Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog

Training & insights for stage and studio singers, speakers, vocal coaches and producers from professional vocal coach and author of "Power, Path & Performance" vocal training method.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Online Vocal Lessons... Pros and Cons

Want to see online lesson in action? 
Go to my YouTube playlist for several free webcam vocal lessons 
like this one with Silvana del Campo in Lima, Peru
NOTE: The audio player should appear above, if not, please click on the title of this post and go online to hear. 
Available also on iTunes, Google Play, Tunein Radio and Android podcast apps
Back in the not-so-distant past, you were limited to vocal lessons with coaches whose offices you could physically get to. Now quite literally, the sky's the limit! Many vocal coaches like me teach over webcam. Currently I estimate that more than half of my lessons are online with students across the globe. Here's what I've learned from my experience working this way.

First, let’s cut some confusion and look at several terms people use for this type of meeting:
  • Skype: This is the most widely known software program or application (called an app on your mobile), that you can use to meet over the internet. It's so common it's become a verb... let's Skype at 6! But there are now several other alternatives - including one I actually prefer instead of Skype. I'll tell you about it a little later in this post.
  • Online: Because of course, you have to be online to connect.
  • Virtual: Because teacher and student are not actually in the same room.
  • Webcam: This is hardware you need to capture audio and/or video. It can be an external or internal mic/camera on your computer or can be the mic/camera on your phone or tablet.
Would online lessons work for you? Here are some pros, cons and work-arounds to consider:

PRO

It's better to work with a higher level vocal coach over Skype than a lesser quality coach in person. So there's no need to settle for bad or mediocre vocal lessons.

CON

A high end vocal coach usually charges more, sometimes quite a bit more. You also could miss out on local networking.

WORK-AROUND

In my experience, it's usually best to work with one coach at a time. You could take a trial lesson or two with multiple coaches. But then I'd suggest you decide whose approach works best for you, and stick with them as your main source of training. You can always take from another coach later if you wish.

That said, some people really like meeting in person with a local vocal coach who can also provide local performance opportunities. And it is certainly not my intention to suggest you can't find a world class vocal coach where you live... because sometimes you truly can! My hat is off to all caring, intuitive, awesome local coaches. These are folks I love to discuss 'all things vocal' with! The point is, if you can't find a good local coach, virtual accessibility means you are no longer limited in your choices.

As long as you don't get confused or pulled between opposing advice, you can try using both coaches. It's a good idea to stay transparent about what you're doing so that if there is confusion about a vocal technique or concept it can be sorted out. Sometimes a student will devote their lesson with me to a conference call (phone or webcam) with their local coach, which I'm very happy to do. Good teachers are always up for learning something new that works for their students!

*****

PRO

You can get to your lesson from any device that will run the Skype or alternative application... your desktop computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone. You can take your lesson from anywhere in the world as long as you have internet connection with adequate signal strength. You don't need to factor in travel time or gas mileage. And Skype, along with most alternative apps, is free.

CON

You have to have a device that the webcam application works on... and it won't work on a regular phone. You need to be able to install the Skype or other software, know how to set it up and work it, or know someone who can help you. And you do need that internet access with strong enough signal. If not adequate, the video will freeze, be very pixilated and the audio will skip badly, or the internet call will be disconnected altogether.

WORK-AROUNDS

Other apps:
Skype is no longer the only game in town; now there are several alternatives for online meetings. Most are about the same or worse audio/video quality, and some like Google Hangouts require both parties to sign up to the application. Facetime only works between Apple gadgets; no good if you're an Android user. But there is another option I'm excited about that works on everything: It's called Zoom. The audio and video are much higher quality. It's very simple to connect... either party can send a link to the other through email to join the conversation. There are paid versions but it's free to use at the basic level, which has more than enough functionality for vocal lessons. Because of how well Zoom is performing for me and my students, it's currently my preferred way of teaching over webcam.

Phone:
Before Skype (and now Zoom), I used to teach distance lessons by phone. The tone, inflection and other sound nuances in the voice of my student can tell me what they need to change. For instance I, like other intuitive vocal coaches, can tell by the sound of the student's voice whether their eyebrows are active or frozen! Now when our internet connection gets too sketchy, I ask the student to call me on the phone, put their phone on speaker mode and we just work the old way.

Both:
If it's mainly the internet audio that is corrupted but video signal is clear enough to be useful, my student and I leave our screens up but turn our computer speakers off. Then we can watch each other on screen, but listen and talk by phone.

