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Is It 'cheating' ?

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Hi@ all,

I used to do a lot of backup harmony in the two bands I sas associated with years ago (bluegrass/folk). Over time, I've lost much of my hearing (all in left, more than 50% in right). So, it's difficult for me to stay on pitch singing lead unless I am in a very familiar key (which tends to be G or D). When I try to stretch out into other keys, there is no muscle memory there for it and I tend to be flat.

With backup vocals, I am hit and miss due to the hearing thing. So, I've been looking for a way to be able to harmonize with myself to some degree of competence. I've been looking at some of the vocal harmonizers and was wondering what you all think of their ability to produce an acceptable harmony and would you consider this 'cheating'? I also realize that I'm only going to get out of the device what I can input to it vocally.

Appreciate your thoughts,


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Much debate about that one...


Most monophonic instruments used in producing harmonies as group (vocals, brass, etc) found in the wild (performing live) don't operate on the even temperament system  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equal_temperament


But that's the standard we use for tuning musical instruments.  It's not perfect because it's based on compensating all pitches to equal value which means all harmony is off by the same degree rather then some harmonies being more in tune and others less so. Those really good singers who do harmony for a living focus on "the best possible" harmony to the lead vocal. Which may be a few cents off from what a midi keyboard might produce.


When I'm smart (and that isn't always the case) I take a very unscientific approach to learning a song.  First I listen. I don't sing/play along. I'll listen a few times and imagine myself impersonating the singer and I'll hold that in my head.  Then I'll try to hold the song in my head without actually listening to the recording and imagine myself singing/playing the part.  And finally I'll try my hand at singing/playing the part.  It's not that easy. It's not easy to not sing/play along and it can be difficult to let the song play in your head without becoming involved by singing along.  But it works for me.


I am a fan of relative pitch and I study it for life. Play the note then let it rest then try to sing the note I played and finally compare the two making adjustments for pitch after the fact. I don't think singing diatonic scales makes one better at singing songs because melodies rarely if ever follow the straight path of a scale. ( I can name a few but very few which do) 



So my advice is... Find songs that are similar in style to what you currently play but are in (not too distant) different keys. Listen, Listen, Listen then try to play/sing along.  The reason why you prefer G and D is that you are familiar with them using them so much. The only way you'll get comfortable with other keys is if you familiarize yourself with them in context with songs you've already heard.


Key of E



Key of C


While researching my response I happened on this - http://www.songkeyfinder.com/

At first glance the keys for the songs appear accurate.

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Lots of things might be thought of as cheating. Artists that use backing tracks are cheating more than you propose to do. The more common it gets, the more its accepted. 


If it works for you then go for it. 


As for hearing yourself, do you use monitors? Powered ones can be pretty good. It shouldn't even matter if the public hear. The crucial thing is you being able to rely on your voice.

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 Hi Dan,


It seems the main problem is your hearing. I would get some kind of an in ear monitor so you can accurately hear the pitches.


I've had several harmony boxes. The one I have right now tracks midi from a keyboard and when you sing into it it tries to recognize a harmony using the midi you play from the keyboard...the only pain with using it as a substitute for real vocalists was I needed to switch it off during the verses and only use it during the chorus....and of course there were times I forgot to do that. The worst was when I needed to speak between songs and it was on because it sounded like three of me in different places on the triad scale....kind of "robotish" when you talk and aren't singing...I still have it somewhere gathering dust in my studio. There are also harmonizers that track a guitar and calculate a harmony based on that...these looked interesting to me since I'm beginning to play more stringed instruments lately.Some of the more recent harmonizers can correct pitch to some degree unless you're way way off.


Is it cheating? No I don't think so. It's just another way to do something. 

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Singers have preferred keys.  Heck everyone (musicians) find themselves working in preferred keys after awhile.  Quick when was the last time one of you played a song in Ab? Unless you are a guitarist who tunes down a half step from standard prolly not ever.  Sure old blue eyes loved Ab but no many who came after him..


If you are used to always working in your preferred key then it's harder when you push boundaries.  On the other hand it never hurts to expand your range of material in order to familiarize yourself better with a given key.

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Blown Out perform both 'Lorraine' and '25 Miles' in Ab.

'Hard To Handle' in A# is worse as I have a solo in it.


This is what to expect working with saxophonists.

(actual quote from Mark Barber-Alto Sax : "Our C is not your C" )


Dan's voice may cope better with the keys he prefers rather than it being an unfamiliararity issue. Improved monitoring is still the first fix IMO.

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Hey, thanks guys for all the input. Part of my 'daily' now consists of keyboard with a third above and a third below to teach myself to be able to hear it in a different way than I used to be able to (also helps me with pitch correcton). Monitors are being worked into the budget, so, for right now I'll just leave off the harmony parts in the uploads until I get this resolved.

I used to mess about a bit with old harmonizers (10+ years ago) and I agree with David, they were iffy at best and were better for special effects rather than a true harmony part. I was looking on youtube at the TC Helicons and ran across a few demo's from Laura Clapp and it looks like the harmonizers have come a long way since I used one. She does a very decent job with it (good enough to be a company rep for them). My ear isn't good enough to tell if it is 'good enough' to get by, but seems decent enough to me. I know nothing can take the place of the real thing, but it may have some usable application for me in the future

So, the monitor will come first and then I may look at TC's Harmony G-XT just to play around with.

Thanks for your time and efforts, as always you guys make this site the go-to source for those of use trying to better ourselves and our music.


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Hey Dan

I agree with Starise that decent monitoring is part of the solution, but the flatness in your pitch comes from changes in the WAY you hear.

When you hear your voice normally, your ear receives sound in two ways:

1. Through the air
2. As vibrations through our jaw bone

However, pitch is effected on sound vibrations, such that we hear the pitch slightly higher than it really is (sound waves travel faster through solid objects). Thr trouble is that if we rely on the sound through our jaw too much, we naturally bring pitch down so that it sounds "in tune". Of course in reality it is now flat!

This is why you see singers cupping a hand to their ear. They do it in such a way that it increases the volume of the sound their ear receives through the air. It helps them train muscle memory to the correct pitch. It helps them train their ear.

So to correct the pitch problem you need to re-train your ear. You need to fundamentally correct the disparity in the way you hear. To do that, when u amplified, cup fingers behind your ear while the heel of your hand is towards your mouth... Almost like holding a phone to your ear. This will boost the volume you hear through the air.

Now try some ear training programs. There are also ear trainer software programs and CDs. Do as I suggest and things will improve. Similarly, you can try the same using monitors, headphones, or even try using in-ear headphones, for studio or live performance.

Your voice perception would have been trained for 100% hearing in two ears. With the changes in hearing you have been dealing with, playing havoc probably more so at lower pitches, but then hearing degradation can be dependent on frequency, re-training your ear an changing long established muscle memory can be done with a good ear training program.

Good luck. I hope this is of help.


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Thanks John, you just made sense of what my audiologist tried to tell me two months ago but she was talking way over my comprehension level and she's not a musician so she could not relate to what I was trying to tell her, so her explanation didn't include a solution other than, 'you need a hearing aid'.

Thanks for pointing me in the direction I need to go to improve.


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  • 3 weeks later...

Using a harmonizer normally requires "accurate singing", otherwise the harmonizer cannot determine the correct pitch. If you drift into the tone like an asymptote the harmonizer will fail.


For that reason some harmonizer allow to feed an instrument (e.g. guitar or keys). With these "reference harmonies" a pitch shift could work (never used it, never tried it).

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