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  • How to help students who are REALLY struggling with tuning? (Singing Teachers)

    Posted by Kat Hunter on September 21, 2015 at 3:47 pm

    I know this is something that has been mentioned a bit in the facebook, but I’d be interested to know if any of you have tips or tricks in helping these students along. Often they’re very nervous and sometimes it’s a challenging situation for teachers too. Here are some of my ideas, but I’d be really keen to hear yours…

    – Figure out what works well with the student. I’ve been fortunate enough to have students who struggle with tuning but with VERY different experiences. For example some students need to go super slowly and take the time to listen to each note first and correct as they go, before they can move onto the next note. Other students struggle more with tuning when they’re feeling self conscious and will be amazingly more accurate on fast exercises when they don’t have the time to overthink things. Any other similar things you’ve noticed?

    – Have a repertoire of super easy, limited-range songs to start building confidence. I find tuning often develops first in the notes near where the speaking voice lies, and starts to get more challenging in higher or lower notes. So having a good list of easy songs would help with this. Any ideas?

    Veronica Wakeling replied 2 years, 9 months ago 5 Members · 15 Replies
  • 15 Replies
  • Eliza Fyfe

    Member
    September 21, 2015 at 3:52 pm

    Yes – I agree with everything you said and do this myself. It’s very difficult, and the truth is, both student and teacher have to work on this for months, sometimes years (if practice doesn’t happen daily!) with both parties remaining as patient as possible. I have also switched out-of-tune singers to piano so that they can connect to some basic interval theory and also it provides a visual guide for the movement of their voice. I hope that helps!

  • Kat Hunter

    Member
    September 21, 2015 at 3:52 pm

    Indeed! Progress can be so slow. Switching to piano is a great idea. I often get students to try to visualise intervals, but piano would make that so much easier.

  • Eliza Fyfe

    Member
    September 21, 2015 at 3:53 pm

    You know this very thing helped me only today. That along with more gentle warm ups, working on a more gentle crossover from chest to head voice. She is too loud and almost stops hearing the track or something. She really tuned in more when she was quieter, and as a result was more in tune! And with a bit of piano notes played in her headphones (she was recording today) and repeating back while looking at the notes – she nailed it!

  • Kat Hunter

    Member
    September 21, 2015 at 3:53 pm

    Awesome! Sometimes it’s about getting the student into that headspace where they’re not trying to muscle through everything and instead just listen and allow the tuning to happen. Yes!

  • Matt Pocock

    Member
    September 21, 2015 at 3:53 pm

    Oh man, I had such a huge breakthrough with this a few months ago. It went like this:

    For so long, I thought that tuning was a mental process. If the student understood the concept that one note was higher than another, or that they were going flat or sharp, they would automatically know how to improve. It seemed like some students just didn’t know the differences between sharp and flat or high and low. So if I just told them again and again, they’d eventually understand.

    Needless to say, this approach got me nowhere except that theme park called Frustration Land – of which I became a season ticket holder.

    But finally it hit me. Students learn how to sing from how they speak. And non-singers tend to speak in quite a narrow register.

    They don’t know how it feels to sing higher or lower. They only know the feeling of their own speaking register. But what is involved in the feeling of a high note? Obviously, the vocal folds vibrate faster, but there was surely a lot more than that:

    I started breaking it down. First of all, the larynx needs to rise a little. The pharynx gains a little bit of helpful tension. Everything narrows a bit more. The tongue rises. The lips, if you’d like, can get more widened. The placement of the note (whatever that means) feels a little higher – more towards the forehead than the throat.

    And then finally, WHAM. It hit me.

    To teach a student tuning, you can’t just explain it in concepts. You had to acquaint them with the physical symptoms of high and low notes. And the physical symptoms the student feels are all about the filter – the mouth, the larynx height, the tongue, the lips, pharyngeal tension, and the ‘placement’.

    So I call this ‘filter tuning’.

    Let’s take an example. A male student is trying to tune to a middle C. This can be a fairly high note for some students just starting out. They keep undershooting it by some distance.

    What you should notice is that the mouth is almost completely disengaged. There’s no sense of them raising the larynx/tongue/lips or anything. The mouth is just where it is when they speak.

    So what they need to do, in this new terminology, is ‘tune the filter up‘.

    The way I do this is simple:

    1. Make a vocal fry sound.

    2. Now make the lowest vocal fry sound you can.

    3. Now make the highest vocal fry sound you can, without actually making a note.

    You’ll notice that on step two, the filter tunes downwards, dropping the larynx, lowering the tongue and jaw.

