Acceptable Margin of Error on Vocal Pitch

Recording Techniques, People Skills, Gear, Recording Spaces, Computers, and DIY

Moderators: drumsound, tomb

User avatar
losthighway
deaf.
Posts: 1882
Joined: Mon Apr 14, 2008 8:02 pm
Contact:

Acceptable Margin of Error on Vocal Pitch

Post by losthighway » Sat Sep 08, 2012 4:45 pm

**Disclaimer First and foremost, this is subjective, and I'm curious about opinions**

I am a singer, but not a born singer. My pitch recognition tends to be much better when I'm hearing a note, than producing it. I have had to really be disciplined to get adequate vocal takes. My bandmate/ backup singer is gifted with a similar mediocrity.

I have gotten in the habit when recording singers of doing a vocal send to the Korg rack tuner that found its way into my rack. It actually picks up vocals pretty accurately if the note is as long as let's say a half note. I try not to live by it, but when a singer isn't sure what's going wrong I can see the notes they're nailing and where they are sharp or flat.

Using this device on myself has proven eye-opening. I don't use autotune, mostly because I like the natural bit of waiver in a good vocal performance. The singers I record take pride in accomplishing something and sharing a performance with their actual pitches. In other words: just a little off is ok, sometimes even good.

I've noticed watching the tuner that up to 10 or 15 cents sharp can sound pretty okay if there aren't two voices working together. For some reason anything near 10 cents flat is more troubling to the ear, than sharp.

Has anyone ever quantified pitch in this way when judging a vocal performance?

User avatar
T-rex
dead but not forgotten
Posts: 2123
Joined: Mon Apr 05, 2004 5:44 am
Location: Louisville KY

Post by T-rex » Sat Sep 08, 2012 5:12 pm

I have nothing to add other than to say that is a brilliant idea of sending the vox to a tuner to see the notes. For someone like myself with the same "ailment", that would be a ton of help.
[Asked whether his shades are prescription or just to look cool]
Guy: Well, I am the drummer.

LimpyLoo
pluggin' in mics
Posts: 34
Joined: Sat Sep 01, 2012 11:10 pm

Post by LimpyLoo » Sat Sep 08, 2012 6:14 pm

Hey!

The *only* measure of a vocal should be the aesthetic impact. In your post, you are presuming that perfect pitch is the goal. It shouldn't be. While mathematically/theoretically "440" may be optimal, aesthetically it is indifferent.

The proof of this is that there are bad singers with great pitch, and great singers with poor pitch.


So I would say your question is misguided.



8) LL

Adam Chesi
studio intern
Posts: 26
Joined: Mon Aug 20, 2012 6:23 am

Post by Adam Chesi » Sat Sep 08, 2012 6:25 pm

Short answer, I agree with LimpyLoo. Long answer, see below.

I've never much been a fan of using a tuner on vocals as it tends to over look the underlying "ailment". Only thing that ever worked on that ailment for me were actual voice lessons and Solf?ge. One quick practice trick that worked for me was to arpeggiate a chord on a piano and sing with it, then start to arpeggiate again and sing the fifth before I struck the key. After a while move to singing the third, and the octave, etc. For the record, I'm still a terrible singer, but my pitch is much better.

As for how far out of tune is too far out of tune? What genre are you working in? I had a band I worked with where the "producer" (the sax player) wanted to have the lead vocals all tuned perfectly, so he went through in DP and auto-tuned the vocalist. Sounded horrible to me, and for the genre (think blues/funk/rock type stuff, most akin to the Blues Brothers, but not quite), it's perfectly fine to be out of tune. The irony of it all is that the sax is out of tune in half of his solos.

On the other hand, I've had pop musicians who wanted not auto tune at all, but they were trying to sound like most of the pop artists out there today. It's really quite silly.

I'd say, in general, if it sounds good to you and to others around you (in the band, otherwise), than it's fine. We get too hung up on these ideas of, "Everything has to be perfect!" and end up spending less time making music and more time worrying about perfection all too often.

The other point that's worth making is that, on a lower pitch, pitch being off by 10 cents is significantly less noticeable than a higher pitch (ie a bass at the low end of his range who's off by 10 cents will be less noticeable than a soprano at the high end of her range who is off 10 cents).
~Adam Chesi
Sweetwater Sales Engineer
Adam_Chesi@sweetwater.com
(800) 222-4700 x1694

User avatar
fossiltooth
carpal tunnel
Posts: 1734
Joined: Sat Mar 24, 2007 3:03 pm
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Contact:

Post by fossiltooth » Sun Sep 09, 2012 6:36 am

I'm also with Limpy on this one.