*****

OTHER FACTORS

It's not my thing (Rob Jackson and the Diehards)

Not all good vocal coaches work via Skype. Because audio and video on Skype are frequently digitally corrupt, some vocal coaches don't like using it. Others like me can take a signal that's a bit corrupted, fill in the aural and visual blanks as we do with picture pixels, and still have enough information to assess and correct the student's technique.

You can't touch this (MC Hammer)...

Sometime vocal coaches use touch tactics. I often give subtle suggestions with a gentle poke between the shoulder blades, taps under the occipital bone or on a tight jaw hinge. Can't do that over webcam of course. But when working in virtual conditions, I can suggest other bio-feedback tactics students can apply to themselves. For instance, I often ask students to lightly touch a spot that is counterproductively tense, and purpose it to relax. In this way, the student can become aware and diffuse tension in such places as:
  • the front of the Adam's apple, 
  • the squint zone of the upper cheek 
  • shoulder or neck muscles and ligaments 
  • tongue base (under the chin) 
  • jaw hinge 
Play it again, Sam...

A bit of rabbit trail trivia... did you know that no one ever uttered that exact phrase in Casablanca?

It is important to be able to record vocal exercises and any other thing the coach wants the student to practice or focus on between lessons. For Skype, there are several programs that you or your coach can use to record audio and/or video. I've used Evaer and Pamela, but there may be even better ones out there. Zoom has built-in functionality for recording audio and video. The record button is right there at the bottom of the screen . Both Skype and Zoom have texting and attachment capabilities. You can also record your online lesson from computer speaker right into the memo app of your phone.

Call me... (Blonde)
Speaking of phones... you can always work over a simple phone! You don't need a 'smart phone'; a landline or basic cellphone works just fine! With all the free and low-cost phone call programs like Vonage, Viber and the like, when you need your vocal coach to warm you up for your gig from a parking lot or green room in TimbucTu Arkanscavia, you can reach them! Need a vocal lesson? Where there's a phone, with or without a webcam, there's a way!

FREE SAMPLE LESSONS

For a closer look, check out my Youtube vocal lessons to watch me work over Zoom with several students with different vocal issues. If you'd like to try an online lesson with me, contact me and let me know your best time frames. I'll get back with you asap. If you have questions or comments about online lessons, please post them here!

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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

This Is Why Your Voice is Trashed. Really. 10 things to Stop!

The words 'trash' and 'voice' don't belong together!

NOTE: The audio player should appear below, if not, please click on the title of this post and go online to hear. 
 Available also on  iTunes , Google Play TuneIn Radio, Android apps


How does your voice feel today? Is it gunky? Limited? Tired? Trashed? Or does it feel Normal, Better than yesterday, or Fantastic... like you could sing anything you wanted to? Asking that question is the first step to getting your voice in great shape, because as I often tell my students:
...the first step to Change is Awareness.
Let me assure you from my experience with my and other's voices, and it may surprise you: you never have to trash your voice! It is my firm belief that
...all vocal strain and damage, barring actual organic illness, is preventable.
So, if your voice has been getting tired, trashed or God forbid, damaged - it's time to get serious and find out why. Check yourself with the following list. Consider every checkmark a big reveal.

1. Sing on laryngitis

I did this once. Lost my voice for 3 weeks! But it was a national spot for some beer company and it paid thousands, and there was to be no rescheduling of the session.  If that's the case, go for it. But if you think you'll need to speak or sing anytime in the foreseeable future, if you have laryngitis - zip it.

2. Pay no attention to the weather

Are you going to have to sing in the vocal cord-dehydrating air of Arizona? Better bring some water and pineapple juice. Will you be performing outside in the cold? Bring an artsy scarf and WEAR IT. Are they calling for rain? Actually that can be great for vocal cords if not too cold and you don't get electrocuted holding a live mic. Will you be up in the sun or under lights when it's 100 degrees in the shade? Wear some literally cool stage clothes and drink water like it's free.

3. Drink dehydrating caffeinated or alcoholic beverages

OK so if you need a cup of coffee to string sentences together like I do in the mornings, go for it. But only one cup, and drink an extra glass of water. DON'T go for it - even in the morning - if you know it brings on the phlegm frogs and you're doing the Today Show.

If you NEED to have an alcoholic drink, then consider rehab. If you just WANT one, wait til after your show, and have an extra glass of water to chase it.

