique I use to work on matching pitch with my students involves a guitar and a chromatic tuner. First, I have the student play a note on the guitar (assuming the guitar is properly tuned). The tuner will then tell the student what note they played on the guitar. I then have them try to sing the fretted note. If that note shows up as something else, they are expected to play the note they just sang so they can hear what note they hit. Its also possible to try singing a note first, checking it with the tuner, and then match it on the fretboard.