How to Sing Better - Hint #5

Sing in Tune!
by Kent Borrowdale

New 1/28/06

Santa Claus brought me a PocketTonesTM tone generator made by a company called Farley. It's available for about $15 plus handling from Harmony Marketplace. It's not as loud as a pitchpipe but it's smaller, has a hole for attaching to a keyring, and if you put it in your pocket, it doesn't attract pocket lint. The battery will last a long time if you're careful with it.

There are two buttons. The left one specifies the tone. The default is "F." By successively pressing the button, twelve chromatic tones are available. The right button starts the tone. The tone is turned off by touching the tone button a second time. The blinking light goes off after forty-five seconds, or holding it down will turn it off immediately.

How do you use it? Choose a song to sing, and select the keynote on the PocketToneTM. Match the tone. It's easy to tell if you are sharp or flat. Turn off the tone, but leave the light blinking and sing the song. At the end of each line, click the button and check your pitch. Adjust as necessary. Keep practicing, using good singing techniques, until you can consistently match the tone. Trust me, it's easier to use than to stop and blow on a pitchpipe.

Is it hard to do? No. Well, then, is it easy to do? No. It will take continued practice and time. But the advantage of the PocketToneTM is that you can use it anywhere: in your car, walking on the street, sitting at your desk, etc. (Not in the shower - it doesn't like water!) You'll find if you do it regularly for a month, you'll be a better singer. And if you use it with new music, you'll learn faster and sing accurately.

How to Sing Better - Hint #4

Love Your Tape Recorder
by Kent Borrowdale

New 1/21/04

Every Barbershopper should own a tape recorder. It can be a casette or even some of these new disk or solid state recorders that use MP3 format and can up- and download to a computer. It needs to be easy to use and must accurately reply the pitch of the tones you sing into it. Unless you find an expensive machine with a manual recording level control, you will get Automatic Volume Control (AVC). Expect to pay perhaps $100 for a good Soni or Radio Shack casette recorder.

Test the pitch sensitivity by recording several tones using your pitchpipe. Then play it back while you are blowing those pitches. You should hear no difference or "wow" between the pitches. Fresh batteries make a big difference. I bought a plug-in power supply with mine, which I use for all recording. The pitch is very stable.

Use your new recorder as a learning tool. With the recorder and your pitchpipe in a quiet place, sing your part to a song you are learning into it. When you play it back, test it along the way with the pitchpipe. Note where you go sharp or flat. Continue to record over your song until you can sing it exactly on pitch all the way through at the speed you are going to perform it. It may take several, or even many tries. You will derive two benefits from this:

  • You will have a learning tape you can listen to in the car or other places that will be accurate; and
  • By the time you have a good tape, you will have pretty well learned the song!

Take your recorder to Chorus practice regularly. Hold it in your lap if you are singing sitting down. Hold it in your hand in front of you if you are on the risers. Ask your director to let you know when he (she) will be singing a song completely through. Use that time for taping. (You'll be surprised how much better the chorus performs when a tape recorder is running.) You can also tape difficult parts and spend time perfecting those parts.

Take the tape home and listen to yourself in the chorus. Learn from it by fixing your wrong notes and timing. Next, listen to your pitch in relation to others in your section. Are you flat? Are you sharp. (Is it you or those no-talent guys that are all around you?)

Once you've done that, (it may take several weeks of taping and analysis) listen carefully to your vowels in different ranges. Start adjusting them to blend in better with the chorus. While inexpensive recorders have small speakers, they generally do a pretty good recording job. Listen to the results on your home or car systems. You'll hear where you're at odds with the other people in your section.

Encourage others to buy recorders and use them regularly in chorus practice. You'll find the group sings better and they will be learning music easier and faster.

How to Sing Better - Hint #3

Ten minutes a day for better singing
by Kent Borrowdale

New 3/19/02

Every Barbershopper should own a pitchpipe. You can find them at District Conventions in the Barbershopper's Shop. You can also order them through Harmony Marketplace. The price in both cases is $19.95, but you'll have to pay shipping if you order it on line. (Make sure you get an F - F pitchpipe.)

Here's how to use a pitchpipe to help you sing and tune better:

1. Blow a note, for example, a low "F". Keeping the pitchpipe in your lips, hum that exact tone. At first, you will find it really hard. The closer you get to the tone, the less "wow" you'll hear. You can feel it as well as hear it.

2. Do that same exercise with other notes. You'll have better success starting with "F", going up to "C". As the tones get higher, you'll need to be more precise.

