Only 20 percent of singing skill is down to vocal control. The other 80 percent is determined by how well your music ear is trained. That’s a quite remarkable fact, don't you agree? It's true that some have a stronger singing voice than other, but while you may sing with your voice, it’s your sense of hearing that’s truly responsible for the quality of your singing.
How your ear decodes musical note pitches shapes your identity as a singer. Your musical ear is also responsible how well, or uniquely, you reproduce musical notes with your voice.
Without proper training in pitch, which you can only control and measure with your ears, your singing won’t sound as good as you would like. To truly develop as a singer, you have to work just as hard, if not more, on your pitch ear as you do your voice.
But how do you train your pitch ear?
How to Train Your Music Ear for Singing
To vocalize music notes, you will need to first imagine what the note sounds like before you sing it. That is known as audiation.
This is the inner voice that helps you separate each musical note, determining how high or low they should be pitched. Once you get this important skill tied down, most problems with singing out of tune should be solved.
Now, by singing and practicing your vocals long enough you can get your pitch ear correctly attuned. But what if you do not have the luxury of time and just grown tired of always being the one in your choir to drag or overpitch a note?
There are exercises you can do to get your voice and pitch ear working in perfect harmony for greater pitch accuracy. More on that shortly, but first, let’s expand on why ear training is important for you.
Benefits of Ear Training for Singers
To illustrate how important ear training (or pitch accuracy) really is, imagine how awful a stringed instrument like a guitar would sound without proper tuning. Guitarists almost instinctively always first tune their guitars. As a singer, your voice is your instrument. It needs just as much tuning.
Only in the case of pitch, and pretty much everything you will do with your voice when singing, it’s the ear that controls your voice.
Training the ear on how to read pitch and sharpening your audiation skills to accurately reproduce notes is the key to singing success. Here are a few benefits of ear training for singers:
1. Improved creativity
As you train your ear and boost your music sensitivity, you will discover amazing new ways to use your voice. Suddenly, you can judge notes for pitch accuracy and length. This will enable you to manipulate pitch, even improvise here and there, and sing the same music pieces in radically different and fun ways.
2. Pitch accuracy
If you can’t auralize and sing notes to the right pitch, it is safe to say music is not going to be an enjoyable pastime for you. Even if you somehow make it into the school or church choir, being the one to always sing out of tune will certainly not make you the star of the ensemble. With some correct ear training, your pitch accuracy will be on point.
3. Confidence boost
The ability to auralize and reproduce note pitch with accuracy makes you a more skilled singer and improves your whole technique immeasurably. And it won’t be long before you, and those who hear you sing, notice it. That improvement and the resultant positive feedback is perfect validation that will feed your confidence when you sing.
4. Greater music enjoyment
The resulting improved music sensitivity, skill, and confidence will unlock all that previously closeted creativity and make you a more natural musician. Your singing will feel effortless and the music you create will be richer. The result is you will enjoy your singing, which is the primary reason why most people sing.
Ear Training Exercises
Unless you are tone deaf, you should be able to train your ear for pitch. Don’t worry if your friend seems to have a natural ability for perfect vocal note pitching. Some people are that lucky: they are born with the skill. With the right training, you too can be just as good.
The main tool you will need to train your ear is your voice. Thankfully, you are in complete charge of it. If you do a good job caring for it, the exercises below should be a breeze. Here are a few everyday musical instruments and tools, and tutorials on how you can use them to train your pitch ear:
1. Digital tuner
A digital tuner is immensely useful when training yourself for pitch matching. Here you are basically training yourself to pick a note and singing it at the same pitch with accuracy. It’s pitch training’s foundational skill.
Choose a note on the tuner. Preferably, this should be a note in an octave you are comfortable singing in. Play the note and auralize it in your head. Then sing it and watch the tuner’s display to see if your pitch is too flat, high, low, or on point.
You will probably not get it right the first time, so try again until you get it right. Do the same exercise with other notes outside the octave range you are most comfortable in. Repeat the cycle until your voice pitch is on point for all the target notes.
This exercise will help improve your pitch sensitivity so you can detect inaccuracies and also be able to manipulate pitch to enrich your singing. The exercise will train your ear to read and reproduce pitch in single notes, chords, and scales. For this exercise, you will need a recording device so you can play back and check your progress.
Pick a note on the keyboard, like the C note in any octave and play it. Auralize it before playing it again but, this time, singing the note to the same pitch. You may need to try the note in different octaves to find one you are comfortable singing in. The desired end is that both your vocal and piano notes should gel.
After satisfying yourself that you can match the piano note’s pitch accurately, move on to see if you can do the same in a chord consisting of notes of varying pitch. Here, you are training your ear to isolate a note from a chord and match it perfectly with your voice, even with the distraction of the other notes.
Play the C chord and pick a note, for example, the middle note. Sing that note, without misplacing it, as you play the chord again. Polish it and repeat the other notes in the chord and then repeat the cycle with the rest of the chords.
Amplify your benefits from this exercise by playing chords outside your octave range while singing in your preferred octave range. This trains your ear to stay in tune even when you sing in concert to other different pitched sounds.
It seems there is an app for everything these days. Not to be taken as a complaint, of course. In fact, the ear training apps out there make the exercise a whole lot easier! Most allow you to train and to test yourself on a range of skills, including interval comparison and singing, chord identification, scale identification, rhythm reading, dictation, imitation, and correction. Another attraction for apps is that there are plenty of free listings to choose from on both Google Play and the Apple App Store.
Ear Training Enables a Richer Singing Experience
As a singer it is imperative that you train your ear to separate musical notes and assign the right pitch to each. Fail at this and your singing just won’t sound musical. You won’t even know it when you sing out of tune, and thus can’t correct your pitch as you sing.
Ear training will help you sing better by improving your pitch sensitivity. With a properly tuned ear, you will be able to accurately measure pitch and auralize notes. You will also be able to manipulate pitch for different music notes and generally be more creative in your singing. It is advisable to dedicate five to 10 minutes of your practice time everyday to an ear training exercise you enjoy.
About the Author: Brian Collins
I am a classically trained singer who believes that every instrument requires maintenance - including the voice! I started my professional music studies at the age of 8 and competed in and won several local and state piano competitions. I graduated with honors and earned my Bachelor of Music Education in 2003, and since then I have studied with famous musicians and teachers around the world. I have also completed hundreds and hundreds of voice lessons, exploring various methods, and attended countless seminars on voice coaching for all ages.