Someone asked about “ways to help choir members stay on pitch and not be tone deaf”.

Are they tone-deaf?

Sometimes there will be that person in a choir who is singing their own note, totally different from everybody else.  Are they tone-deaf?

Probably not

There are very few people in the world who actually have amusia (tone-deafness).  A person with amusia has more going on than just trouble singing the correct note.  They also can’t recognize differences between notes when they hear them — they can’t tell the difference between “Amazing Grace” and “Happy Birthday”.  If someone is wondering whether they are tone deaf, there is a test they can take here: http://tonedeaftest.com/

They just need training

If they’re NOT tone-deaf, then they have some ear for music.  But they have not learned how to synchronize their ears and their vocal chords.  So what they need is training and practice (and, of course, some people need a lot more training and practice than others).

A suggestion for how to start ear-training someone

A lot of the articles I read on this subject made this suggestion — when start teaching someone has trouble singing in tune, don’t start by asking them to match a pitch that you sing or play on an instrument.  Instead, have them sing a note of their own, and then you match that pitch with your voice or an instrument.  This gives them the understanding of how it sounds when two voices are in tune with each other.  Then you can build their skills from there.

Stay in their same range

Another suggestion is to make sure that the teacher and the student have similar vocal ranges.  I have experienced this issue myself.  When I am teaching parts to bass singers, there are some notes they have that are outside of my range.  If I sing the bass part an octave higher, there are some bass singers who can easily translate my notes into their octave, while other bass singers have trouble making the connection between the G that I’m singing and the G that they should sing.  So if you working with a beginning singer, you might need to make sure that they are taught by someone who is singing the exact same notes, not an octave above or below.

Location, location, location

If most of the singers in the section hold their part well, but there are a couple of them who have trouble, it can help a lot to place a struggling singer next to a strong one.

Talk about the importance of blending!

Some people will tend to sing a little sharp or flat because when they’re on the note exactly, they feel like they can’t hear themselves. Make sure they understand that it’s a good thing when they’re blending well with the other singers, even if it seems like they’re getting “drowned out”.

Resources

Here are some of the articles I read when I was researching this issue.  You will see the suggestions I just gave you in these articles, along with more ideas: