One of the common misconceptions many singers have, especially when they are starting their vocal training is that they need to have perfect pitch or great pitch skills as a pre-requisite. The truth is, very few musicians actually have perfect pitch, and some famous singers are technically even tone-deaf.
What does being tone-deaf really mean?
Sometimes singers will call themselves tone-deaf without really knowing what the term really refers to. The term tone-deaf in music and singing simply means that a singer has difficulty recognizing differences in musical pitch, either when singing pitches, listening to a specific pitch or group of pitches, or trying to match pitches in songs or vocal exercises.
Many singers might have difficulty with different sections of their vocal range, but in my experience, there are few singers who are truly tone-deaf. Pitch is thankfully something that can definitely be improved over time! However, there is a lot of inspiration that we can find with singers who have had great careers despite being tone-deaf.
Four famous tone-deaf singers:
1) Florence Foster Jenkins (July 19, 1868 – November 26, 1944)
Florence Foster Jenkins was a well known American socialite who also happened to be a soprano. You might have heard of her from the film produced four years ago about her life, which was a very interesting history in and of itself.
Florence Foster Jenkins sang some of the most popular high soprano repertoire, and even though she was often misunderstood in her artistic life, she was able to become quite famous and even made her Carnegie Hall debut before her death.
2) James Franco (April 19, 1978 – )
James Franco is mostly known as an American actor, filmmaker and writer, however he has branched out into creating music in recent years, beginning in 2012. James Franco does not have prior musical training, and his musical pursuits were never as popular as his acting work.
3) Kelly Osbourne (October 27, 1984 -)
Kelly Osbourne is another famous British actress who has recorded some music in recent years. Despite being the daughter of famous singer Ozzy Osbourne, Kelly Osbourne does not have the same musical sensibility of her father and she definitely took the acting talent from her mother.
4) Roger Waters (September 6, 1943 – )
Roger Walters is a co-founder of the famous band Pink Floyd, and he mostly served as a songwriter and bassist until he started doing vocals for the band. Roger Waters has documented in many articles and interviews that he has struggled with pitch throughout his career, but it seems to be more likely that he is partially tone-deaf. Either way, Roger still has had a wonderful career and has a great reputation among the public.
How can I improve my pitch?
If you’re curious ways that you can improve your pitch, thankfully there are exercises that can help strengthen your pitch recognition and accuracy. Here are a few different options!
1) Work on developing your music reading ability by studying music theory.
Seeing the musical notation and understanding how it works will significantly help you with your pitch recognition, which can really help with your overall musical pitch.
There are a few ways that you can do this, but the easiest way to get started would be to study theory online, either with a tutor or a self-study program such as musictheory.net
The most important topics for working on pitch would be to learn and memorize the staff, note names, and how sharps/flats impact musical notation. More complicated topics would be chord structure and harmonization.
2) Work on ear training and aural skills exercises to strengthen your musical ear.
One of the best ways to strengthen pitch besides music theory would be to learn musical intervals and memorize how they sound. One of the best websites that will give you exercises is also musictheory.net, but specifically this interval exercise creator.
3) Work on your sight-singing abilities.
Sight-singing, or sometimes known as sight-reading, is one of the most important elements of music education in musical degree programs, and for good reason! Sight-singing is a great way to combine all of your musical knowledge into one specific practice. There are great websites that can help give you exercises to try depending on your skill level; start simple and then gradually increase the difficulty. One of the current online resources is called sight-reading factory.
These are just a few musical artists to inspire you to keep studying and practicing… never give up on your musical journey! Set realistic goals and work towards them every day, even if it’s just a few minutes each day. You can do it!