Singing in Tune – Don’t be a Milli Vanilli!

Good intonation and pitch are (or should be) fundamental to the art of being a good singer.  Singers should consider themselves musicians, with the voice as their primary instrument.  What well trained musician would ever think of playing playing even slightly out of tune?

Musicians who are serious about being good at their instrument do a lot of ear training as a requirement of their musical training.  Violinists, for example, really have to develop good intonation because their instrument does not have frets to guide the placement of fingers, like guitar does.  They have to use their ears to discern relative pitch.  Beginning violinists usually have a difficult time playing in tune but they acquire that skill with many years of dedicated practice.

But singers sometimes seem to be unaware of this very important facet of their own musicianship.  Why do singers so often need “auto-tune” in the studio?  Why are their live shows nowhere near the vocal quality of the CD you purchased?  Multiple “takes” in the studio, along with digital manipulation devices such as auto-tune can make a singer appear to be much better than they really are; this becomes very apparent in their out of tune live performances.

Then there are the “artists” who lip-sync to their recorded tracks during their live shows.  Everyone remembers the Milli Vanilli debacle. Their debut album achieved international success and earned them a Grammy in 1990.  Milli Vanilli became one of the most popular pop acts in the late 1980s and early 1990s. However, their Grammy was revoked after it was revealed by the LA Times that the lead vocals on the album were not the actual voices of the stars.  Additionally, they were busted because they were lip-syncing during a live performance, and the pre recorded track started to skip. So the lead singers just ran offstage.  Very embarrassing, I’m sure.  In the case of this group, the “lead singers” were not really singers at all, but were good- looking model types chosen by the record company for their sex appeal rather than their vocal talent.  The voices used by the producers on the tracks apparently belonged to people who could actually sing, but did not have the required dose of model good looks.

Gee, what might have happened if Milli Vanilli had actually taken some voice lessons, worked hard with a voice teacher or vocal coach, developed their voices and their songwriting abilities, and THEN recorded an album?  Call me crazy….I’m a voice teacher, I just had to ask.

Singers; don’t think you can always “fix it in the mix”, or auto-tune your vocal tracks in the studio.  How about working hard to learn and perfect good vocal intonation, just like instrumentalists do?   Singing in tune is sometimes a natural gift, and for other singers it is an acquired skill.  But either way, it is absolutely basic to good singing.  If you have issues with pitch, (and many singers do, whether they are aware of it or not) seek out a qualified voice teacher.   Work every day with the piano, matching pitch while doing intervals and scales.  Ear training (learning to recognize and replicate intervals, melodies, and chords) is essential for singers.  Train yourself to be a good musician – respect your vocal art enough to work hard at singing with good intonation.  Your audience (and your recording engineer) will thank you! And you won’t be another Milli Vanilli story.

I wish you all the best as you reach for your dreams!  Tricia Grey, MM


At Sing Like a Star Studios you can learn the vocal technique of the stars.  If you don’t live near Atlanta, you can take voice lessons with Skype. Please visit our website at and click on the GET STARTED tab to register for a professional vocal evaluation and consultation.

Written by Sing Like A Star

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