Pitchy sometimes??
March 29, 2013 5:33 PM   Subscribe

Everybody has always told me just how beautiful my voice is, but now I'm recording and seeing in Melodyne that I'm sooooo pitchy. Can somebody help me understand?

I've just started seriously recording, and I can see that my vocals are incredibly pitchy in Melodyne. Like, some will be +5 or -5 cents, but others will be like +50. Only one person has ever told me that I'm pitchy and everybody else has always told me how gorgeous my voice is (like, everybodyyyy since I was a child...my tone is really nice I guess...people literally gush over it and freak out). Why is this? People always ask me to sing on their recorded songs, so I'm baffled. If my voice sounded that bad...?? Can someone help me understand what is going on? I've lost all of my confidence and don't really want to make singing music anymore because I'm so worried...
posted by puppetsock to Media & Arts (19 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Tone and pitch are not the same thing. It sounds like you've got natural talent and now just need more experience. No one's first studio session (or second or tenth) is perfect.
posted by dawkins_7 at 5:38 PM on March 29, 2013 [5 favorites]

Nearly all musicians have certain notes they tend to over/undershoot and part of becoming a better musician is learning those tendencies and how to correct for them. Hell, I've played the oboe for over 26 years now and I still have to draw little up/down arrows over some of my notes in my part to remind me to fix my pitch.

You need to learn to train your ear as much as your voice. Making music is done in a constant feedback loop and now that you're seriously starting to apply yourself, that loop has become more intricate for you. Take some professional voice lessons. The key to becoming a great musician is acquiring and applying the tools you need to critically evaluate (and then improve) yourself. You've figured out so far that your pitch isn't always spot-on, that's a good start. Now you need to figure out how to correct it, be it ear-training, breath support, etc. A good teacher will help you build and apply this toolkit.
posted by Wossname at 5:58 PM on March 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

This is not a big deal, you just need to tune your voice like an instrument.

This is where the "do re me fa so la te do" comes into play. You have to practice to nail the notes the same way anyone else does on any other instrument.

Use a piano, keyboard, harmonica any thing you can sing a scale with and practice.

posted by snsranch at 6:04 PM on March 29, 2013

Software like that doesn't always recognize blue notes and slides, and other "off" notes that sound beautiful to the human ear. If you have jazzy phrasing and note bending, the notes will be "wrong" in a mathematical sense, but they won't sound wrong. 100% tonal accuracy doesn't always make for the best singer--Mariah Carey is always in tune, but most people don't think of her as a better singer than Billie Holiday. I think you should get a second opinion from a musician you trust. If everyone tells you your voice is beautiful, it probably is... I mean, there could be some room for improvement, but it also might be that this recording program isn't working for you.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 6:30 PM on March 29, 2013 [9 favorites]

Are you sure melodyne is establishing the correct tonic? Set it to a predefined scale, and sing from a pitch pipe/piano cue.
posted by phrontist at 6:43 PM on March 29, 2013

I also analyzed my voice in Melodyne. Like you, I had a few +5, -5 notes, and some much more off instances.

To Nibbly Fang's point, I noticed that the most egregious "off" notes were happening on slides. (I think you can narrow in on the centers of notes via zoom and/or settings but I didn't look into this. You might want to yourself.)

For comparison, I dragged in an acapella Bjork stem and an acapella Tori Amos song. FWIW, both had several notes that were similarly "off" according to Melodyne.

I can't really speak to how on your pitch is (or mine for that matter), but I can tell you that popular and successful singers aren't read as "perfect" by Melodyne either.
posted by january at 6:48 PM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, in most styles outside western art music, "correct" intonation can diverge from equal temperament diatonic pitches pretty significantly.
posted by phrontist at 6:52 PM on March 29, 2013

Also... 50 cents = half a semitone. That's not pitchy, that's practically a different note.
posted by phrontist at 6:56 PM on March 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

This is just an observation, but I've noticed from watching singing competitions like American Idol, etc that it seems like most people do not have a problem listening to "pitchy" singing. I have pretty good pitch and seem to be pretty sensitive to pitch issues and I will often watch a performance and think "wow, that was off-pitch" and the person will still do really well.

Like others have said, tone is different from pitch. You can definitely have a beautiful voice but sometimes be off-key, and you can have a horrible-sounding voice despite always being perfectly on-key. Think about all the times you've seen a band/singer live (as opposed to on an album) and their voice still sounded good but they were off-key.
posted by lunasol at 7:05 PM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Why not take a few lessons from a vocal coach?
posted by radioamy at 7:10 PM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Are you sure whatever microphone you're using has the correct levels set?

I mean, it could very well be possible that you actually aren't as good a singer as you've been told. That does happen -- many people are sort of full of it when it comes to assessing tone and pitch and as such they're not really the best folk to be judging whether or not you've got a good voice. But my guess is that you're not setting your software or recording/input equipment up correctly.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 8:00 PM on March 29, 2013

Okay, so what this tells you is that you're hitting notes that fall "in the cracks between the keys" on a piano keyboard.

But that is not an inherently bad thing. In fact, depending on the style of music you're singing, it might be a wonderful thing. (On the other hand, it still could be a bad thing. We just don't know.)

