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Everybody's matching pitch - except one

Hi all,
 
I need some help - I have a choir of teenagers who are mostly first-time singers.  We've been a choir for about 2-3 months.  Everyone is matching pitch well, except for one student who is having real trouble.  She has been coming after school and is making progress, and she's been able to diagnose the problems in her own words.  I'm hoping some other educators can help me understand what she's saying and come up with appropriate techniques to help her progress further.
 
The first breakthrough was when she started imagining the sound coming from "my face" coming out of "her face."  This usually gets her to harmonize on a major 3rd or perfect 4th.  (We're going for unison, but this is a step in the right direction).
 
The breakthrough this week was when she said she "started using her throat" to sing - she was usually able to nail the unison note, or at least be within a second and then following my hand cues "scoop" to the unison note.
 
My techniques are:
  1. I sing first, they imagine they're singing the note, and then they sing the same note
  2. To "feel" what a unison (or octave) note is like compared to a non-unison note (from Evoking Sound I believe)
  3. If need be, to "scoop" to the the non-unison note, following hand signals from me if necessary (though usually the first two steps work fine)
So any thoughts on what this student is saying and how to build on it?  How could someone *not* use their throat when singing?
on March 13, 2014 10:05am
have you used the technique of having her sing first, and then you match her pitch?  Perhaps this might assist her awareness of what it sounds and feels like to match.
Does she consistently sing too low or too high?  Or does she sing with a limited range?  Those responses might give clues to better suggestions on how to help her.
I have a singer who is slightly younger than yours (mine are grades 3 - 7) and he has struggled since he started choir, but has steadily improved.  In his situation he has a physiological problem - there is a disconnect between his brain and his tongue, so he does not have an accurate mental awareness of the position of his tongue.  For instance if you ask him to stick out his tongue he will *think* he is sticking it out, but it is really still in his mouth.  He has had years of therapy for this problem.  When he first joined choir he was painfully shy, but over the years he has really come out of his shell and now he is a leader in the group despite his continued struggles with matching pitch.  is there any possibility that your singer has some sort of physiological issue?
 
Julie Ford
 
on March 13, 2014 1:02pm
I had a male student a few years ago who was also having trouble matching pitch. His problem turned out to be a registration issue. When he understood the concept of the different registers, his pitch problem cleared up.
 
A few thoughts:
1. You mentioned you are having them audiate. Good! Are you sure she is audiating (inner hearing) well or correctly? Have her audiate "Happy Birthday" then sing it. Can she maintain pitch/key when she does? If she cannot, ask her whether what she heard when she sang matched what she heard when she audiated.
If it did, she may not be audiating correctly and may need work on that. Play or sing two notes separately. Ask her whether they are the same pitch and whether the second was higher or lower than the first. You may also ask her to sing two different pitches, but let the second be higher/lower than the first at your command. It may take some work and time, but she should be able to develop the skill.
If she says it did not, then you may be dealing with a vocal technical issue. (See #2)
2. How is her overall range? Is she primarily strong in the lower/chest range but weak in the upper/head range? Vice versa? If she is, she could be dealing with a laryngeal coordination issue. Can she succesfully perform a siren? If not, I would suggest you have her start doing those to open up whichever register is weakest and then coordinate the two. Start from very low, to make certain she is using her chest voice, and go very high, to make sure she is getting in her head voice. Follow a low - high - low pattern to help her get from chest to head, then from head to chest. Oh's and oo's are best to help her maintain a stable, low laryngeal position. You may also have her sing staccato triads (even if off pitch at the beginning) to help her readjust the larygneal mechanism to the register.
3. Speaking of coordinating registers - is she singing with spread vowels or vertical vowels. Spread vowels tend to keep the voice in chest register too high, but vertical vowels allow a smoother transition between chest and head.
4. You said she is a teenager. Is she an early, middle or late teenager? If she is early to middle, she may be dealing with some voice change issues. (Yes, girls' voices change as well, but primarily in terms of timbre, not pitch.)
 
Good luck and let us know how she's doing.
 
Ray
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