3. Blow a note, listen to it carefully, then "ooo" that exact tone. Check yourself with the pitchpipe. Don't allow any scooping.

4. Blow a note, such as "A". Hum five tones down the scale (D) and hum into the pitchpipe. If it is tuned, there won't be any "wow". Try it with other pitches. Tenors: try pitches above the pitch note.

5. Sing your part to a song with the pitchpipe in your hand. When you come to the end of a phrase, blow the keynote of the song. [Don't try to blow other tones . . . the pitchpipe uses a tempered scale.] Are you still in tune? Did you flat? (Especially valuable for leads.) Keep working on it until you can sing an entire song without flatting or sharping. Put the song on tape and then listen to it, checking with the pitchpipe. It will help you determine where you go flat or sharp.

How to Sing Better - Hint #2

Two minutes a day for better singing
by Kent Borrowdale

New 3/19/02

Very few people have perfect pitch. But all of us can improve our pitch memory and tonal accuracy. Here's what I do, and my dentist recommends it:

If you already don't have one, buy a Sonicare Toothbrush. With two brushes and the charger stand, it's about $100.00. Sometimes you can find them on special. Use it at least every morning and hum with it. The electric element vibrates in your mouth at 262 cycles per second. That's very close to Middle C, which is defined on the tempered scale as 261.63 cycles per second. The element is crystal controlled, so it's always accurate. It also has a timer that produces a pulsed tone at 30, 60 and 90 seconds. It shuts off after two minutes.

  • Hum the tone exactly while you are pressing the bristles lightly against your molars. Experience what it feels like when you intentionally go flat or sharp a little bit.
  • Hum a low C, exactly matching the tone. Then hum up the scale, carefully listening to the intervals, taking time to tune each one.
  • Hum above middle C. Carefully tune each interval. You'll know when you are right, because you'll feel the overtones that you are producing.
  • If you have problems "scooping" notes, hum detached notes. Listen carefully and come in right on the tone.
  • Hum a tune in the key of C. (Try Mandy) It's impossible to go flat with that tonal center in your mouth!

As an added benefit, you'll have better teeth and gums.
Happy brushing!

How to Sing Better - Hint #1

Smart Shower Singing
by Kent Borrowdale

New 10/23/02

Most of us take regular showers. And most of us vocalize in the shower. But how many of us do it with intelligence? This short article will show you how to improve your ability to sing on pitch and make a better sound.

Showers, particulary those with glass or glass-like doors, resonate at a specific frequency. Mine shower resonates at A below middle C. There are overtones also, but that's the fundamental frequency.

You can find your shower's fundamental frequency using a pitchpipe. Get in the shower with your pitchpipe. Close the shower door. The water doesn't need to be on. Blow a Bb. Sing "ooooo," slurring up and down in the middle of your range until you hear the shower sing back at you. Basses, that's the high Bb. (It's best to do this when other members of your family are not home.)

Most showers are fussy . . . a little sharp or flat, and you won't hear it. Sometimes a "hoo-hoo-hoo" will help. Use your pitchpipe to identify the pitch. It should be within four or five tones either side of Bb. It may not be exactly a tone on your pitchpipe. That's OK; find the closest one.)

When you take a shower, try the following:

  • Starting with the resonate tone, go up five tones, back to the starting tone, then down four tones and back up to the starting tone. Do it in one breath. Each time you cross the starting tone, you should hear the reasonance. If you don't, try again.
  • Sing a song in that key. Try "Wait 'til the Sun Shines, Nellie," or "Down Our Way." Be sure that every time you hit the key note, you get resonance. If you're a bass, baritone or tenor, learn the lead part to one of these simple songs. When you can do the lead,
  • For basses, baritones and tenors, use the shower's resonance as the key note and sing your part. You will notice that certain other notes resonate as well, but only when you are in tune. These are harmonics of the fundamental note, and are what you should be singing. Fifths, fourths octaves and thirds will usually resonate.
  • Sing through a song like "Shine on Me" slowly with good breathing and mouth shape. Experiment with mouth shapes and vocal placement. Make the sound that has the greatest resonance. Remember what you did and try it next time you're in your quartet or chorus. Your friends will be amazed!

Why should you do this?

  • First, it gets you clean (Duh!) You'll spend a few more minutes in the shower. By the way, the droplets of water enhance the effect.
  • Second, you'll have a better appreciation for how you sing and how you can learn to stay on key. There's no magic, but it provides an excellent feedback system.
  • And last, you'll be exercising your voice every day.

Happy Smart Shower Singing!