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Good vocal pitch: what does it LOOK like?


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I've been a singer in acapella groups and choir for years. Ever since I've started producing songs in Logic though I'm paranoid about singing in-pitch. In the moments of comping and editing my vocals I'm always tempted to pitch correct because my vocals untill they are *perfect* in pitch.

 

Don't get me wrong, I can sing on pitch as much as the next singer but I just start to obsess about it when I'm editing.

 

My question is: does anyone ever sing an *exact* pitch? Also, what is a normal and good pitch range (in cents) of a vocal? At what degree (sharp or flat) is a well sung vocal note generally considered to be "off-pitch"?

 

I know this is a subjective question but I would appreciate any thoughts on the matter. thanks!

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:?

 

That attitude is not going to work. It is only going to get in the way of reaching people with your music.

 

It reminds me of a saxophonist I knew in high school who wanted to buy an SPL meter so that he could practice playing p at 55 dB, mp at 61.5 dB, mf at 66 dB, and so on.

 

Nobody ever really enjoyed hearing his playing.

 

That's about all I have to say about that.

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I lied; that's not all I have to say.

 

Tuning is not a cut and dried thing. Sometimes a note is better in tune when it is, say, 14 cents flat (if it's the 3rd of the chord), or 2 cents sharp (if it's the 5th).

 

See this for a graphic and sound explanation:

 

http://www.hermode.com/html/tuning-history_en.html

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It reminds me of a saxophonist I knew in high school who wanted to buy an SPL meter so that he could practice playing p at 55 dB, mp at 61.5 dB, mf at 66 dB, and so on.

 

:shock:

 

OMG! What a freak!!

 

J.

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Also depending on the richness in harmonics, you could be 27 cents off and sound more in tune than someone who was 2 cents off. I've had tracks where the singer was autotuned and people told me he sounded out of tune. So it really depends on the sound of your voice, not just its pitch. I would stray away from measuring equipment and use your ears.

 

Problem is, you'll always be overly critical with your vocals. Maybe you need someone else to do the job for you, just so that they can bring a new perspective. One producer I worked with told me he would never, ever comp vocals with the vocalist in the room, because they would only focus on pitch and often reject the most emotional takes, favoring the technically perfect ones - when he would rather do the opposite. It's all about emotion. Or at least it should be.

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I agree with what's been said. Especially the comments dealing with being overly critical with your own voice and using your ears as your guide.

 

It is just interesting to realize the science behind the sound but not letting it dictate the music. Pitch is such an obsession with singers but I think most listeners (including myself) don't notice a note going a little flat or sharp. It's almost impossible to notice that stuff without focusing consciously on it.

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Logic 9.1.1 (32-bit), OSX 10.6.4, iMac 24" 3.06 ghz 8gig, Apogee Duet, Rode NTK, Oxygen8 v2 controller, Absynth 5.

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But when you look at the science behind it, you realize that it's not as simple as saying "Ok, if you sing within 4.7 cents of the right note it will sound in pitch, but anything 4.8 cents and over sounds out of pitch". It depends on the timbre of the voice, the vibrato, the way you sing, the orchestration and the sound of the instruments, the way the vocals are mixed, etc etc... it even depends on the listener's cultural background. In most of the masterpieces that came out in the 70s, the lead singers would probably be considered completely out of tune by today's autotuned standards. Meanwhile, when I was a kid listening to them, I never thought they were out of tune, not even a little bit.

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Meanwhile, when I was a kid listening to them, I never thought they were out of tune, not even a little bit.

 

Exactly! I know that we have the loudness wars going on right now, but I also think there is a "pitch war" as well. 10 years ago I would record songs completely dry and people loved the vocals. Now, I sing better than I ever have but it's a very big temptation to tighten the tuning even when the vocal doesn't sound "out of tune."

 

Let me get this straight, even the best non-auto-tuned vocal is going to be drifting above and below the center pitch at all times right? Rarely, if ever will a singer hit and sustain a perfect pitch. In essence, a vocal can have notes that aren't *perfectly* in-tune but those notes might be *perfect* for the track?

https://www.facebook.com/churchwilliamsmusic

 

Logic 9.1.1 (32-bit), OSX 10.6.4, iMac 24" 3.06 ghz 8gig, Apogee Duet, Rode NTK, Oxygen8 v2 controller, Absynth 5.