4. Scream.

So you are really into that game, and somebody scores that you love or despise. Better make a pact with yourself to forgo every impulse of blood-curdling shriek. Twenty minutes of screaming can cause blood blisters on your vocal cords. In fact one special scream can cause vocal cord hemorrhage. If you are a metal screamer, learn to do it backwards. Yes, you can. Those I've taught are SO much happier.

5. Sing songs that are too high for you.

How do you know when a song is too high for you? It hurts. It hurts your throat and your listener's ears. This is so nuts... completely counterproductive. Take that song up at vocal lessons and either change your technique for those high notes, change the key, or change songs!

6. Push more breath for vocal power

Pushing too much breath is almost 100% universally an issue with my new students... at first. Because we get to that issue immediately. There is a seriously voice-trashing (eventually damaging) belief out there that to sing powerfully you need to push a lot of breath. Actually the opposite is true... for a powerful sound, PULL breath, like pulling punches, into the most efficient power source possible. Pull laryngeal vibration through an open throat channel and RESONATE for that big sound.

7. Offer your voice no support

There's an equally counterproductive belief out there that you should just relax and sing. The problem with that is that singing requires movement of air, so something is going to have to give. Controlling your breath doesn't mean holding your breath. But delegate that power support to your pelvic floor or lower, not from the middle of your chest (the diaphragm), so you can confidently support your voice without blowing it.

8. Perform with bad posture

Slumping doesn't just look bored or lacking confidence. That upper curve in your back can allow your ribcage to drop, giving your diaphragm too much slack, which blows the lid on your vocal control. You can't take in a good breath, either. Hanging your head forward results in a compromised throat channel. Stand or sit flexibly tall, head over tailbone, and sometimes a lot of issues just fix themselves.

9. Talk wrong.... a lot. Loud. Or breathy. Or monotone and numb

One of the main ways you can trash your voice is to talk wrong. You should use the same good vocal techniques for talking that you do when singing. If someone can't hear you, either move in to their ear or use sign language. Breathy talking feels like the Sahara desert wind across the edges of your cords. Monotone comes from a tight, frozen throat channel, and wears your voice out as well as the poor ear listening to it.

10. Neglect your vocal warm up before performance.

You might get by with it. Especially if you're singing a lot, with good technique. But for you as vocal athlete, why risk using cold muscles and tissues to fully activate themselves for the main event when it would be so easy to protect them by spending a little time warming them up? The caveat: If you don't know how to do vocal exercises, don't do them. Done wrong, they can hurt you. Just sing lightly, gradually getting louder, to warm up. And do it again if you have multiple sets. Then cool your voice down with light singing or exercises as you go home.

Here is a video vocal lesson via Zoom I did with a great singer named Silvana del Campo. Her issue was vocal fatigue... in other words, a trashed voice!  Enjoy... and leave comments/reviews!

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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

12 Vocal Resolutions To Rock the New Year

Your voice deserves a whole new start!

Tiz the season to be thinkin' about resolutions... commitments to changes you want to make in the new year. I know a lot of folks are down on the idea of resolutions, saying they don't work. In my experience, it's all in the way you resolve yourself! Consider the word 'resolute'. If you are resolute, then you absolutely intend and expect to do something... you don't just muse about attempting it someday! Among the many things you might want to make new year resolutions about, please include your voice! Here are my 12 suggestions:

1. Resolve to assess the state of your voice. 

All change starts with awareness. A while back I did a post suggesting you figure out your next most important thing for your voice, and start working on that. You can do this many ways... record and assess your voice yourself, ask friends with ears you trust what they hear in your performance, ask yourself how your voice feels when you sing (and right afterwards), attend a workshop or other event where you can showcase your voice and get an informed opinion, or in vocal lessons. If you think you might have vocal damage, go to an ENT fellowship trained specializing in voice. However you do it... get a baseline of the current condition of your voice.

2. Resolve to do something about your weakest vocal area.

Becoming aware is only the first step. Now you have to do something about what you've discovered. If your pitch sucks, do pitch practice. If your feel for rhythm is lacking, take drum or dance lessons. If your voice gets tired or strained, find out the fixes for the causes of your vocal cord abuse. If you have breath, tight throat or communication issues, find out what to practice, and then... get on a practice schedule!

3. Resolve to warm up and warm down your voice

OK can I tell you how nuts it is to perform on a cold voice? Try running an engine without oil. That's how nuts. Make a decision to warm up correctly, even if it's for 5 or 10 minutes, and that goes for in-between sets, too! Then do cool down exercises (light, shorter versions of warm ups) after long performances.

