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Student sings consistently way too high

Hello Colleagues,
I have a student who is singing much higher than a given pitch.  There is no consistency, sometimes a third, fourth, fifth etc.  I thought I had found a way to help the student with this by having her sing the highest pitch she could and matching it.  Then I would have her ascend in pitch and keep working to go lower over time.  It worked once and the next day she sang even higher (much higher than I ever thought a 7th grader could sing).  I plan to keep trying this method, but wonder if anyone out there has any insights. She has a BEAUTIFUL tone!  
Thank you!
Replies (7): Threaded | Chronological
on November 8, 2014 3:42pm
Hello Anne!
Awaking the brains of our middle school beginning singers is a tricky process that requires tenacity and a multi-pronged approach.  
Here is a link to one of the exercises I do with my middle school beginners:
There are many other exercises on that channel.  Just type "Ear Training" into the search and you will find the others.  
Hope it helps!
Dale Duncan
Creator of S-Cubed:  Successful Sight Singing for Middle School Teachers and Their Students
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 9, 2014 1:29pm
Hello Anne,
There are soooooooo many factors that come in to play here. I'm going to only explore a couple of what I've found when teaching someone who cannot match pitch. Find a way to get to do a 1 on 1 with her.
I. What have you tried to help her match pitch?
     A. Piano
          1. Correct Octave of pitch
          2. 1 Octave Lower than pitch
               a. Sometimes students are trained to sing along with male voices or they had a male teacher and they are used to matching up the octave.
               b. This might encourage her to sing lower.
     B. Matching your own singing voice
          1. Hold out your voice and see if she can match it.
               a. Make sure she does not try to start with you at the same time.
               b. Remind her to listen to the note and then try to match it when she is ready.
          2. Sing three pitches in a row and ask her to match them.
               a. Start by three of the same pitches in a row on a neutral syllable.
                    1. Don't let her pick the syllable, you pick for her.
                         a. You don't want to add to the uncertainty that she is doing something wrong or right.
                         b. You can always change it if you need to. Let her know and trust that you are the expert.
                    2. Play around with different ranges and search for success.
                         a. Celebrate small successes.
                         b. Make sure your encouragement is genuine. She'll see right through them if they are not.
               b. Sing different pitches in different registers.
                    1. Keep searching to see if she is better going up or going down in pitch.
                    2. Where does she tend to get it right?
                         a. Keep exploring that area.
                         b. Try to expand it.
                    3. KEEP TELLING HER TO TAKE TIME TO LISTEN. This is not a race.
     C. Is she following through with the basic mechanics?
          1. Correct posture.
          2. Healthy singing with enough air in the tone.
          3. Check everything. It could be the slightest basic mechanic that is not being followed through.
          4. Keep her singing through her healthy head tone. Hootie the owl.
II. What do you do if this is a success?
     A. Simple. Keep going. Keep playing. Keep encouraging, and try your best to make it fun.
     B. Continue to build rapport with this student and let them know that it really makes you happy that she doesn't ever give up. Singing is a skill that can be developed.
     C. Find the routines that work with her and DRILL DRILL DRILL in a healthy amount of times. Repetition is the #1 teacher of anything. Do it right, do it correctly, and don't let anything other than your target goal be acceptable.
III. What do you do if this is not a success?
     A. Continue to repeat drills and hope that repetition will somehow sink in.
     B. Place her in different places that doesn't harm the chorus if you continue to have her in your chorus.
     C. Never give up on her.
          1. Complement sandwich critique if you can.
               a. Example: I like how you are _______?
               b. Now let’s try to add this and see what happens. ______?
               c. Then continue to do this, and you’ll be on the next level.
          2. Continue to celebrate small success.
There is so much to explore. Keep encouraging and pay close attention to the details. Some students can slip out of bad habits and some can't. Your goal is to create a positive experience for her so that when she is a person who is grown, she'll fight for the arts and remember that teacher that would never give up on her.
Good luck.
.: John David Maybury
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 9, 2014 8:39pm
I teach elementary students. I have had this experience occasionally with Kinder and 1st grade students. Like your student, it is not a consistent interval higher, it's just high. I'm not sure why they do it, but it usually resolves itself after awhile. I think perhaps they are trying out their head voices, or maybe they just can't distinguish their own voices from the group. Singing alone they are typically just fine. I'd really rather deal with the sky-high singers than the low-drone singers. The high ones fix themselves, the low ones don't.
If your student sings well alone, it might be she that she can't find her voice in a group. Ask her to press one ear closed so she can hear herself, and leave one open so she can hear others. That simple technique has cleaned up a lot of off-pitch singing in my classes. 
I'm not sure if any of this will apply to your age students. I just chimed in on the chance it might help.
Applauded by an audience of 2
on November 10, 2014 4:37am
Three more ideas to add the excellent ones already given. I have found these help in the process of "teaching a singer unison"::
1) Hold her wrist (with permission). Have her sing a pitch and then match her pitch. As she sildes away from your pitch, which she may, move her hand to illustrate to her what she is doing.  Then do it again until she achieves some accuracy. 
2) If that doesn't work, hold her wrist again (with permission) and ask her to hold her outstretched hand parallel to the floor at about chest level. Hold your hand in front of her at chest level. Sing a pitch in her range (her speech range is a good start) and hold it while  simultaneously moving  your hand up or down to indicate the interval. ( This will look like singing solfegge with Curwen hand signals except you will be just using the "DO" position). Then have her match your pitch. As she sings, move her hand up or down to illustrate what her voice is doing and to show her how far "off" she is from your pitch.  As she gets closer (or farther) from your pitch, move her hand accordingly. If she can't match your pitch, match hers. Practice other intervals. Then move on to singing the major scale; have her match each scale step before mvoing on.  
This sounds complicated but you are just using her hand to show her what she is doing and how it relates to your pitch.
3)  Similar to #2 above, have her sing a glissando, moving her hand up and down while she slides.
The goal is to have her experience a unison, and then another unison and so on.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 16, 2014 8:01am
This is a great kinesthetic tool! I'm stealing it.
.: John David Maybury
on November 12, 2014 11:51am
Thanks for the terrific suggestions!  I'll let you know how it goes.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 13, 2014 8:27am
I teach K-6 and start each class with pitch matching (usually 3 different pitches in succession).  I ask students to close their eyes, and turn the lights out, though there's a little light coming around the wiindow blinds.  Periodically I explain/remind that we are trying to limit the information to our brains, working only with our ears and trying to block out information from our eyes.  I sing a pitch for about 5 seconds, then stop and they imagine they still hear my note--"inner hearing."  Then I say "breathe and sing" and they sing the note.  Students can put their hands behind their ears or use one of those plastic devices to direct more of their sound to their ears;  putting an accurate singer on either side helps, too.
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