Here are some examples of times when really, really wonderful singing will end up "off key" according to an electronic tuner.
  1. "Blue notes" (in jazz, blues, soul, good rock and R&B singing, etc.) fall in between the piano keys. They will count as "out of tune" according to an electronic tuner. But that just goes to show how little the electronic tuner knows -- because when a great soul singer hits a blue note just right, it sounds so, so good.
  2. Vibrato means oscillating in and out of the space in between the keys. Notes with heavy vibrato will count as "out of tune" according to an electronic tuner. And vibrato is a very strong seasoning -- you don't want to use it too often or it gets overwhelming. But every once in a while, yeah, it's just what you wanted to hear.
  3. Portamento -- sliding from one note to another -- carries you through the space in between the keys, and so will count as "out of tune" according to an electronic tuner. Again, it's really easy to overdo it, but when you just use it occasionally, it's a valuable expressive device.
The important question is not "Are you hitting the piano keys dead center?" but rather "Are you hitting the pitches you mean to hit?" If you sing a blue note by accident (say, in a classical piece where it's really not stylistically appropriate) then that's a mistake. If you sing it because it's the sound you wanted (and you've got good enough taste that the sound you want is a sound that other people will like) then that's great.

And unfortunately, Melodyne has no taste or sense of style. It doesn't know whether you were aiming for bluesy bent notes or strict dead-center classical pitch or what -- and it definitely can't tell you which of those you should be aiming for, because that's an artistic decision.

Anyway, this is why it's helpful to have a human coach or teacher who has a good ear and who sings in a style you like. People with well-developed ears and good taste can give you much better feedback than a computer.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 8:12 PM on March 29, 2013 [6 favorites]

I wouldn't take a measurement of any kind as more important than the happy praise of many humans.
posted by Riverine at 8:16 PM on March 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Ok, I figured out the issue. It's hard for me to pitch myself when I'm using headphones and have the monitor on. I recorded by high passing the track to cut the bass and only having headphones on one ear...no monitoring...very quiet volume...my pitch issues are like, sooo much better. I'm definitely not perfect, but I'm seeing drastic improvement. I guess I was just having recording issues...
posted by puppetsock at 9:04 PM on March 29, 2013

I have excellent pitch. And I am a pretty good singer. But if I haven't done the scales recently, and then try them, I can be all over the place.

If you're singing a song and can adjust quickly, you might sound on key even if you come into the notes wrong.

But when you do scales, there's nowhere to hide. Scales are excellent practice for learning to hit your notes consistently.
posted by zippy at 9:05 PM on March 29, 2013

Pitch is misunderstood. The best singers of all time -- i.e, Ella Fitzgerald -- had fantastic relative pitch but sometimes dubious true pitch, but nobody cared, because she hit her own notes so perfectly. Also: it's much more important to sing with soul (which has nothing to do with modern-day melisma boinging). Listen to a singer like Elis Regina hit those notes with gut perfection, and meld with the piano and the drum, and to hell with any kind of computer readout, and notice that your rhythm is more important than your pitch. Practice your scales, sure, but practice finding the pocket too. The rhythm will lead you to the right pitch far more often than the pitch will lead you to the rhythm. And find the joy -- a good song, or even a mediocre one, should have a little bit of joy to let out of it.
posted by Fnarf at 9:55 PM on March 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

You are correct; singing with headphones is different, and singing into digital recorders with headphones is different than singing to tape. With digital there is a delay in the audio coming back and you’re hearing your voice back in your ears in a very unnatural way.

Many singers take one earphone off, at least until the get used to it, or in troublesome spots. I don’t know about the hi-pass though, usually it’s a good idea to turn the bass up so you can hear the pitch in a frequency that doesn’t compete with your voice (unless your bass is out of tune). Which brings up another point; make sure your tracks are actually in tune.

I don’t what you’re recording to, but if it’s a DAW on your computer you should check the buffer settings. You want it to be as low as possible when you’re singing. This will use a lot more CPU though, so it’s hard to play a complex mix. You can put it back to a higher setting after you’re done singing. You can also check to see if your system has some sort of direct monitoring option that bypasses the delay from the recording.

And as mentioned, pitch and tone are different things. People like the sound of your voice. Pitch takes work and practice.
posted by bongo_x at 10:34 PM on March 29, 2013

On the heels of the recent Stevie Wonder FPP, I can only imagine how pitchy Melodyne would find him! That said, friends and colleagues are not listening from an objective technical point of view; they're busy being moved by tone and color and confidence.

Have you ever taken any professional voice lessons? If not, they may do you a great service in both helping you hone your control and also physically protect your vocal cords for the long term.
posted by desuetude at 10:42 PM on March 29, 2013

This is going to get a bit technical, but there are two main reasons for off-pitch singing.

One is incorrect support, which means that you are sending either too much or too little air through the vocal cords to achieve the optimal pitch. Most often this shows up as going flat when there is too little air moving. This is why classical singers do exercises of slow scales and the so-called "messa di voce" (swelling from a very soft sound to loud and then dwindling back down the soft sound, all while maintaining the same pitch). These exercises basically teach the singer how to keep a steady and long-lasting stream of breath rather than a big gasp.

The second main reason for going off pitch is singing in the passaggio, which is an area of the voice in which the control of the vocal cords are handed off from one set of muscles to another. One way to think of this is as if the voice doesn't know if you want it to belt or go into head voice, and so the muscles sort of pull the cords in two directions at the same time.

If the pitchiness seems to happen on all sorts of notes, then it might be a breathing issue, or if the pitchiness seems to happen on a specific note or closely adjacent notes (say, the problem crops up at E and F) then it's more likely passaggio.

It can be tricky to get your voice perfectly into tune (if that is indeed what you want to do) and the process may be made easier with a second set of ears, i.e., a vocal coach or voice teacher.
posted by La Cieca at 10:49 PM on March 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

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