4. Resolve to address your speaking voice.

Frequently when a trashed voice comes in to train with me, I find that one of the core causes of the strain is from talking! You use the same little cords to speak that you sing with. Let that sink in. If talking tires you, change your technique. Yes, it will take concentration at first to correct life-long habits, but every speaking voice I've worked with will tell you it's worth it. Here's a video I did with tips on saving your speaking voice.

5. Resolve to get out of your comfort zone.

Your voice needs fresh fire to stay alive, present and growing. Even if you never do the song in public, learn something with lower or higher range (don't push, just pull strongly to challenge your voice without strain), learn a cover song in another genre, or write a song with a new co-writer!

6. Resolve to improve something you already do well.

No matter where you are in the vocal ability continuum, you can improve. Ask yourself deeply: what would you like to be able to do that you can't do now? Could you be less numb and more authentic when you sing or speak? Could your pitch accuracy be even better? Want even more control for vocal licks, volume, tone, whatever? Do you want to sing as well in the studio as you do live, or vice versa? Want to try another musical genre? Oh yes, you can.

7. Resolve to study some masters of your genre.

You may even be a master of your genre, but that doesn't mean you can't learn from other voices. Immerse yourself to study the vocal nuances of some singer or speaker you highly respect. Stick your headphones on and listen deeply. Practice to add what you hear and like to your own artistic vocabulary.

8. Resolve to set goals for your vocal performances.

What would you like to do with your voice? Where would you like to sing in 2017? Would you like to record something? Would you like to give a speech at some event? Would you like to sing to a loved one or at someone's wedding? Do better at songwriter rounds? Would you like to pursue a serious vocal career? or be more successful at growing the one you have? Write it down. You won't necessarily know the final outcome of your efforts, but your focused intentions can create attitudes which cause actions that lead to results... and sometimes create surprises you never would have imagined!

9. Resolve to have and nourish a small circle of trusted friends.

An artistic temperament is often rather reclusive, shy or lone-wolf-ish. But even the most creative spirit needs community. Each of us need a small circle of positivity, wisdom, encouragement and mutual accountability. It can keep us safe in times of failure AND success, growing and creating, and making a difference out there. A prosperous journey only takes place fully in connection with others. If you don't have this inner circle... resolve to find one! If you do... call, message, go see them or kiss them good morning regularly this year!

10. Resolve to take better care of yourself physically, mentally and spiritually

Yep. All this has to do with your voice. Do take care of your vocal health (signup for my free vocal health report if you haven't yet). If you haven't yet... STOP SMOKING! Eat healthier (a whole new set of resolutions, eh?), commit to more phyical exercise, back off sources of stress, connect spiritually in more regular devotional times. Your life, your voice and your messages will show it.

11. Resolve to sing fearlessly.

No matter how 'good' or 'bad' you think your voice is, your voice is valid and your messages matter. Sing. Speak. Use your voice fearlessly to make the world a better place!

12. Resolve to be a better listener.

Don't forget that your ears are as important as your vocal cords. Empowering other voices truly can change the world. Make a point to listen more closely to someone else. Right now ask yourself: who is the quietest voice that you know? Perhaps start there ... make time and lend them your ear like it means something to you. It will.

Two recommendations to give roots to your wings: 

  • To turn my resolutions from t do lists into done deals, I'm using this program and recommend it: Todoist
  • To advance your intentions with group support, discussions, q&a about voice and networking with like-minded spirits, join my newly active All Things Vocal Training group on Facebook! It's a closed group, so just request to join and I'll pop you right in (because as my blog reader you qualify)!
Happy New Year! Let's show January who's boss!
Your comments are treasured 😊

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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Top 10 All Things Vocal Blogposts for 2016


2016's top 10 posts

OK the tally is in: Here are the most viewed blogposts of those I wrote in 2016. Enjoy a fresh read, or a first read, of any you missed. Consider it my gift to you! You can also listen to the accompanying audio podcast links:
and a bonus that I updated for 2016 from years past:
Enjoy! And if you REALLY like something, please share it!

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Friday, December 9, 2016

Gift Suggestions for Singers, Songwriters, Speakers and Musicians

...whatever it is, wrap it with love

Do you have singers, speakers and/or musicians on your gift list? Here are some suggestions, updated for 2016:

$25 or less...

