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Pitch Problems?

Dear Leontine,

I think I do well with my dramatic presence and abilities when I sing but I’ve had a nagging feeling that a friend just confirmed: I can go off pitch especially when I am getting emotionally enthusiastic about my songs. I’m not a trained singer – have never had a lesson in my life – but I’m wondering if there is anything I can do to deal with this.


Dear John,

It is quite normal for emotional engagement to affect the voice.

Actually, it’s wonderful that you are so connected to the text.

It would be helpful to know whether your tendency is to be sharp or flat, as the problem tends to be one or the other.

In truth, if you have never had lessons and are performing to a high standard, now is probably the time to take the plunge and find yourself a good vocal coach.

It is important to get to the bottom of why you are out of tune; your singing teacher should come and watch you perform, in order to establish what is going on at a physiological level.

Having gleaned this from watching you perform, the problem should be addressed in the studio where, with the right exercises and adjustments to your technique, you will learn to establish a new muscle memory.

If your new technique is understood and practiced over a few weeks, it will eventually become natural for you.

The beginning of this process does require some discipline, as you must practice with the new technique, avoiding old habits.

If you ‘practice’ your bad habits, you will find it difficult to establish a new pattern.

Now to get to the pitch problems: if you find that you ‘push’ the voice when you become emotional, see whether you can observe which part of your anatomy tightens or grips.

If it is your jaw and your tongue root, the chances are that you are flat.

This is because the jaw is attached to the tongue, and tension in one affects the other.

If the tongue and the jaw are tight, it is particularly difficult to lift the soft palate.

A flat soft palate results in a loss of high overtones, which in turn produces a tone which has a lack of ‘top’ and sounds flat and slightly pressed.

A tight tongue root also makes it difficult to lift your larynx and tilt the thyroid cartilage efficiently.

In order to produce easy high notes, the tongue root should be relaxed and preferably sitting forward, allowing the larynx to move up and down freely.

If you say ‘j’ or the word ‘sing’, you will find the sides of the tongue sitting up against your upper molars.

This is an excellent place for the tongue – forward and out of the way.

Now check your posture.

If you have a tendency to stick your neck out when you are emotional, the tilting mechanism becomes more and more difficult.

Your vocal folds are attached into your thyroid cartilage or adam’s apple.

For higher pitches, the thyroid cartilage tilts forward, stretching the vocal folds, to enable the production of higher pitches.

This mechanism is impeded if you stick out your neck or arch your face upwards.

The answer is to try to observe yourself and ‘play’ with finding solutions.

Tension travels, so if you are emotionally charged, and your face is tense, tension builds up in other body parts.

Experiment with isolating so that your posture remains open and your jaw and tongue remain loose.

Although you can do this yourself, it will be much easier and more effective with a professional, experienced coach on board for at least a few sessions.

Good luck!

-Leontine Hass

Associated Studios
The Word and Music Company
Advanced Performers Studio

Questions for Leontine can be sent to VoiceCouncil’s editor: editor@voicecouncil.com