Singing: Vocal Technique for Hearing New Keys

Singing: Vocal technique to help your students hear a new tonality.  Download a vocal-exercises-for-singing PDF, FREE!

A lot of what happens in music, and in vocal warmups, is a matter of the inner ear memorizing repeated sound patterns and pitches.  

After hearing them over and over again, students gradually begin to ANTICIPATE the next sound.  In the first singing pattern below, the first three notes of a major scale are slowly sung, establishing the "Do-re-mi" for that key:

Singing: Vocal technique to help your students hear a new tonality.

Please scroll down the page for the download links.

At first, your student may have great trouble singing, then moving a vocal warm ups pattern up or down a half step, but repetition will solve that problem!  

Admittedly, the final pattern on this page is QUITE DIFFICULT for young singers - (that's why it is used as an elimination technique for "Honor Choir" in my state (Alaska) and perhaps your locale as well...). 

Singers must think up not just an octave above each descending arpeggio (8 - 5 - 3 - 1), but an additional half step - very hard!  Then they must descend two difficult intervals in the new tonality, a fourth and a minor third.  But this arpeggio will refine and hone their ability.

An excellent way to re-orient your singer to each new tonal center is to play chords on the piano to accompany them.  I will usually strike each fresh "I" (One) chord just before the start of each new sung pattern.  "La, la, la, la, la..." (new chord).  "La, la, la, la, la..." (new chord).  

Sometimes the pattern's rhythm and melody will allow for the use of the V7 chord as well as the I chord, and this helps establish a strong feeling for the new key.  

However, with the last pattern on this page of warmups, the descending arpeggios, I try to wean my young students off the need for chords as soon as may be, since this exercise must be sung a capella ("without accompaniment") in the audition recordings.  

They are not even to hum the next note ahead of time - it must be "thought" in their heads and then sung aloud correctly.  

So when working on that pattern, we will go through it once with "helper" tones; each key, or maybe just the top one or two notes, played along with them.  Then the student sings the pattern again, but the second time, I wait until AFTER they sing each tone to softly press the piano key.

If they sing the pattern a third time through, I give them only the very first starting note, and then pantomime each arpeggio with my fingers over the keys of the piano, but not striking.  (This helps me keep track of where the singer ought to be!)

When they reach the final arpeggio (the seventh arpeggio), we compare notes to see how they match up.

On my Star-Spangled Banner page is an exercise that uses the same idea:

A vocal hearing exercise using the Star-Spangled Banner melody




The link to the vocal exercise:


Print free singing vocal technique page












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About the Author

Dana Thynes

Hi, I'm Dana!  (Say that like "Anna".)  I'm the owner of Music-for-Music-Teachers.com.

Like some of you, I've been playing the piano since early childhood, and added a few other instruments along the way, plus an interest in arranging and composing music.

You can find out more about me and the reason for this website at my About Me page.