$26 - 50

  • A limited subscription to Netflix or boxed set of a TV series (for idle hours on the tour bus)
  • A music "fake book" or sheet music
  • Stands - music stand, mic stand, guitar stand
  • iPad stand holder
  • Tickets to a live concert event
  • mini-trampoline for core and wellness physical workouts all voices need.
  • A pair of HearFones for vocal practice and rehearsals.
  • 1/2 hour vocal lesson with me in-person, Skype or phone (I'll provide gift certificate)
  • A thumb drive for music tracks and vocal exercises
  • Mp3 speakers (some of the cheap ones sound fine and work with not only iPhones but also Android phones, tablets, laptops, etc.)

$51 - 200

  • My full 6-CD Power, Path and Performance vocal training course -bonus 15 minute vocal lesson if ordered during December 2016
  • Singing In The Studio  (the definitive course for any singer who will be recording vocals.) Note, the digital version is only $49.
  • Vocal Production Workshop (for engineers/producers who want to get the best vocals possible out of their singers)
  • backup hard drive for recording projects
  • A Cajon, Djembe or frame drum
  • A new smartphone and/or data package
  • Membership(s) in NSAI (for songwriters), AFM (Musician's Union) or SAG/AFTRA (singer/actor union)
  • Photoshop Elements (An affordable version to create web banners, flyers, edit photos, all kinds of photo uses)
  • Gym membership and/or personal trainer (for health, looks AND vocal stamina!)
  • Acting or dance lessons... Google classes and prices in your area, get recommendations.
  • Live performance coaching
  • A microphone - spend some time finding out what is needed. Will it be for stage performance or recording? For a speaker, say a lavalier mic? A podcast? You can get as expensive you want but a time-tested stage or rehearsal workhorse is the Shure SM58 (yes, an old standby but hey, I've use mine for decades!) or Sennheiser 835.
  • Mp3 player or speaker (and if you're dealing with the iPhone6, you'll need wireless)
  • A small mixing board
  • A quality pair of headphones 
  • A camera or camcorder
  • turntable (LP vinyl player - and hey, discriminating ears love vinyl!) 
  • An instrument case with wheels, or lightweight gig bag
  • One or two hours of vocal lessons with me in office or via Skype (I'll provide gift certificate)
  • Portable CD player
  • Surprise your performer at a show with flowers!

$201 and up...

  • Mixing board
  • Zoom digital recorder (or other brand)
  • A web or Facebook designer
  • DragonSpeak - Voice Recognition Software  (for songwriters and speech writers)
  • In-ear monitors
  • Stage clothes and/or bling
  • Wireless mic system
  • A photo session
  • CD graphics design
  • A music marketing seminar or bootcamp
  • Portable CD player
  • Funding for demo or master recording project (contact me if you'd like an estimate)
  • Funding for video shoot
  • An instrument.. guitar, keyboard, mandolin, violin, etc
  • New road cases
  • A series of instrumental or vocal lessons (I'll be happy to provide a gift certificate)
  • PCG artist development program (note: I teach voice for PCG)
  • Home studio recording gear
  • A live PA system
Gifts of Your time/expertise -
  • Host a karaoke party or guitar pull!
  • Write song charts for them.
  • Set them up on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Reverb Nation or Google+.
  • Teach them to use some software you know they need.
  • Do or better yet, teach them how to do some video or audio editing, such as with Audacity (free software).
  • Type up and organize their worktapes and lyrics, or convert them digitally and save.
  • Write a song in honor of them them (priceless!)
  • Commit to a number of hours of computer work... updating databases, uploading videos and pictures, social network friending, researching, etc.
  • Work the door for them at a gig. Create (and/or work) a tip jar.
  • If you have a home studio, record a song demo or worktape on them.
  • Carve out special time to listen and critique their song, performance, speech.
  • Give them a day of complete voice rest! Do the talking for them.
  • Babysit or dog sit while they perform, or attend someone else's show.
  • Attend their show and invite/bring friends!
  • Recommend their music or show on your social network sites

 Or...get creative. Give to a charity in your loved one's name, buy them a star, make a memory spending some time together volunteering in a soup kitchen, caroling, helping with a food drive or meals on wheels!

Now: What do YOU want for Christmas? You can leave a hint here in the comments and then send a link to the post:) Help with the brainstorming here!

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Saturday, December 3, 2016

10 Lessons from the Beautiful Voice of Sara Bareilles

My favorite Sara Bareilles album... 

NOTE: The audio player should appear below, if not, please click on the title of this post and go online to hear. 
 Available also on iTunes, Google Play and Android podcast apps 




The voice of Sara Bareilles is quite beautiful and powerfully emotive. And also... I could be wrong... but her technique is so good I don't think we'll hear about her having to cancel a tour from vocal abuse! I find her a very worthy voice to study.


