Home GENERAL SINGING - Ken Tamplin Vocal Academy Forum

Pitch-- how accurate do you need to be to the correct frequency?


I'm working on pitch and was just wondering, how accurate do singers need to be to the correct frequency of the note in order to not sound off-pitch? For example, if singing an A4, how far from 440 Hz can the vocal note be until it starts sounding off-pitch? I have a tuner app called Pitchlab on my phone that I am using to see how well I am matching the pitch of notes played on my keyboard, and see that I am often flat. It's a chromatic tuner and I can hit the right note (according to the tuner), but the needle is often a bit to the left of center. I'm not sure what units the tuner scale is divided into (it goes from -50 to +50) but I think it's the same as a standard guitar tuner. So I was wondering how precise I need to be...



  • highmtnhighmtn Administrator, Moderator, Enrolled, Pro, 3.0 Streaming Posts: 15,333
    Pitch programs and tuners can drive you a little bit crazy. What sounds good to the ear may not sound good to a tuner. In fact, you will find that your pitch varies all the time, no matter how much you try to hold it perfectly on a pitch.

    We're human.

    Perhaps the question is, how much can you vary it before it starts to sound flat or sharp to YOU?

    I have pretty good pitch discernment, yet when I'm using a program or a tuner, I usually have to adjust my pitch to what sounds WRONG to my ear, in order to satisfy a machine. It's really hard to keep the green light on and never let the flat or sharp red lights come on.

    If it's any consolation, I can play an A 440 on my piano (electronic) and it also can drift towards sharp, and sometimes flat. But I have to say that the Green Light (right on the money) stays on more consistently with an electronic instrument than it does with my voice.

    At gigs, if I'm about to sing a song, and I hear a guitarist that's got a slightly out-of-tune guitar, I won't start the song until they tune up with a tuner. They'll say "it sounds OK to me, let's go" and I say, please check it. Almost invariably, it will be the B string or the G that's a little flat or sharp, according to the tuner. I just hate to try to sing on-key with out-of-tune instruments being played. My bandmates always wonder why a drummer can hear what they can't hear.

    I can play a note on my keyboard and watch a graphing program hold a pretty straight line on a note. My voice has ever-present movement in it, yet it sounds good to my critical ear. So take a tuner or software program as scientifically correct, yet more stringent than a critical ear.

  • NathancNathanc Member, 2.0 PRO Posts: 27
    This is a good question. I'm researching it. From what little I've done, it seems that you can be about 25 cents off and still perceived as in tune, but maybe not.
    I'd like to get some isolated vocals of a professional singer with widely acknowledged fine skill (never mind taste) and see how he does. George Michael, Ray Charles, Michael Buble, Al Green, David Bowie, Paul McCartney, etc. See how they do. I know Ray Charles is sometimes out of tune (although he's my favorite singer of that group).
  • doc_ramadanidoc_ramadani Administrator, 2.0 PRO, Facility Management Posts: 3,978
    Hi @Nathanc,

    from your status I can see that you are on "2.0 PRO". In the Pro Packs (i.e. ProPack 6 -> Pop -> 03. Bruno Mars ñVocal Only.mp3) you have a lot of vocals-only recordings from Ken. I have never analyzed them for pitch, because they sound awesome. :smile:

  • NathancNathanc Member, 2.0 PRO Posts: 27
    Thanks, that should prove informative. I will see what happens. But I think the pro packs are extra money so it may be a while.
  • doc_ramadanidoc_ramadani Administrator, 2.0 PRO, Facility Management Posts: 3,978
    Hi @Nathanc,

    but I guess you already own the ProPack! KTVA updated your status to "2.0 PRO". And they did that based on the receipt you sent in. So have a look to the KTVA folders on your computer. You should have them.

  • NathancNathanc Member, 2.0 PRO Posts: 27
    I found this of Paul McCartney . . . this does not sound in tune to me. I had no idea! Maybe this was a demo. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=579mXDD_zhY
  • doc_ramadanidoc_ramadani Administrator, 2.0 PRO, Facility Management Posts: 3,978
    Hi @Nathanc,

    you are right. Paul McCartney sounds a little bit off pitch here and there.

  • NathancNathanc Member, 2.0 PRO Posts: 27
    I'll look for the ProPacks. Thanks!
  • NathancNathanc Member, 2.0 PRO Posts: 27
    edited May 2019
    That matches what I've seen so far although I don't know much about the two singers you mention. I've been using an app that measures my own voice and have started testing other singers. I'm not sure my testing methods are really that on, but so far it seems that famous male singers (the only kind I've tested) are around 85% on, so 15 cents off, with important notes held for a relatively long time tending to score closer to the keyboard reference pitch.
    However, I've not been using voice only, so this may be way off.
  • NathancNathanc Member, 2.0 PRO Posts: 27
    The equal temperament system usually runs about 12-17 cents off true intervals from just intonation, so I don't think it's realistic for anyone relatively normal and without "perfect pitch" to aim for anything closer than about 15 cents off for 2nds, 3rds, 6ths, and major 7ths. The fourths, fifths, and dominant 7ths should run much closer, and I know from my experiments that fifths are are a lot easier for me personally. This is just my personal theory based on my interpretation of the differences between just temperament and equal temperament and also would not apply to a capella groups. My current aim is to get to around 83%-87% and leave it at that except for octaves, fourths, and fifths.
    The more important question is how to get your pitch closer to in tune. I've found some apps useful but perhaps not as useful as singing along with someone who has excellent pitch. Carl Wilson of the Beach Boys was recommended recently as a model of near-perfect intonation, and he supposedly had perfect pitch. I suspect Michael Buble is nearly spot on.
    Recent singers who are auto-tuned should of course be spot on and might make good models. This sounds ironic but for purposes of pitch improvement I don't see any objection. Now if I could only find recent singers who are auto-tuned and whom I can stand to listen to.