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Let me get this straight, even the best non-auto-tuned vocal is going to be drifting above and below the center pitch at all times right? Rarely, if ever will a singer hit and sustain a perfect pitch. In essence, a vocal can have notes that aren't *perfectly* in-tune but those notes might be *perfect* for the track?

 

Yes and yes! Have you ever tried to autotune a guitar? Often it will make it sound out of tune, because we are trained to hear a guitar being a little sharp on the attack and then falling down onto the correct pitch. If you don't have that effect, it doesn't sound like a guitar, or it sounds like an out of tune guitar. That's why many string modelizing instruments (scultpure, EVD6, etc...) have a "tension mod" parameter: to recreate that sharp pitch on the attack of the note.

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Yes and yes! Have you ever tried to autotune a guitar? Often it will make it sound out of tune, because we are trained to hear a guitar being a little sharp on the attack and then falling down onto the correct pitch. If you don't have that effect, it doesn't sound like a guitar, or it sounds like an out of tune guitar. That's why many string modelizing instruments (scultpure, EVD6, etc...) have a "tension mod" parameter: to recreate that sharp pitch on the attack of the note.

 

Brilliant! this makes me feel better. Sometimes when I sit in my studio and comp my vocals I become so nit-picky and obsessed. I often feel like Jack Nicholson from The Shining or something. Knowing that my vocals aren't supposed to be perfect may just keep me sane :)

 

Thanks for the help!

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Logic 9.1.1 (32-bit), OSX 10.6.4, iMac 24" 3.06 ghz 8gig, Apogee Duet, Rode NTK, Oxygen8 v2 controller, Absynth 5.

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Very cool conversation! In addition to pitch, I look at timing. With Flex, now you can quantize the vocals as much as you can quantize MIDI and match the vocal's timing to the music. Since I like to quantize my instruments, some times my vocals sound just slightly out of time with the music here and there. The question then is, do you want perfection? But then that only brings up a whole new question. What is perfection? Is it having everything within perfect scientific scale, or is it the chaos the ensues when we do not rely on technology so much?
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Don't obsess too much. I read that book a while ago where a cello player was enjoying his life as a professional musician, playing huge audiences throughout the world, sometimes playing solo cello pieces, alone on stage.

 

Until one day, he starts the first note, and hears it out of tune. So he stops, apologizes, and start tuning his cello. Starts again, and again, out of tune. Apologizes again, starts tuning again, and finally realizes that there is just no way he can tune his cello to be PERFECTLY in pitch. Unfortunately, that moment was also the end of his career as a professional musician.

 

Don't forget that it's not just the voice: many instruments cannot be tuned perfectly. Guitars are not perfect (far from it in fact). Pianos... if all the strings on a piano were perfectly in tune, it wouldn't sound like a piano, but more like a casio "Piano 01" type sound. Oboes... did you know an oboe cannot be tuned?

 

So yeah, obsess less. Take all that energy to focus on the emotion! :D

 

PS: for what it's worth, I never tune bass guitars with a tuner, I feel that tunes them out of tune. I prefer the low strings to be a bit lower than what the tuner says. That's not uncommon! That's also why some instruments such as the EVP88 have a "stretch" parameter!

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Oh and that reminds me of an experience I did once with 12 of the best classical musicians in France. I brought a sine wave generator and one by one, I played a pitch (i.e. 440Hz) and asked them to blindly adjust the frequency button (which was unmarked) exactly one octave above (by ear).

 

The results I got were something like:

Musician 1 = 896Hz

Musician 2 = 899Hz

Musician 3 = 887Hz

Musician 4 = 902Hz

etc...

 

What I found was: the average was clearly not 880Hz, but a bit above. If I asked Musician 1 to do the test 5 times, he would maybe find (896, 899, 895, 892, 894). If I asked Musician 4, he would maybe find (899, 905, 902, 901, 898).