Rather than having a tuner, I like having an in-tune piano nearby. This way you can play pitches when the singer is struggling. Some people create melodic guide tracks, but I find those to be a little constricting. Instead, I prefer to go over to the keyboard, rehearse the troublesome pitches and then go back and do another take.

I don't really know how people would record great vocal takes without some kind of in-tune keyboard around for when things get hairy. Singing along to reference pitches before rushing in to yet another take is a great technique. It also makes people better singers in the long run.

User avatar
losthighway
deaf.
Posts: 1882
Joined: Mon Apr 14, 2008 8:02 pm
Contact:

Post by losthighway » Sun Sep 09, 2012 6:56 am

All interesting perspectives. I don't want to give anyone the impression that I have begun vocal recording for my album with my eyes glued on the tuner. It's just another tool to see if something feels off, maybe there is a little math to explain what kind of off. And then I can make adjustments.

I totally agree about having a keyboard/piano around. I've already done some last-minute revisions on backup harmonies to make them better, sometimes easier. Like "Oh there is a major second between us for two beats..... no wonder it sounded like we couldn't hit the sweet spot."

The one thing that I have learned has begun to aid how I coach other singers who are having pitch issues: sometimes my ears fall a little too in love with the more "chesty" lowish mids in my voice coming through the cans as I record. This tends to make me croonier than on a PA, and it also can lead to flatness. I can do another take where I think of my voice as coming out of my face instead of my throat (sounds weird I know) and get a "higher" (which is really to say less lower harmonics and at most extreme slightly more nasal) sound while singing the same notes, and more in tune.

Again, there seems to be a magical brain reset for pitch when you pick out the notes of the melody on a piano, then hold the chord and sing the tricky phrase slowly over it.

This has been one of the most esoteric parts of the recording process for me for years, both in front of the mic and in front of the console. I really think both an engineer, producer, or a singer can keep learning about it endlessly. Keep sharing folks.

User avatar
T-rex
dead but not forgotten
Posts: 2123
Joined: Mon Apr 05, 2004 5:44 am
Location: Louisville KY

Post by T-rex » Sun Sep 09, 2012 8:06 am

I think its a great idea to have a reference. I can't count how many times I have multiple vocalists arguing about who is off while they are working out harmonies etc.

Its like any tool, I wouldn't want someone to try to do a vocal take while staring at a tuner; just like I wouldn't mix solely using a spectrum analyzer. But I can see it being a nice reference to help figure out problems.
[Asked whether his shades are prescription or just to look cool]
Guy: Well, I am the drummer.

User avatar
farview
tinnitus
Posts: 1204
Joined: Tue Aug 31, 2004 1:42 pm
Location: St. Charles (chicago) IL
Contact:

Post by farview » Sun Sep 09, 2012 8:17 am

The only time pitch is a problem is when it sounds bad. Perfect pitch isn't the goal, a convincing performance is. Sometimes that means that the tension created by the dissonance actually helps the overall performance.

It is not uncommon for sharp to sound better than flat. I don't know why, but that is a well known fact.

User avatar
Nick Sevilla
speech impediment
Posts: 4845
Joined: Mon Mar 03, 2008 1:34 pm
Location: Los Angeles California USA
Contact:

Post by Nick Sevilla » Sun Sep 09, 2012 12:23 pm

TOM WAITS
Realizing vibratory excursions from a paper widget.

donny
takin' a dinner break
Posts: 165
Joined: Fri Aug 22, 2008 6:10 am
Contact:

Post by donny » Sun Sep 09, 2012 12:30 pm

instruments are not always 'in-tune' themselves, certainly every instrument is not in tune with other instruments. lack of exact pitch makes thing sound fuller. so it's hard to say exactly what 'in tune' even is if you're using a tuner ... the tuner itself can mislead. in any case, pitchy vocals can work or not work ... depends mainly on whether it suits the music or not.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0_z_UEuEMAo

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-gFSAyzx4Oc
http://www.trounrecords.com

your life is beautiful / a seed becomes a tree / a mountain into a sky / this life is meant to be

dfuruta
re-cappin' neve
Posts: 697
Joined: Fri May 08, 2009 11:01 am

Post by dfuruta » Sun Sep 09, 2012 1:34 pm

Using a tuner can be misleading, as you're forcing a particular temperament (equal, probably) on the singer that may not be appropriate. There are a lot of different ways of being "in tune"?perfect equal temperament is one, but having the intervals be correct for the particular key, chord function, and melodic shape is another. These are fundamentally incompatible.

