Staying in Key

This is a subject that’s so ridiculously simple yet is the source of the most debilitating frustration to the aspiring singer. Staying on key seems like a mysterious thing that is out of our control and therefore not improvable. Some people believe they need good ears to do it, others think there has to be a gift of some sort for it to be possible.

More often than not, the more mysterious something is, the more simple it actually is. Let’s digress for a moment here: something simple, done repeatedly to the level of mastery, until the artist with the skill looks more than human. Example: singers with explosive, high-pitched voices that make it look (or sound) like they’re screaming. The fact is, all the singer did was some simple exercises that first develop the vocal chords to comfortably vibrate at a higher pitch, and then training the vocal chords to add colour to the sound – in this case more compression, which to the untrained ear is similar to a person screaming.

The poor audience liked the performance, and tries to emulate it in the shower. But instead of colouring a high-pitched voice with scream-like effects, they tried to scream the note instead. They find out soon enough that they can’t do it, because the voice just wasn’t built to scream like that. The person then concludes that he “just doesn’t have it”.

Same thing with singing in key. In normal day to day conversations, we don’t normally here volatile pitches in speech, unless the speaker has damaged vocal chords, of course. Otherwise, in healthy individuals, the average pitch stays the same throughout the dialogue. You don’t hear people speaking in normal voice, then falsetto in the next sentence, then really deep the next. That’s how simple and natural singing is. Or that’s how it should be, at least.

So how do we get there? Simple. By practicing the different pitches and tones that we use in singing, and practicing them until they are to us like breathing. The only reason you can’t stay on key is because your mind is distracted towards other stuff, like hitting the high notes. Once you get the notes out of the way, the expression – in this case singing in key – comes automatically. So, hope that helps. Happy singing!

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