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Last active Jan 7, 2020
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How to pitch a little bit

Learning to pitch a little bit

More honestly: How I learned to pitch, a little bit, for the 1991 Denson book

I will use a minimum of muical jargon, because I just don’t know that much.

Here’s what you probably need to know first:

  1. The shapes,
  2. Major vs minor keys
  3. A reasonably good sense for the major fa-la-so-fa and the minor la-fa-la
  4. How to associate letters to the notes for the treble clef (FACE/EGBDF and all that)
  5. Knowing where the tenor, bass, treble and alto lines are.
  6. The ability to read the key in the upper left corner of the music page 
  7. You’ve probably sung for a while, and “know” a number of tunes pretty well

A few things you might not know.

  1. The keys are named after the note that starts the key. For example, F-major starts on the F-note.
  2. The note that starts the key is called the “tonic.”
  3. Even if the 1991 edition didn’t have the key written in the top left, you can tell the key by looking at the last note in the bass line. It always ends on the tonic.

Getting anchored in F major.

More tunes are written in F major than any other key in the 1991 book. If you can crack this, then you can crack almost all the songs. And it’s not that difficult.

Exercise 1.

Find some time, and a room where you can be by yourself for an hour or so. Open the book and find F major songs you know, especially ones that start on F (the fa). Start singing the shapes on them. Because they are all in the same key, they should start on the same pitch. If you need to, search YouTube for a good class (for example the Cork singers).

This is kind of a confidence building exercise. I think you’ll be surprised at how many songs you already know how to pitch.

Getting anchored in E minor

Exercise 2.

Now do the same for E minor songs, especially those that start on … F. What a surprise, the E minor songs start at the same place as F major songs. Sing the shapes for a bunch of these, too.

Exercise 3.

Bask in the knowledge that you can pitch a large plurality of tunes in the book!

Being confident.

Seriously, a big part of keying is being confident. You’ll pitch better, you won’t be as nervous, the class will pick up on your confidence. So work on this confidence. People have different styles, but what I like to do, and it’s pretty easy, is this:

  1. Sound the chord. That is, in a loud and confident voice, sound out the fa-la-so-fa or la-fa-la.
  2. Especially, the tenor part doesn’t start on the tonic (that is, the “fa” in major mode or the “la” in minor mode), sound out that note confidently, pointing to the tenors
  3. Optionally, give the other parts their pitch.

Being really consistent about what you do will help singers know what to expect, and it allows the class to be together, minimizing confusion.

Exercise 4.

Imagine you’re pitching for a class. Confidently pitch a bunch of F-major and E-minor songs in the way described above (or however you choose to do it).

Exercise 5.

At a local singing, ask if they’ll let you pitch the F major and E minor songs. Work on your confidence, and keep doing it. But this is also a chance to work on your humility and recovery from momentary slips. Even the most experience pitcher gets keys wrong, and it just is no big deal to rekey.

Getting anchored in C-major

Tunes in C-major aren’t as common as F-major, but here’s the little secret no one ever told me: C-major tunes are essentially the same as F-major tunes. Note that, in a F-major tune, the note C is the “so” of the fa-la-so (in musical jargon, it’s the fifth note). So, if if you see a C-major song, you can key it like this:

  1. Start with a F-major pitch (kind of under your breath)
  2. Go up to the “so”
  3. That’s your new “fa”!

Exercise 6.

As before, get your book and confidently pitch a bunch of C-major songs.

Moving things around

Ok, now you’re cooking with gas. Starting from a F-major “fa” you can pitch F-major, E-minor, and C-major tunes. But here’s the next trick: you’re pretty much now able to get to the F-note or the C-note, and most or all the other keys, you can just adjust a little bit up or down to get to them. You need to move up a bit to get from F for the G-major key, for example.

Exercise 7.

Get out your book again, and try pitching songs that are not in the easy keys. Take notes in your book about what you need to pay attention to.

Exercise 8.

Ask your local singing to allow you to pitch for all or part of your time together.

Congrats. You are now a better pitcher than I am, probably.

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