Even besides the (important) question of whether being objectively in tune is important?I don't think so, personally, as long as the feeling is right?you need to think about what it means to be in tune. Learning intonation with a tuner, which a lot of people do, will leave you unable to find the richest spot for each note.

Here's an experiment! Try tuning two strings on a violin or something to a perfect fifth, using your tuner. When you play them together, is it quite a perfect fifth? No. If you want to be able to play in every key with equal ease, this is a good thing; if you want your intervals exact it isn't.

Edit: the same thing applies to tuning exactly to a piano.

User avatar
losthighway
deaf.
Posts: 1882
Joined: Mon Apr 14, 2008 8:02 pm
Contact:

Post by losthighway » Sun Sep 09, 2012 2:00 pm

dfuruta wrote:Using a tuner can be misleading, as you're forcing a particular temperament (equal, probably) on the singer that may not be appropriate.

Edit: the same thing applies to tuning exactly to a piano.
Totally. Also as per an earlier comment, the instruments themselves are never truly in tune. Especially two guitars (even well intonated) playing different chord voicings, with uneven string tension from the physical act of holding down a barre chord, or whatever.

Sometimes my ear will get really tune picky, like if someone's questioning the "in tune-ness" of a rhythm guitar part. I can start hearing every minor pitch variation, and it turns into tail chasing. I can reapproach the same track a day later and it sounds fine.

Don't get me wrong folks, I'm not recording in front of a tuner trying to get all perfectly centered green lights on the box. I'm not even capable of it. It's more of a thing of:

"Why do all these takes sound rotten at the end of that one particular line?"

"Oh the tuner confirms I'm always way sharp on that G, but not the notes before it. Let me run it with a piano, then do another take and try and relax on that note a little more." Boom, better performance, more fun to listen to.

It's like when I track drums and I see my snare hits are particularly weak on a certain beat that's supposed to sound tough. I don't set up to play in front of a meter for the rest of the session. It's just using the technology to give me feedback on my musicianship, when to push forward, or lay back.

Burnt Ernie
takin' a dinner break
Posts: 196
Joined: Fri Jan 01, 2010 2:38 pm
Location: minneapolis

Post by Burnt Ernie » Sun Sep 09, 2012 8:29 pm

If the singing's going to a multitonal(all overdubs included),then base all error (to start with) on the low/bass range. Everything "homes" in from there.
If you're just thinking you're pitchy,RELAX-every singer worth his/her salt had better be pitchy. That's where the song is.
play with it. Scream the choruses. Good luck rding the whispered verses.
Always say the same thing- Finish the song,THEN try to sing it.
YOU WROTE IT-YOU'd BETTER OWN it.
I am the Walnut

User avatar
SafeandSoundMastering
gettin' sounds
Posts: 107
Joined: Thu Jun 02, 2011 7:34 am
Contact:

Post by SafeandSoundMastering » Mon Sep 10, 2012 10:29 am

I think this is genre dependent, it would be easy to say no margin of error but great voices are not always in tune so it depends on the voice quality itself and the genre of music as to the expectation of what is an acceptable level of 'out of tune'.

SafeandSound Mastering
SAS Mastering
Last edited by SafeandSoundMastering on Sat Nov 03, 2012 3:34 am, edited 1 time in total.

LimpyLoo
pluggin' in mics
Posts: 34
Joined: Sat Sep 01, 2012 11:10 pm

Post by LimpyLoo » Mon Sep 10, 2012 11:23 am

SafeandSoundMastering wrote:I think this is genre dependent, it would be easy to say no margin of error but great voices are not always in tune so it depends on the voice quality itself and the genre of music as to the expectation of what is an acceptable level of 'out of tune'.

SafeandSound Mastering
Online mastering services
Sinatra was pitch-y. Nina Simone was pitch-y. Human beings are pitch-y.


I quite resent the fact that there is an expectation now of vocals being pitch-perfect. It's a silly (and ultimately destructive) thing that should be raged against where possible.

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: darjama and 22 guests