I've admired Sara Bareilles from the first time I heard her sing her β€œKing Of Anything” smash.  She writes award-winning songs  about life and love from a woman's point of view, heavily influenced by her skills as pianist. Her DVD/CD "Between the Lines: Sara Bareilles Live at the Fillmore" should in my opinion be in every singer's music collection. 

Born in Eureka California, Bareilles' participation in everything from high school choir to community theater and University of California acapella group prepared and conditioned her voice for much that she has done since. In researching her, I found she is claimed as student by several different vocal coaches, and appears to be a constant learner. Her breakout single was 'Love Song' from the LP 'Little Voices'. That song has been certified 3x platinum. She has had 5 Grammy nominations and has played for the Obama White House multiple times. She has branched out in other creative directions being a celebrity judge for NBC's 'The Sing-Off', doing some cameo acting roles on TV and writing a memoir "Sounds Like Me: My Life (So Far) in Song", which has become a NYT bestseller! Bareilles' musical career is still unfolding. She now has earned a Tony Award nomination for Best Musical Score for the Broadway play 'The Waitress', has put out an album of her singing those songs (Jason Mraz joins her on one). It will be interesting to see what kind of work this evolving artist puts out next!

Here are some lessons singers can learn from her voice: 

1. Well-developed head voice can be belt voice's (upper chest voice's) best friend.

One of Sara's most intriging vocal strategies is her brilliant use of head voice. She has developed strong head register, and uses it freely as part of her uniquely recognizable pop sound. A clear instance of the way she uses head voice is in the chorus of  'King Of Anything'. But she has also developed a strong chest mix, and makes playful sport out of mixing the two together. One of the hallmarks of popular genre singing is the so-called 'belt voice', a term that I've come to avoid because to get this sound, too many singers push chest voice up as far as they can. But healthy belting, which I prefer to call full voice singing, requires a strong head register influence in the upper chest voice, so the full voice can rise strain-free, instead of being forcefully pushed up. 

To illustrate, let's take a look at 'Love Song'. Listen as Bareilles starts the song with lightweight chest voice, then uses head voice at the end of the verse on the words "...hard on me" at  :57. In the chorus, she switches to rich, conversational chest voice which she pulls through her mask for strongly communicative but strain-free resonance: 


2. Middle voice can be more interesting when varied and multi-colored.

Bareilles takes great artistic liberties to play with weight, depth and tone color choices in middle voice. This creates dramatic, dynamic patterns of vocal sound result in strong emotional response.
Listen as she takes the listener on an heart tugging journey by varying these vocal tone factors in 'Gravity':

3. Don't be afraid to play with vibrato and straight tone.

On her song Brave, Sara uses "shimmer" or light small wave vibrato in verses and bridge. She uses straight tone on the choruses. At 3:00, she does both... sustains the word 'brave' with straight tone, then changes into a shimmer of vibrato to end the line. She has developed the vocal control necessary to choose the exact length of time to hold straight tone, the exact width of vibrato she wants to create and the exact moment she wants to make a change:

4. If you write with piano, let your fingers and your voice collaborate.

As a piano-based songwriter myself, I know the brain-voice connection can run through the fingers when creating a melody. Sara Bareilles sings and plays piano as one integrated whole. Watch her in this version of 'Gravity': 

5. Watch where you place a piano mic stand.

Notice in her videos how the mic stand is placed so the boom can be in front and on top of the keyboard, not coming over the keys. This is necessary of course with an acoustic grand piano, but I find it's also the best way to play an electronic keyboard. If you do have the boom coming from the front over the keys, be sure it's close enough so you don't have to lean in, and tight enough so it doesn't fall on you. Wherever you put the mic stand, do it to avoid leaning your head forward, dropping your ribcage and losing your breath support.