  • This is slightly off-topic, but I don't think having perfect pitch means you can sing perfectly on pitch. Perfect pitch means you can hear any note on any instrument or vibrating object and correctly identify its pitch. But being able to produce that sound yourself is different. That involves cord closure and good diaphragmatic support. Ear training helps singing, but if it was all we needed, this course would be very different.
  • NathancNathanc Member, 2.0 PRO Posts: 27
    My first round of research indicates that singers tend to be around 85% of equal temperament pitch on sustained notes. (The only kind of note I've analyzed is a sustained note). Some are more like 75%.
    I found one Tony Bennett recording which was around 90% or higher. That was Tony in his prime.
    The two most accurate singers I've found working today (aside from Tony) are one of the Avett Brothers and Lucinda Williams, both of whom tend to score 90% or higher. But they're singing pentatonic melodies, I think, which must be easier. I also use just intonation to check them and their scores are more accurate that way.
    I've tested myself singing along with the record (using headphones to block the original vocal line), and on a good day I'm up there around 85% to 90% on the long sustained notes. I am not consistent and have bad days where I can't even get close to that.
    I checked one of Ken's lesson videos and he was around 85%, but I'd say his voice on that video was about as weak as I've seen it on any video, and pitch was in no way the focus of the lesson, so presumably he'd be significantly more on pitch if he were making a recording rather than just demonstrating things to a student.
    I suppose my initial conclusion would be that we should aim for 85% or better if we want to sound professional in terms of rock music and pop.
    I want to check that performance of "Bridge over Troubled Water" that Ken critiqued on YT. That woman had an extraordinary voice. I'm going to bet that she's at least 90%.

  • NathancNathanc Member, 2.0 PRO Posts: 27
    How have you trained your ears, then? What did you do?

    My current aim is to get better voice control so that I can make up melodies. It seems that these tools do help a lot in that respect. They've also helped me figure out that time of day is important. For example, late afternoon is usually a lot better in terms of pitch! I might be way off at 8 a.m. and in the 90% range at 5pm.

    Of course, in the end, the ears will have it, but it helps to have an objective feedback mechanism. I've felt that I was quite accurate and the analyzer (TonalEnergy app) says, No, you're off, especially on that third. Then, if I work on it, I can lock in on the frequency and return to it later.

    By the way, I just checked Jacob Collier and he's in the 90-95% range on the sustained notes.

