Monday, January 08, 2018

Can you join a choir if you can’t hit a note?

I had an enquiry this week: “Am I correct in believing that, to join your choir, it isn’t necessary to be able to hit a note?”


I said that yes, that was the case. But it’s important to unpick what “unable to hit a note” means.

There are many people out there who believe they can’t ‘sing’. There are many reasons why this might be. I’ve written about them in the post Why can’t I sing?

Is believing that you can’t sing the same as “being unable to hit a note”?

what does “can’t hit a note” mean?

Another meaning for “hitting a note” can be “to sing in tune”. That is, to be able to accurately reproduce notes in a melody, to be able to pitch a note exactly.

But “hitting a note” can also mean not being able to sing high (or low) enough: “The note was too high for me to hit it.”

This person probably means that they don’t think they can sing in tune.

how do you know you can’t sing in tune?

There are two ways of discovering that you can’t sing in tune:
  1. you have the self-awareness to know that you’re not singing the same as other singers (or a recording);
  2. somebody tells you that you’re out of tune
The first case is good news: you have enough self-awareness to become more accurate with a bit of practice.

The second case is more problematic.
  • the person telling you might be wrong. It might be them who’s out of tune or not singing the correct notes; or,
  • their perception may be off and you’re pretty much singing in tune; or,
  • you are singing slightly out of tune, but in a large group it’s not that much of a problem; or,
  • the quality of your voice (its timbre) means that it appears you are singing differently from the others, but you’re not; or,
  • you might be singing in the wrong octave. That is you’re not in the right part for your voice so you’re singing the correct melody, but not at the same pitch as those around you.
None of these situations is particularly problematic as there are simple solutions to all of them.

singing alone vs. singing with others

Some people love to sing. They sing all the time: around the house, in the car, in the shower. Singing out loud and proud is pleasurable. It doesn’t matter if we’re singing in tune or not as long as we’re having a good time. Of course, if anybody else is around, they might not enjoy the experience as much as we do!

Singing with others in a choir is a different thing. It’s a team game. We work together to produce a beautiful sound as a whole. It’s not possible to sing out loud without a care and not consider those around you. In a choir you have to give up a certain amount of freedom in exchange for the wonderful sounds that a group of singers can make.

See Balancing individual freedom with the demands of the team.

Not being able to hit a note becomes more of an issue when you’re singing with others, but it’s seldom a deal breaker. Be sensitive to those around you and try to blend in as much as you can. A few odd notes or pitch inaccuracies will disappear in the overall mix since there are many other singers singing the same part as you.

can you join a choir if you sing out of tune?

The simple answer is: yes! Not all choirs of course. Some of them require singers to have had a lot of singing experience and to have reached a certain standard. You might not be ready for that yet and probably wouldn’t pass the audition if there is one.

There are, however, plenty of different kinds of choir out there ranging from Singing for the Terrified groups (for complete beginners who are nervous about using their voices) to community choirs which are “open access”, I.e. don’t hold auditions and don’t require any previous singing experience.

By joining a group to suit you, over time you will learn to “hit a note” more accurately and more consistently.

You might find that the first group you try contains singers with more experience than you so you’ll find it harder to keep up and your occasional ‘off’ note might be more noticeable. But don’t give up, there will definitely be a group out there to suit you. It just may take a little time to find it.

what did I tell the person who asked to join my choir?

I said that of course the person could join. All it needs is that they love to sing. That is enough motivation to gradually get better and learn to enjoy their voice to its full potential.

If somebody wants to join a choir it must mean that they enjoy music (so will have some sort of musical ear and will definitely not be tone deaf) and probably enjoy singing, even if it’s just around the house by themselves.

in the meantime … you might want to read these posts

How do I know if I’m singing in tune?

“Everyone can sing” – what the hell does that mean??!!

Learn how to sing in tune

Singing out of tune isn’t always a bad thing

Singing in a group is a learnt skill – if you find it hard, it doesn’t mean you can’t sing

Are you tone deaf? Very unlikely!

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Chris Rowbury



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