6. If you have a great feel for rhythm, carefully consider scat singing in your performance.

Bareilles definitely owns a great inner sense of rhythm. She can embellish her vocals with runs and scats, but she also knows when NOT to do them. Learn the art of 'when' to scat... so just enough doesn't become too much. Check out her freedom of expression, vocal runs and variations on the melodic theme of 'Many The Miles' here:
  

7. Watch your pitch when out of your most usual position.

It's a good idea not to stay behind your instrument all the time, but when she leaves the piano about 4 minutes into this live version, Bareilles begins to go sharp. The excitement of the crowd and not having the piano to brace against can start a crunch factor in the ribs, and that is when counterproductive pushing begins. There could be a bad monitor situation, too, but still... it's a good idea to go over the sing-without-your-instrument option with your vocal coach to make sure your technique is good: 


8. It's ok to write the whole song yourself.

The rumor behind Bareilles song 'Love Song' about bucking her mean record label is not, she says, quite true. It came after she developed writer's block for a while, and had become very insecure, just turning in portions of songs. Her label tried to set her up with co-writers. After several unsatisfactory co-writing sessions she finally regained her attitude and confidence and wrote this smash hit by herself (oh, and her label loved it!) Sometimes it takes an intuitive collaborator to help you write your truth, especially if you are new to writing or stuck. But sometimes... sometimes... only you can do it. 

9. It's ok to have a name people have to spell check and hear pronounced.

"Bareilles" hasn't hurt her a bit - in fact, it adds to her uniqueness!

10. Everything you've ever done informs the music you make.

Sara Bareilles started out doing musical theater. In a significant career pivot, she successfully created her musical: "The Waitress". Each brave creative endeavor gives birth to the next. Who knows what great work she has to come?
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What about you? Is there something in Bareilles' voice you'd like to aquire, too? Could you use a stronger, smoother mix? How do you use your vocal registers to define your way of singing? Check out PPP vocal training, and see how fast you can mix, improve and master all parts of your vocal range, without strain!  www.judyrodman.com

Note: This blogpost contains information from my article originally published by TC Helicon's VoiceCouncil Magazine.

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Thursday, September 29, 2016

7 Songwriter Round Mistakes No One But Your Mama Will Love

A very special songwriter round in my life... 
Kevin Sharp, Jerry Foster, Jim McBride and me at what would be one of Kevin's last.

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Songwriter rounds - aka performing 'in the round' - probably originated here in Nashville, Tennessee. This city is widely considered the songwriting capital of the world, and these acoustic showcases of original music are certainly on every nook and corner within 100 miles of our famed Music Row. But they are also taking place now all over the US and internationally. There's a televised one I recently watched on PBS called "The Transcontenental Sessions" which was really thrilling.

The format of a songwriter round calls for performers to set up on stage together. They all do one song each, then yield to the next person. They repeat the cycle for another round of songs until the allotted time is up. This is different from the multi-artist events where a singer/songwriter goes onstage alone and does all their songs consecutively, then leaves the stage to the next performer.

The reason for these rounds is primarily to promote and demonstrate the songs. Songs get discovered and recorded from these exposures. Also, artists have been discovered from these kinds of performances. And a third reason for doing these kinds of shows is that singer/songwriters can have artistically high moments playing their songs within a small circle of others whose music both contrasts and complements each other, in intimate settings before audiences who are there to actually listen.

I've seen some mesmerizing, inspiring songwriter rounds. But I've also seen some that were truly awful. Here are 7 mistakes to watch for that can make your next rounds boring at best, and downright repulsive at worst:

1. Talking too much or not enough

The audience is there to hear music, not a speech. Imagine this scenario: A songwriter keeps unrolling their personal story in spite of the fact that no one is listening... and like a huge speed-bump stalls the momentum of the show out. Talk about too much information! The audience is over the song before it begins. 

You need to earn the right to talk onstage! Consider not saying anything other than a quick 'hello' and your name... before your first song. After proving yourself with a good tune, yes, it can be very effective, compelling and entertaining to spin concise tales of how some songs came to be. And if you can say something to make folks laugh, feel comfortable and part of the interaction, great! But feel your audience out; sense how people are responding, note how long the performer before you talked, ask yourself what you think the audience would love to hear from you about when choosing when and how much to talk. Instead of a long-winded diatribe, cut to the chase. If in doubt, leave it out!

2. Mumbling your lyrics

One of my pet peeves in listening to songwriter rounds is when I can't understand the lyrics to a song that otherwise sounds interesting. Think about it: A song (with words) has a melody, groove and lyric. Why only deliver two out of three? If you don't articulate lyrics clearly it's like you've gotten my attention fraudulently... you don't deliver on the promise of the song. Remember that the audience doesn't care if YOU are into it... they only benefit when you bring THEM into it. Without lyrics, you seriously limit your success in pitching a song or your performance

3. Singing too soft, too loud or both

I was at a songwriter round not long ago where a clueless performer started passionately singing as loud as he could, desperately trying to get the audience's attention and maybe a standing ovation.  During his first song, the whole front table emptied out!

