I’ve found that many aspiring vocalists cannot sing a chromatic scale a capella in tune. Try it out!
I recommend you record yourself to check accuracy. Give yourself a starting pitch on the piano then sing a chromatic scale with a slow, steady tempo. Listen back. Play each note on the piano along with your recording to check your pitch.
How’d you do? If it wasn’t perfect, where did you start to stray?
Often times the first couple of notes are fine but we become less accurate as we get further away from the tonic (or ‘home’ tone). Our ears generally correct the pitch issues as we get closer to the tonic again at the top of the scale.
Why is this? I believe it’s because most vocalists do not engage regularly in ear training exercises. Most of us think we have a pretty good handle on half-steps! The fact is it takes daily exercise to maintain accurate singing that is consistently in-tune. Furthermore, vocalists are not always encouraged to practice scales. Don’t get me wrong, most traditional vocal warmups are built from scales and simple arpeggios. However, these warmups are generally practiced with the focus on technique, not necessarily ear training.
If you want to improve your pitch accuracy, creativity in improvising melodies, your dexterity or your metric and physical control consider practicing scales.
Turn a metronome on and sing! Try this after you’ve done your normal warm-ups so that your focus is not on the technical aspects of the scale, but rather the theoretical aspects. Remember, we don’t have keys so we have to know the sounds of these scales inside-and-out if we expect them to come out on the band stand.
I believe the best way for vocalists to think about scales is numerically. For example, the Dominant Scale is 1 2 3 4 5 6 b7 8. I was having trouble finding a list of commonly used jazz scales spelled out this way, so I created one just for you – Check it Out!
Announcing a New Project
I am very excited to be working on some great material for you! Next week I’ll be starting a series focusing on jazz legend Jon Hendricks. The series will include transcriptions, lyrics and interviews on lyricising and the art of scatting. I am thrilled to be collaborating with a great vocalist and educator Ellie Martin. Ellie completed her Master’s thesis on Jon Hendricks and she’ll be sharing some of that with you! For more info on Ellie please check out her Bio. Meanwhile, here is a clip to get you acquainted. Enjoy!