 

My conclusion was that what we hear as an octave is a bit MORE than double the frequency (which is what a tuner or a pitch correction will give you). And more interesting: we don't all hear pitch exactly the same way.

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The whole notion of A being 440 Hz is just an agreement done long time ago.

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A440_(Concert_A)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pitch_(music)

 

Me thinks the biggest sin done in the early renaissance was to lock down the scales so that we only has 12 base notes to operate with. Argh.

 

If you listen to for example Indian singing, they have a far bigger palette to work with. Don't think these singers ever worry about being out of pitch as they use a huge tonal vocabulary.

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Very cool conversation! In addition to pitch, I look at timing. With Flex, now you can quantize the vocals as much as you can quantize MIDI and match the vocal's timing to the music. Since I like to quantize my instruments, some times my vocals sound just slightly out of time with the music here and there. The question then is, do you want perfection? But then that only brings up a whole new question. What is perfection? Is it having everything within perfect scientific scale, or is it the chaos the ensues when we do not rely on technology so much?

 

I really like this thought too. Obsessively flex timing the vocal can be a temptation also. you bring up a good point about "perfection". Maybe perfection IS having a few notes off in pitch, or maybe a few notes off-time. When I clean my house I get in the same mindset, things "must be perfectly clean". I actually started forcing myself to intentionally not vacuum a certain section of carpet. I also like to leave out a little mail and random junk on the counter. Cleaning becomes much more enjoyable this way! I think lowering our standards when making music (in certain ways) frees us to create much more compelling pieces.

https://www.facebook.com/churchwilliamsmusic

 

Logic 9.1.1 (32-bit), OSX 10.6.4, iMac 24" 3.06 ghz 8gig, Apogee Duet, Rode NTK, Oxygen8 v2 controller, Absynth 5.

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What I found was: the average was clearly not 880Hz, but a bit above. If I asked Musician 1 to do the test 5 times, he would maybe find (896, 899, 895, 892, 894). If I asked Musician 4, he would maybe find (899, 905, 902, 901, 898).

I've noticed this with myself. You'd think that the brain would have an easier time figuring out a 2/1 just intonation ratio than any other. I mean the math is easier, right? But I find I'm more sensitive to one note being out in a 3/2 perfect fifth or 5/4 third. I think that's true for most people. So I think it's less about being in tune to a specific pitch and more about good intonation with smaller intervals.

Music helps not the toothache.--George Herbert
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You can boil it all down to this: there is no such thing as perfection. There is only context.

 

I'll put another spin on pitch for you... Ever listen to opera? If you haven't, then just go to the iTunes store for a minute and do a search for "opera classics". In the list that comes up, click on #3 (Madame Butterfly) or #7 (Les Troyens). What you'll hear is "perfect" in that genre. Controlled as their singing is, to my ears a lot of those notes sound out of tune to me. Some of them push the point of acceptability pitch-wise. But let's look at emotion and context to put perspective on this...

 

Macey Gray. Can't sing in tune, really, but she has a great vibe. Mariah Carey. I don't think she ever sang a bad note in her life (that is, before she got divorced). Good pitch AND emotion are what make her stand out as a performer and an artist. But clearly it's not the only accepted kind of singing. Otherwise Macey Gray wouldn't have had a prayer.

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Kent Wrote,

If you listen to for example Indian singing, they have a far bigger palette to work with. Don't think these singers ever worry about being out of pitch as they use a huge tonal vocabulary.

Yes, tonality.

I studied with an Indian Singer. He had perfect pitch, came from a very old traditional branch, and worked at his craft approx. 13 hrs. a day. His knowledge of "Western" music was profound, and he loved improvising with the local Jazz musicians.

Tonality. If I asked my teacher for "blue" he could give me 30 musical shadings. He played with tone in different living situations. Pitch being an element of tone. Tone being an element of how our living presence experiences music (or painting, poetry, a movie etc. etc.)

And for me it is what Ski highlighted, it becomes about context.

 

To the OP. Just sing. Sometimes editing only means that it has been edited. It doesn't necessarily mean it has improved artistically.

Though it can... :)

The legend of the people who accidentally wrote really really good songs about me.......
At Play in the Tale of Now.

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