Sorry, this may be a confusing issue, but let me explain:

I have a long drive to and from work, and lately I've been using that time to practice singing. I've been playing guitar for over 2 years, my ears coming along, and I can hear when the notes I'm singing sound right or wrong, but only relative to one another.

So, for example, this morning I sang "Blue Monday" and it sounded pretty good in terms of hitting the right notes. But without any instrument or way to check my tuning, I'd bet I was not singing it in key.

It's sort of like if you tune a guitar so all the strings are in tune to each other, but you do not first tune the low E to anything external...the entire guitar could be out of tune to any other instrument, but it'll be in tune to itself.

Anyway, my thinking has been that even if I'm singing these songs out of key, the fact that I'm learning to modulate my voice relative to itself, and move the right interval between notes, still helps even if I'm out of key. Ultimately, when I sing with instruments or with others, I'm thinking I'll be able to use my "relative" skills to dive in and sing in the right key that the instruments are playing.

But then I had this nagging doubt....like they say when you practice something "wrong" you are teaching yourself to do it wrong later. Is singing something acapella in the wrong key a form of "wrong" practice that will bite me later, or not?

Bernie Sanders for President!
Hi krm27 - I'd say any practice is going to help. If it sounds to you like you're in tune with the recording (and you're not completely tone-deaf) then you're probably doing well, but of course it's difficult to say for sure without hearing a sample.

I would agree when you said you'd be learning the intervals between different notes and controlling your voice more. As long as you're in tune with what's going on around you (whether it's instruments or a pre-recorded song or backing track) then effectively it doesn't matter - it's more important for everyone to be in tune with everyone else in one performance. Does that answer your question?

I've been singing most of my life and know a lot of technique with it - if you have any other questions please let me know.
Thanks. I figure if I am able to hear that the melodic line is correct, in relation to itself, then I'm learning to space my intervals correctly, and this should help me sing the song in any key (even if I'm practicing it in something totally screwy like 126 cents sharp of A or whatever I happen to pick as my starting point).

On the other hand, I suppose if I made sure that I ALWAYS sang "in tune" using some kind of objective "pitchmaker" -- like a mini keyboard in my car or something -- then over time that would cement in the true notes of the chromatic scale so that if I later decide just to start singing a capella without using any extrinsic tuning help, I'm thinking there's a chance I'd just naturally start on a true note anyway. Sort of like developing muscle memory in the throat.

I'm thinking when vocalists practice scales daily, this is part of what they are doing, just creating and deepening the muscle memory for their voice to land on those notes.

So, if this theory is correct, then singing between notes, as I'm doing, may help me learn intervals and perhaps teach me to move my voice in correct intervallic movements, but may be impairing my ability to create deep, instinctive muscle memory for the right notes, and limit my ability to start a song, a capella, on a true note.

One solution is to take some kind of tuning source into the car with me, so I can try to line up my singing in the car to true notes. Another solution might be simply to add daily scale singing to my practice so that, to try to build this muscle memory despite the fact my car-singing may not be on true notes (with the assumption that, over time, this scale practice will affect my car-singing so that it is more and more going to be on true notes).

Bernie Sanders for President!