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

Hi,

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...

Thanks!

Comments

  • highmtnhighmtn Posts: 14,489Administrator, Moderator, Enrolled, Pro
    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.

    Bob
  • NathancNathanc Posts: 21Member, 2.0 PRO
    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 Posts: 2,033Administrator, 2.0 PRO, Facility Management
    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:

    Doc
  • NathancNathanc Posts: 21Member, 2.0 PRO
    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 Posts: 2,033Administrator, 2.0 PRO, Facility Management
    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.

    Doc
  • NathancNathanc Posts: 21Member, 2.0 PRO
    I found this of Paul McCartney . . . this does not sound in tune to me. I had no idea! Maybe this was a demo.
  • doc_ramadanidoc_ramadani Posts: 2,033Administrator, 2.0 PRO, Facility Management
    Hi @Nathanc,

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

    Doc
  • NathancNathanc Posts: 21Member, 2.0 PRO
    I'll look for the ProPacks. Thanks!
  • blondiewalesblondiewales Posts: 325Pro
    edited April 23
    @Nathanc There's a lot of variables to your question. If you've ever opened up a vocal track in a program that had a pitch spectrometer, like Melodyne, you'll see what I mean. It operates on the principle that the pitch we perceive is the average of the pitch sang throughout the word. Unfortunately, they're not nice little lines, but mad squiggles. Sometimes it'll say it's quite off, but that's because a vocalist is sliding into the note. There are multiples ways a note can sound "in tune."

    That said, I don't really know a 100% pitch perfect singer. Ann Wilson and Ronnie James Dio come as close as anybody needs to, in my opinion. There are others, such as many classical singers.

    A note can sound flat to my ears if it's even slightly off. 25 cents off is quite flat, in my opinion, but it largely depends on the rest of the phrase. If everything is slightly off, it's a lot harder to tell and there's more room for error. If a singer is dead on the rest and slightly off on a single note, sometimes that'll jump out. TONE is really important to whether or not something is acceptable. If you have consistent tone, your singing will be a lot more beautiful AND it'll probably be more in tune. Then there's vibrato and how it covers a lot of pitch problems. I could go on. At the end of the day, I say we should all sing with our ears and not with our eyes.
  • NathancNathanc Posts: 21Member, 2.0 PRO
    edited May 1
    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 Posts: 21Member, 2.0 PRO
    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.

  • blondiewalesblondiewales Posts: 325Pro
    Yeah I don't know about those apps. It might be overthinking singing too much like I said, singing and music should be done with our ears, and not our eyes. Some famous singers were quite off key but remained popular because of their emotional delivery.

    Almost all modern music is tuned. That includes Bruno Mars, Lzzy Hale, Chris Cornell, Brent Smith (Shinedown), etc. Even new albums from old bands are probably tuned. The engineer often just does it automatically and doesn't even tell the artist.

    If you want to know how your pitch is, you could post a clip here and I and other members could comment on if it's "good enough," although that term is subject to context, such as being good enough for live performance but not necessarily studio recording.
  • SophiaSophia Posts: 2662.0 PRO
    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.
  • blondiewalesblondiewales Posts: 325Pro
    @sophia exactly right. I have friends with "perfect pitch" and they're not always in tune.
  • NathancNathanc Posts: 21Member, 2.0 PRO
    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%.

  • blondiewalesblondiewales Posts: 325Pro
    Hey man, I love analyzing stuff like this. I've gotta say though, when I was actively working on pitch like you are, I did very similar things.

    None of them really helped. It's hard to tell with tools what constitutes good singing. Someone could be 10 cents off, but have a vibrato so wide that it's very hard to tell. It's much more worth your time to train your ears to be able to tell when something is off and by how much.

    You have to sing with your ears and not your eyes, in my opinion. Get the technique and tone down. When you're singing correctly, pitch comes a lot easier.
  • NathancNathanc Posts: 21Member, 2.0 PRO
    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.

  • blondiewalesblondiewales Posts: 325Pro
    edited May 7
    Well it really depends on what kind of pitch problems you're having, technique-based or actual pitch discernment.

    In any case, you'll almost certainly benefit from ear training. Everyone that studies music has to do some kind of ear training. There's a program called Ear Master that could help you, especially interval and chord identification.

    Technique-based issues will improve with practice. Just focus on reducing strain in the throat when singing. If you get a nice enough tone, you can get away with a lot more pitch discrepancy. You can work on both technique AND ear training by learning songs and doing your scales slowly.

  • NathancNathanc Posts: 21Member, 2.0 PRO
    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 Posts: 21Member, 2.0 PRO
    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 Posts: 21Member, 2.0 PRO
    Here's a look at the difference between just and equal intervals.
  • blondiewalesblondiewales Posts: 325Pro
    edited May 8
    That's actually some really interesting stuff. I always had a little bit of trouble singing Ear Master's major 3rds. Maybe that's why.

    If you don't have a problem with pitch discernment, can I ask why you're bothering to do this other than out of curiosity? How good are you at singing in tune? Do you have any recordings we can hear?
  • NathancNathanc Posts: 21Member, 2.0 PRO
    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 Posts: 21Member, 2.0 PRO
    edited May 9
    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.
  • blondiewalesblondiewales Posts: 325Pro
    @Nathanc My bad, I just realized you aren't the original poster, haha. That clears some stuff up.

    How well can you sing in tune now? I'm a bit confused by you wanting to sing a minor 2nd accurately. Wouldn't that be one of the easiest intervals?
  • NathancNathanc Posts: 21Member, 2.0 PRO
    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.
  • blondiewalesblondiewales Posts: 325Pro
    @Nathanc I see what you mean. You might be overthinking it quite a bit. When we sing intervals against each other, some are dissonant and others are much more pleasant. When we sing to songs, we do not think "okay I'm going to sing a minor third here." We sing to the music. More accurately, we sing WITH the music. So with each note, you're listening to the instruments and harmonizing with that. Phrases involve a minor second all the time, and I assure you that they should not be harder to sing. If it is, you might be focusing on the wrong thing when you sing.
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