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The Secrets to Staying on Pitch

Craig Antony Lees’ vocal group from Leeds College of Music has moved onto the finals of the BBC’s Pitch Battle TV competition.

We ask him to reveal the secrets to the group’s success…

The technique of pitching

You are in a ‘Pitch Battle’ against other groups – is there actually a way that you can practice pitch?
Absolutely, being able to pitch accurately is an essential skill for any singer. Personally, I practice using a tuning fork (tuned to an A). Whenever I have a spare moment I practice pitching different notes, intervals and chords from the A note. A bit old fashioned I know, but it works for me!

What is something you’ve learned about pitch by doing this that all singers can apply?
Don’t under estimate the power of your vowel shapes! When singing in harmony (as we do a lot in the show) it is really important to consider the vowel shapes you are using. As a group, we can all be singing the right notes and the right lyrics, but if someone’s vowel shapes are slightly darker or brighter than the rest of the group it can really throw the blend and the pitching.

How performance can affect pitching

You are under bright lights, on a stage in a pressure situation – does this have a bad effect on all the singing work your group has done – or does it make it better?

As a group I think we actually perform at our best when under pressure. There were some amazing choirs and vocal groups in the show that we had to compete against in order to progress through to the final. This meant that we had to come out fighting! Our time on stage is all a blur to me, I just focused on communicating each and every lyric, both to the judges and the audience at home.

What has been the biggest challenge in fine tuning your vocal performances?
The show has forced us to hone in on the subtleties of our performance. It can be tempting to belt out a song at the top of our lungs because this is what we feel will be most impressive. However, sometimes the softest vocal sounds and dynamics can have the greatest impact. As singers it is important that we remember that it’s all about the music, not our ego.

What was something that went better than you thought it would?
At the end of the show we had the privilege of singing with that week’s celebrity judge, Will Young. It was an amazing moment for us but in all the excitement I feared we may have made some slips in our timing and pitch.However, watching it back this was actually one of the strongest moments in the show for us. I guess it goes to show what you can achieve when you just get lost in the moment.

The live final will air at 7:30pm BST, 22nd July on BBC One and will feature the winners from each heat along with their celebrity judges and a mystery wildcard act!

Craig Antony Lees is a contemporary vocal coach, choir director and arranger. He is a senior lecturer on the Popular Music Degree at Leeds College of Music and also holds the post of “Musician in Residence” for the West Yorkshire Playhouse program for young people. Craig is a director of The British Voice Association (BVA) and recipient of the Sing For Pleasure Young Conductors Scholarship’ (2015) Find out more at: www.livingvocally.com