  • NathancNathanc Member, 2.0 PRO Posts: 27
    I don't have problems with pitch discernment on a relative scale (compared to other musicians), or anyway the app I use says I am at the level of a professional musician in that respect.
    I tried Ear Master (I actually edited some of their technical documentation) but did not find it very helpful, perhaps more because of me than the program.
    By the way, the most perfect pitch I've found so far is in the St. Philips Boy Choir, but the recording might be auto-tuned although I doubt it since such singers are usually pre-selected for amazing pitch and because I think (I might be wrong) that choirs are harder to auto-tune. Also, it's only on the long sustained notes that they are spot on. When they're gliding through sixths or thirds they are more around 85% or less.
    I agree that singing slowly and paying attention to both pitch and tone have been helpful so far.
  • NathancNathanc Member, 2.0 PRO Posts: 27
    Oh, by the way, I think one weakness of Ear Master and other relative interval programs is that they use equal temperament. An equal temperament third is actually pretty jarring if you have good pitch discernment. It sounds ugly. This ugliness is masked in group performances, but when it's brought out as a separate interval, to me, at least, it sounds pretty bad. And it's in no way natural since it's technically adjusted to fit within all 12 notes.
  • NathancNathanc Member, 2.0 PRO Posts: 27
    Here's a look at the difference between just and equal intervals. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6NlI4No3s0M
  • NathancNathanc Member, 2.0 PRO Posts: 27
    Pitch discernment is not my problem, relatively speaking, but being able to discern a pitch by itself doesn't mean that you can sing the pitch or control it. Maybe I misunderstood your question. I can discern very small differences in pitch. E.g. on InTune (an app), I can detect down to around a 1 cent difference on the simpler mode (constant high pitch). But I know someone who can do significantly better than I (down to 1/2 cent) and he can't sing in tune at all. Pitch discernment is probably a necessary component of voice control and of singing in tune, but by itself it does little or nothing.
    I want to be able to sing in tune so that I can control my own pitch perfectly to the point where, for example, I could even sing a minor 2nd accurately. My most important goal is to compose melodies by singing. That requires major voice control.
    I blew up my voice two years ago and am just regaining adequate voice control recently.
  • NathancNathanc Member, 2.0 PRO Posts: 27
    edited May 2019
    You might be interested in the TonalEnergy app. It lets you switch easily between just and equal temperaments. Its pitch measures are pretty accurate but not perfect. I'd say they are off by about 2 cents. I could be wrong about that.
  • NathancNathanc Member, 2.0 PRO Posts: 27
    A minor 2nd? It's quite dissonant so probably hard to hit because it is going to clash with the other notes. It's not necessarily hard to sing it chromatically, solo, just sliding up from the tonic, but I think it's hard to sing it when you're singing a song with accompaniment.
    I think at this point I am "okay" as to pitch -- on a good day. But I have days where I'm really pretty bad. I don't have consistent control. It also varies a lot with the song.
    Anyway, I don't like to be "okay" at things. And also I know a bit about how stress can affect on pitch singing. I run the music club at my schools (various ones) and I've seen students who can just nail a song in rehearsal fall apart when they walk out on a stage with a thousand people looking at them. I'm not immune from that kind of pressure myself. It's painful to watch, even more painful for most people to experience as a performer.
    I also like to improvise and that's a very hard thing to do with pitch control, you know. You're reaching for a pitch that you can only hear in your head.
  • NathancNathanc Member, 2.0 PRO Posts: 27
    I'm not sure we're talking about the same thing when we say "minor 2nd." I mean a half step above the tonic. So C# in the key of C major. Maybe you just mean a half step.
    I'm not sure that you've ever composed music, but I'm getting the strong impression that you have not, or anyway are not particularly interested in that aspect of music. So I appreciate your input, but you have to actually compose music to know what I'm talking about. Singing a song someone else has written is quite a different thing form composing music of your own.
  • HuduVuduHuduVudu 2.0 PRO Posts: 1,818
    Here at KTVA we focus on singing. It is not important whether you make the melodies yourself or if you're singing melodies that someone else has created, that is not why we are here. The technique for singing these melodies correctly is our focus here. Accurate pitch is something that comes with proper technique. Some songs have transitions that are difficult to execute and though they may be done correctly in sterile environments like when practicing scales they may be difficult to execute properly in the wilds of singing.

    Pitch is not a binary thing and accurate pitch in some cases is difficult to execute even for a seasoned singer. Getting into the weeds of pitch based on music theory is pointless to the proper technique of singing. Often times the puzzle that singers must solve is how to deal with a particular note sequence using a set of vowels. An advanced singer will rise to a challenge like this because it is new to them making it something fun and interesting. We all should strive to find this place because this where the actual application of all the technical understanding we are putting together as students leads. I know I look forward to this day.

    Like @blondiewales said don't overthink the issue of pitch it is but one piece of the many pieces that we MUST put together to form an advanced singing technique.
  • Chris82Chris82 2.0 PRO Posts: 594
    edited May 2019
    I can think of a number of artists who possessed perfect pitch. It's pretty rare, something like 1 in every 10k people have it. Some believe perfect pitch is one of those things your are born with while some Studies Indicate that it can be trained and learned.

    Artists With Perfect Pitch:
    Michael Jackson
    Ella Fitzgerald
    Bing Crosby
    Mariah Carey

    And this will make you totally jealous:
  • NathancNathanc Member, 2.0 PRO Posts: 27
    If anyone is interested, I have discovered that singing with a guitar that is slightly out of tune is one of the worst things you can do for your pitch! I use a Peterson Strobe Tuner now and it helps a lot. Guitars go out of tune constantly (the pros generally tune up between every song), and the phone apps don't quite get there.
  • NathancNathanc Member, 2.0 PRO Posts: 27
    I also found this: "In terms of production, it has been noted that even
    well-trained singers do not always produce notes that are
    perfectly tuned. Seashore (1938) noted that opera singers
    often start about 9 cents flat, for first 200 ms, before correcting their tuning; this correction from a flat onset has
    been noted to an even greater extend in untrained singers (Hutchins & Campbell, 2009). Prame (1997) showed
    that professional singers, in their recorded work, could
    be up to +42 to –44 cents off pitch. Presumably, these
    recorded versions were approved by the singer and various others, and these mistunings were either unnoticed
    or deemed acceptable. In contrast, violinists and wind
    players conform rather closely to the equal-tempered
    scale, with average deviations of about only 11 to 17
    cents, significantly less than singers..."
  • NathancNathanc Member, 2.0 PRO Posts: 27
    I'd say this leads to the general conclusion that any singer who is about 80% on pitch (no more than 20 cents off) is going to be perceived as on pitch by the vast majority of the audience, and anyone who is within ten cents is going to be perceived as spot on by virtually everyone except a professional critic, to whom George Michael and Maria Callas are going to be, eh, a little pitchy there.
Sign In or Register to comment.