I don’t know about your choir but in our choir losing pitch or going flat can occasionally be a problem, particularly on unaccompanied pieces. In our choir, the soprano section is usually the section which is most criticised. So how can we prevent going flat when singing in a choir?
It is really important, as a choir member, for the good of the whole choir, to find out if you are going flat. It can be very difficult to realise that you are one of those singing flat, never mind admitting it to yourself! But it is better to find out you are losing pitch and correct it than to continue to sing flat.
1.Find out if you are losing pitch
So, with that in mind, record your voice when you practice. Ideally, you should practice next to a piano or keyboard (I really recommend investing in one of these if you haven’t got one already as it will help you in various ways to prepare for choir). You can get your starting note from the piano and you can go on to sing the piece you are singing, at intervals you should check where you have ended up against the piano, i.e. if you are supposed to be ending on an A, you should play an A on the piano and if you are singing something lower than that note (an A flat for example) you know that you are losing pitch when singing.
2. Breathe correctly
Once you have established that you are indeed losing pitch, you need to look to finding a solution. One of the most important ways to keep pitch is proper breath control. Pitch most often goes flat when you run out of breath as there is not enough breath to support the note. Diaphragmatic breathing is essential to good breath control and if you are not yet practising it, you should learn the method. It will help you sing high notes without straining too, so it is a win-win.
3. Correct your posture
Standing up straight is a really important way of having the correct airflow while singing and having the correct airflow is crucial to keeping pitch, as when our air runs out, that is when we are most likely to lose pitch. So stand up straight and make sure that when you are sitting down you are not slouching. Sit on the edge of your seat with your score lifted up in front of you and your back straight.
4. Take vocal rest
Going flat can also be a sign of a tired voice or, in other words, swollen vocal cords, and if you have been overdoing it, either by singing at the top of your range, singing without properly warming up, or just singing for a long time, you should take it as a signal to take some vocal rest. This means not singing and avoiding speaking for a while until your voice is back on form. Remember: if you are avoiding speaking, don’t whisper – whispering is actually more of a strain on the voice than normal speech, so if you must speak, just speak in a normal relaxed way.
5. Do scales
Practising scales is a good way to improve your pitch accuracy and you should not skip it thinking that it is unimportant. You should practice different types of scales, major, minor, pentatonic, chromatic, and you should pay particular attention to coming back down the scale after going up it. When we come back down the scale we tend to relax and not focus as much as if we have already done the important job, but it is on the scale back down where we are most likely to lose pitch. This is true when we are singing repertoire too, it is on the way down after going up the scale in a phrase where we are most likely to go flat.
Try these methods out and let me know how they work for you. Do you have any other advice for your fellow choristers? What methods have worked for you? Leave a comment and let us know.