If you sing too soft and breathy you are not usually in delivery mode, you're in rehearsal mode. Your voice's resonance is thin and uninteresting. Not very effective at getting people to listen. If you're too loud, you might as well yell at the audience. Don't use the volume in a small setting that you would in an amphitheater. Remember that venue size matters!

Worst of all don't sing too soft and too loud! Pitty the poor person sitting in front of your speakers, leaning in to hear your quiet verse only to be blasted by the volume on your high chorus! If you don't know how to control your voice, learn!

4. Failing to connect

The best rounds I've ever performed in or sat through have been ones that felt like unique, magically connective and musically excellent events. The one pictured at the top of this post with Kevin Sharp was a round filled with magic, and now a great memory with Kevin, who passed away in 2014. Years ago I enjoyed making magic with a recurring foursome at the Bluebird Cafe with Marc Beeson, JD Martin, Thomas Cain and myself. I learned so much from them. The friendship, musicality and audience response made these rounds a very special memory for me and I hope for the audience, too.

Songwriter rounds are by definition exercises in social interaction. You should connect not only with your audience, but also with the other performers in the round with you. Look at them; let them into your performance equation... interact with them! Sometimes you know these people, sometimes you've never met before. You need to bring out all your social graces and turn them into instant friends whose world you've made a little brighter in some way.

5. Not being gracious

Speaking of graces... I don't care how good your songs are, if you are negative, stingy, overtly competitive or ungrateful I'm not going to be receptive to you or your music.

I've been to rounds where performers barely acknowledge each other's presence. Sitting so close to people you ignore is uncomfortable.. and uncomfortable to watch! Smile, interact when it's natural to do so, listen attentively and support them when it's their turn.

Thank the one who invited you or accepted your invitation to the round, your audience, the venue, the one who retrieved the pic you dropped. Remind folks to tip their waiters. Be considerate to your sound-person. If something goes wrong with the PA, talk about how hard that job is and how much you appreciate their efforts. Hey, consider tipping them... they'll never forget you! And one other thing... try to support other songwriters in earlier or later rounds. You don't have to stay for the whole thing and sometimes you have other commitments, but as much as possible consider the golden rule:

Listen to others like you'd have them listen to you.

6. Singing too long

So I'm sitting at this songwriter round, and instead of getting wrapped up in the amazing songs, I find my car keys have jumped out of my purse and are now jingling between my fingers. Argh.

Leave them wanting more... not less! When considering how long to sing, factor in how long you'll probably talk plus a little on-stage interaction. I usually figure an average of 4 or 5 minutes per song. A typical 2 hour round with 4 songwriters usually calls for 6 or 7 songs each. Take into consideration how long the audience has had to sit through, especially in a multi-artist, multiple round event. If someone before you goes long, consider dropping some of your set to get things running on time. Odds are you will be the one who gets a better time slot from a grateful event organizer next time, and of course it's great when the audience wishes you would do one more!

7. Singing the wrong songs

Doing a songwriter round can be like cooking a great meal. Even presenting the right thing at the wrong time can ruin the magic. Choose your material wisely, and have optional songs ready to perform if a pivot is necessary! Consider the venue and the nature or theme of the event when deciding on your tempos and lyrical content. When playing in-the-round, consider the songs sung before your turn. Too many depressing ballads, angry  revenge tomes, preachy messages or sad failed relationship dirges will repel your audience. So will inappropriate lyrics at family-friendly events. Be prepared to switch your songs if necessary.

As for your biggest hit or best song, schedule it for last but if the round seems to be lagging behind, consider deleting another song so you are sure to end with the most important one. In fact, it is absolutely proper to ask if the next round is the last one.

Bonus mistake... Not telling them who you are!

If you're trying to build an audience, it's rather useless to perform a great round and leaving people wondering who you are and where they might find your music! This happens all the time... in fact, at one of the best rounds I've heard lately I didn't get the name of a wonderful new singer/songwriter I who interested me... and I was sitting in the front row!

Make very sure you say your name and website where people can find you online. Do it slowly and clearly enough so people understand you! And say your name again at the end of your round.

You know, even if you pack the house with your family and friends, you want more than polite support and unearned applause. Apply these tips to your next round and you may find that a lot more people than your sweet mama will  be so glad they came!

Want more?

My 6-cd Power, Path and Performance vocal training course has lots more to help you with your live performances, along with all other vocal issues. Check it out here. Or contact me for a lesson! 

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