Out Of Tune Vs Off Key: Difference & How To Be Better

Singing out of tune and off-key share a very similar background with pitches. In music, a key can have different notes. When you sing any of these notes with a voice too high or flat, it is described as being off-tune.

However, when you skip all the notes in a key and sing on a different note, you are said to be off-key. These errors are completely natural and common when singing. 

If you are interested in knowing the major difference between being out of tune and off-key and how you can get better, this article is for you.

What Does It Mean to Be Out of Tune?

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To be out of tune is to sing the notes of a key with a slightly sharp or flat voice. This concept is best explained with an example, so here is one:

Let’s say I am to sing a song in D minor (apparently, the saddest of all keys) alongside a piano that is tuned correctly. 

D minor has the following pitches or notes:

D, E, F, G, A, B♭, C, and D

If I sing any of these notes with the wrong intensity, my performance would rightly be tagged out of tune. 

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What Does It Mean to Be Off Key?

To be off-key is to sing in a different key or a note outside the designated key for a song. This can be a deliberate action or by mistake.

From the example in the “out of tune” section, you can only be off-key when you sing out of D minor and its notes (D, E, F, G, A, B♭, C, and D). 

In other words, if you sing using an F#, you are off-key.

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Reasons Why You Sing Off Key Or Out of Tune

Since both pitch problems share a very similar background, their causes are also similar. Here are some of the common reasons why you sing out of tune or key:

1. Listening to yourself while you sing

This may surprise you but most people like to listen to themselves while they sing to know how they sound. In music or when singing, this is a very bad practice. 

There is a thin line between listening to yourself and hearing yourself sing. It is completely natural to hear yourself when you sing. 

However, when you put too much focus on hearing yourself sing, you can easily get carried away or lose concentration. This usually results in going out of tune or off-key.

Hitting the right note is basically a thing of the mind and can be resolved with constant practice. As a singer, your first duty is to know yourself, what you can do with your voice, and develop a positive relationship with it.

2. Not knowing the song as well as you thought

It is one thing to learn the notes of a song, it is another thing to know a song completely. Not knowing a song as well as you thought can make you go off-key or out of tune repeatedly.

To fully know a song, you must practice it (not just the notes) over and over again until you can sing it perfectly in your sleep, at least. 

Another way to know you are fully immersed in a song is the ability to listen to its instrumental track and deduce where you are in the song at any point in time.

When you get to a stage where you listen to a song and you can sing it at the same wavelength as the original artiste, that is when you truly know the song. In other words, you are never bothered about being out of tune or off-key.

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3. Failure to warm up your voice properly beforehand

It is a no-brainer to warm up before any performance irrespective of your skill level. As someone who dislikes being out of tune or off-key, you have to relax and stretch your neck, tongue, and jaw, resonate, and do some lip or tongue trills.

These practices will fix you in the right state and balance your vocal cords. You will also enjoy great freedom and flexibility when using your voice up and down the scale. 

Please note that warming up does not mean stressing your voice unnecessarily. It simply means you should prepare yourself for training or performance by taking actions within your range.

A proper warm-up is also a way to get familiar with your voice and deduce areas that require strengthening. 

4. Having bad posture and breathing

Maintaining the right posture and breathing technique for singing go hand in hand. Diaphragmatic breathing is the right breathing method for singing. 

Standing upright and aligning the distance between your shoulder and feet is the right way to position yourself when singing.

Without these two, your voice can easily be too low or too high for a note. They are the major cause of a breathy and weak sound. Good posture channels the energy from your spine rightly and ensures a promising performance.

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5. Being afraid of actually hitting the wrong note

The emotional need of wanting to be perfect can make you go off-key or out of tune especially if it is too strong. 

This sort of emotion will make you primarily focused on a song’s note and I have said it earlier — singing correctly is not just about the notes.

You have to let go of this attachment if you wish to sing with the right pitch and the only solution is to free your mind.

How to Stop Singing Off Key & Out of Tune

If you would like to master how to stay on the right pitch and never go off-key, here are some suggestions:

  • Clear your mind and be consciously present when you sing. Having a clear mind comes with an inner peace that is good for singing. This will help you sort your energy and achieve almost anything vocally.
  • Begin your session with just singing notes and sustaining them for a long time. This is also known as engaging in a core resonating program.
  • Try to memorize and sing a song line with the right pitch until you are perfect. For example, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. How I wonder what you are.” Do this while looking at yourself in the mirror.
  • Do not listen to yourself while singing. Instead, hear yourself. You should also record your performance to know your strength and areas that require improvements.

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FAQs

What is the easiest key to sing in?

Generally, the middle C and D keys are considered the easiest keys to sing.

However, whatever makes you feel comfortable should be your primary concern.

Why do singers sing out of tune?

Singers sing out of tune when the vocal cord becomes too thick due to inadequate air.

Also, when there is too much air in the cord, you can sing out of tune with a sharp voice.

What key do most sopranos sing in?

Soprano vocalists can sing middle C (C4) and A5 (after a lot of training). 

Sopranos are known to sing at very high pitches.

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Conclusion

Singing out of tune or off-key is not a big deal in music. All that matters is learning from why you made the mistake and getting better with regular training.

Did you find this article helpful? If you would like to know more about learning how to sing, please see the fastest Steps to learning how to sing.

Thanks for reading.