Singers/voice people: Can people be taught to sing on key?

This is actually in reference to myself, something I’ve been curious about for a long time. I can hold a tune when singing alone, and I can whistle in tune with someone else. (In other words, I’m not tone deaf and don’t have a problem matching pitch, per se.) But I can’t sing with other people. I’m always just a little bit flat. The sound I intend to make never comes out quite the way I mean it to.

Is that something that I could hypothetically be trained out of? I don’t know that I’d ever do it given my voice is nothing special in itself, but I’m curious.

If you really notice the fact that you’re “flat,” i.e. slightly below the consensus pitch, you already have a very sensitive ear. The answer, relax and sing sharp.

Yeah, I think so. For example, I’ve played and sung in several bands, and I’ve found that I can hit harmony notes even when the monitors suck and I can’t hear myself very well. I think “muscle” memory or larynyx memory plays a role in this.

Another example I’ve found is that when I’m used to singing a song in a particular key, and I’m playing with a band that play it in another key, I have to be careful to sing it in the right key, otherwise, my larynyx memory will steer me towards the key I’m used to.

So, yeah, I think you could improve on this.

One think I think might help is to record yourself doing harmonies. If you set up a multitrack recorder, and there are several affordable ways to get that capability, and then record yourself singing the lead and 2 or three harmony parts, that will help you identify your problems and shortcomings.

sing along to scales on the piano, or any other reference instrument. This will help calibrate your ear, but it doesn’t seem like that’s as much your issue as poor technique.


If that’s not possible, there are other solutions that will work but are no substitute for live feedback from a professional.

Grab a voice exercises CD (I recommend Vol 1 of this)
and practice with it. Most pitch issues are either a) poor ear b) weak breath control c) improper technique going into a pitch

sing from the diaphragm, with proper support…improper support will cause a tendency to go flat.

When going to a pitch, consciously attempt to come into the pitch from above, even if truly coming from a lower note. So AIM HIGH and settle down into the pitch. You might end up a touch sharp at first, but it will self-correct. And slightly sharp always sounds better than slightly flat. Don’t know why, but it is so.

There are some real voice teachers here that could clarify or correct my comments, but I believe they’re a good starting point (I am a music teacher and arranger, have run lots of choruses et al, but i am NOT a voice teacher per se.)

Short answer: absolutely.

There are very few people who can’t hear the differences in pitches. It is almost always a mechanical problem. And a mechanical problem can almost always be fixed (in case of a problem with technique) or worked around (in case of physical abnormality or damage).

Also, flat singing can actually be caused by too much tension in certain places (such as constricting the airflow in the throat), so the advice to relax and sing sharp may be overkill.