    On step three, the filter tunes upwards, lifting the larynx, heightening the tongue, widening the lips.

    But here’s the kicker – this is all being changed by the filter. Nothing about the actual vocal folds is changing here – the sound difference is all in the way the mouth and vocal tract are changing shape.

    (If the student struggles with vocal fry, this can also be done on breath. You’re then listening for the ‘dark quality’ or ‘light quality’ of the breath)

    So returning to that student. Ask him to tune his filter up using vocal fry, and then to sing the note. If he still undershoots, tune it up a little more. You’ll be amazed at the difference.

  • Eliza Fyfe

    Member
    September 21, 2015 at 3:58 pm

    Things keep hitting you, Matt, are you okay?

    Good stuff Matt, as always! Thought you would be the one to master this. So could you explain the vocal fry sound as I only understand it to be a low croak? So this student can make the note due to changing his lips and tongue? Sorry if I have misunderstood!

  • Matt Pocock

    Member
    September 21, 2015 at 3:58 pm

    I definitely need to diversify my portfolio of ‘I understood something’ idioms.

    The vocal fry sound is made by the vocal folds, but they can change it by adjusting the shape of their mouth. So it’s basically a way of showing the student that the filter matters too in the tuning of the note. Does that make sense, or am I talking gibberish?

    Here’s a little recording:

    http://mattpocock.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/ZOOM0075.mp3

  • Eliza Fyfe

    Member
    September 21, 2015 at 3:59 pm

    Ah yes I get it! And your clip really helps. So a deep sounding “ahhh” with dropped jaw versus a more open (what I call dentist chair) “aaaah” sound where is appears to sound higher/brighter?

  • Kat Hunter

    Member
    September 21, 2015 at 3:59 pm

    @Matt: I like the idea, but I suppose my one concern is that students might become over-reliant on using larynx height and articulator tension to get high sounds, which might then cause problems down the track as they get more advanced. Have you ever seen this to be the case?

  • Guest Teacher

    Member
    September 21, 2015 at 3:59 pm

    I’ve been trying to figure this one out for ages. I have a student at the moment who struggles with Pitch and I’ve been doing a little experiment with him.

    I got him to download a Chromatic tuner, the one we have been using is DaTuner Lite which is free on Google Play. I asked him to sing any note and then try and make that note a C. Once he found C I made him hold it and then find D, E, F, G until he was able to sing the simple scale.

    He said the fact that he could actually see what his voice was doing made it so much easier for him as he is a visual person. Even though he isn’t completely there yet, we are already starting to see improvements!

  • Kat Hunter

    Member
    September 21, 2015 at 4:06 pm

    Wow, Wes! What a great idea! I’d been pondering over the use of technology for something like this for a while, but found my tuners at home too sensitive, so if the voice would shake slightly, or there would be ay background noise, the thing would go haywire! I’ll definitely check out that app.

    On a similar note I’ve been wondering if something like that sing-star game could have application in something like this? I’ve only played it once, but I remember it being all about tuning the notes and not much else. Something like this could be cool potentially, I’m not sure.

  • Eliza Fyfe

    Member
    September 21, 2015 at 4:06 pm

    Anyone used Erol Singers Studio yet? Sadly only for Apple users. But brilliant for tuning: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/erol-singers-studio-voice/id502780186?mt=8

  • Eliza Fyfe

    Member
    September 21, 2016 at 4:07 pm

    Very true. I try and get mine to stop guessing, listen, take their time… as they get more flustered when they keep hitting it wrong, then rush to correct then it’s still wrong..!

  • Guest Teacher

    Member
    September 21, 2016 at 4:07 pm

    I know it might sound incredibly simple, but most students (but not all) will nearly always hit the right note if they listen to the note, take a slow breath and then sing – I find most students seem to make a wild stab in the dark with notes, just trying to fire one out to get the exercise over and done with rather than actually using their ears!
    (This of course doesn’t work all the time, but gets students actually listening, which I think is a very common problem with a lot of people ‘new’ to singing)

  • Veronica Wakeling

    Member
    September 24, 2021 at 1:48 pm

    Change the word tuning to technical “placing”There are many reasons why a student has this problem.E.N.T Ear nose and throat,any of these factors could in fact play a part.So I trust you have the ability to teach place through pure air stream,using headvoice and sinus structure.

    The bottom line is you can guide but you yourself as a tutor cannot complete the job for the student.They themselves must be able through a placing, when the sound is correct.In time this works.The methodology is actually vibration.

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