How To Sing in Key (The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide)

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  • How can I learn to sing in key?
  • What is the difference between pitch and key?
  • Are there any apps available to help me learn how to sing in key?

What does it mean to sing in key? And is it possible to learn how to do this? Some people are born with a natural ability to sing in key, and some even learn to master this skill and become professional singers. However, learning to sing in key does not come naturally to everybody. Thankfully there are some tips and tricks that you can adopt to learn how to sing in key. We’ve compiled a brief guideline for singing in key. We’ve also put together some handy exercises that you can utilize to develop your singing technique for better pitch. 

Key and Pitch Explained

When we sing, air passes over our vocal cords and generates a vibration or sound frequency. Pitch is the term used to describe the measurement of sound frequency that your voice produces while singing or speaking. The higher the frequency, the higher the pitch, and vice versa. 

A musical key can be defined as a set or group of notes that determine the harmonic characteristics of a composition. Singing in key simply means matching the pitch of your voice with those within a specific key. For instance, if a song is in the key of C major, we know that the notes we need to sing are C, D, E, F, G, A, and B. It is handy to have a basic understanding of scales and melodic music theory to help speed up the process of learning to sing in key. 

A Beginner’s Guide to Singing in Key

There are a few things that you can use to help develop your ear and brain to sing in key:

  1. Some kind of device to play audio from (a mobile, laptop, sound system, TV, etc.);
  2. An instrument of some sort (this could be a piano, guitar, ukulele, or harmonica);
  3. A device to record yourself singing (a tape recorder, mobile phone, or laptop with a microphone could work for this); or
  4. A guitar tuner app for your mobile phone (free apps like Guitar Tuna or Fender Guitar Tuner work wonderfully for this).

The first step to singing in key is to sing along with single notes that come from another source to try and match their pitch. Singing instructors often use a guitar or piano for this exercise, but you can also use apps or services like YouTube to substitute a real instrument. 

Begin by simply playing a single note on your instrument or device (it’s very common to start at the C in the middle of the piano). Hold this note down so that it sustains for a few seconds and sing alongside it using a vowel sound (‘’ahh’’ or ‘’ohh’’).  

Try to listen to how closely your voice matches the note you’re playing. If it sounds too low (flat), add some tension and pressure to your voice to raise the note. If the note sounds too high (sharp), relax your body and reduce the air pressure to lower your note to the correct pitch. Some people will take longer than others to learn this mechanism, so try and be patient with the process, especially if it doesn’t come to you naturally. 

After you’ve learned how to sing alongside a single note, try playing sequences of two to three notes and then mirroring that sequence with your voice. You can determine the size and complexity of these sequences on your own, and this is a very fun way to build a relationship between your brain, body, and singing voice.

Recording Your Singing Voice

Once you feel comfortable singing single notes, move on to something more advanced. Try to play a simple song from your sound system or audio device. Try to keep the skill level of the song very simple, with long, slow notes to sing along to (“Amazing Grace,” “Happy Birthday,” or common beginner songs used by singing instructors). Record yourself singing alongside these songs, and then watch or listen back to hear how closely your singing matches the notes. 

You can also use a guitar tuner app to give you a handy visual reference on the pitch of your voice. These apps usually come with a visual meter that shows you the exact pitch of a sound, and can also show you whether a note is flat or sharp in real-time. Playing and singing alongside these apps is a very simple and handy way to develop your ear and singing voice for pitch. 

Using Singing and Vocal Apps

We’re lucky to live in a time where you can learn almost any skill online or through a mobile app. There is a very generous selection of apps available today, and it can be overwhelming for beginner singers to know which app is the best for them. Below is a short list of our top 5 apps for learning how to sing in key:

  1. Vocalizer
  2. Yousician
  3. Perfect Pitch
  4. Vocal Ease
  5. Voice Tutor

Vocal Coaching

There is a common misconception that vocal coaches are only meant for trained or professional singers. However vocal coaches have an in-depth understanding of singing psychology and physiology and are the most qualified people to help you learn how to sing in key. 

Vocal coaches can often provide a level of interactive insight and advice that singing apps can’t. They can also help you overcome certain mental blocks or confidence issues you might have while learning to sing in key. Most vocal coaches offer single lessons, as well as set courses that run for various periods. You can also find vocal coaches that offer online courses if there is nobody in your area for personal lessons. 

Body Techniques for Singing in Key

Trained and professional singers know how to use their bodies to help them deliver stronger vocal performances and maintain pitch. Below is a brief guideline for the primary areas of the body that affect your singing. 

  1. Feet and Legs – Try to keep both your feet firmly planted on the ground while standing up. Your feet should generally face forward at the same width as your shoulders. Make sure to have a slight bend in your knees to support your hips and body weight
  2. Hips and Torso – Your hips need to stay in line with the direction of your feet. Make sure your feet, knees, and hips all line up in a forward-facing direction. You want your hips to support the weight of your torso to give your diaphragm sufficient room to maneuver freely and comfortably.
  3. Chest and Shoulders – Your chest and shoulders play a large role in determining your posture while singing. Try not to slouch forward, and relax your shoulders to avoid unnecessary strain on your diaphragm. Also be sure not to push your chest too far out, as this will create an uneven curve in your spine and put unwanted pressure on your lungs. 
  4. Hands – Singers very often use their hands to help guide their minds and voice for accurate singing and pitching. Much like a conductor leads an orchestra with his baton, you can develop personal gestures that aid your mental coordination to help you stay on key while singing. 
  5. Head and Neck – Your neck and head will probably move more than most other areas of the body while singing, so make sure to stretch your neck and warm up properly. Also, avoid looking too far upward or downward while singing as this will block up your windpipe and make it harder to control your voice. 

Final Thoughts

Learning how to sing in key can be a lengthy and sometimes frustrating process for some people, particularly if you are an avid music enthusiast with a sincere desire to sing (but struggle to hold a note in key). However, you can use the above-listed pointers to give you some added knowledge and tools that will help develop your ear and voice for singing in key. Remember to take your time and enjoy yourself regardless of how good or bad you sound. With enough patience and practice, it is genuinely possible for almost anyone to sing in key. 

FAQ

  • Does singing in key matter?

If you wish to sing in a fashion that most people find enjoyable or easy to listen to, then singing in key absolutely matters. Some styles of music disregard keys entirely, but these are not the more popular or widely adopted music genres. 

  • What is the most common key to sign in?

Several singing instructors would most likely name C major as the most common key to sing in. This trend is due largely to the mapping of these notes on a piano, as they all fall on the white piano keys and are easier to navigate than other music keys.

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