How to Teach the Tone-deaf to Sing


There is some debate among voice instructors as to whether there is such a thing as true tone deafness. It is, however, easy to recognize that some people can match pitch, learn melodies and produce a clear tone more easily than others. When working with a would-be singer who has pitch challenges, the key is patience. Many of them will need to learn to hear the differences from one pitch to another in a slow and painstaking process, which will eventually lead to faster progression as the voice and hearing learn to cooperate to produce a clear tone.

Things You'll Need

  • Piano
  • Sheet music
  • Song recording

First Half Hour Session

  • Sit at the piano with the singer standing close enough to the piano to place one hand on the piano. Have the singer close her eyes. Play one note on the piano loudly and ask them to listen and feel the vibration in their hand and arm. Play the note again.

  • Play a second note several steps higher, or lower than the first the first. Ask her to listen and tell you if the note is higher or lower than the first. Play the first note again, only if she requests it.

  • Continue with this exercise up and down the scale until the singer is getting the answer correct consistently. Repeat the exercise with notes closer and closer together, until you are playing notes side by side on the piano.

Second Half Hour Session

  • Warm up with the exercise from the first session, with the singer's eyes closed and one hand on the piano. Repeat as needed until he gets three correct answers in a row.

  • Play each note, starting with middle C and ask the singer to match the pitch. Try each note twice, then move on to the next. Find a note the singer can match, which typically happens the first time; play a three-note scale, starting from that note. (For example, C, E, G.) Ask the singer to sing each tone in succession, going higher, then starting at the top and coming down.

  • Shift from the first note to the second and start a new three-tone scale, continue moving up, or down the keyboard playing and singing three-note scales.

Third Half Hour Session

  • Start with the exercise from the first session, then do several three-tone scales until his voice is warmed up and he is showing some consistency. Encourage him with each correct note, overlooking the mistakes and focusing on what success there is.

  • Play and sing five-tone scales, starting with the note your singer first matched. Let him sing with you.

  • Find a simple song with no more than a one-octave range, and which starts with the note the singer first matched in your last session. Teach only the first two to four measures of the melody to the singer. Send a recording of that melody home with him to practice. That recording should be played one note at a time on the piano.

  • Continue adding to the song, until he is singing the melody fairly consistently. Choose a new song and practice both in each session. Start normal training from this point.

Tips & Warnings

  • Use encouragement. Most people who believe they are tone deaf are terrified of singing.
  • Do not make promises. Instead, celebrate every small step forward.

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  • "The Alexander Technique and the Art of Teaching Voice"; Maria Ursula Weiss; 2005
  • Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images
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