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.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Career Saving Tips To Protect Your Voice From A Hit Song - Part 1

When the crowds are rocking... make sure your voice is, too!
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Available also on iTunes , Google PlayTuneIn Radio, Android apps

Having a hit song can be a double-edged sword for your voice. When you catch that career-moving wave you can get very, very busy and your voice gets pushed to the limit. But if you're armed with good information and consistently use great vocal technique, you need never cancel a show due to vocal strain or damage. You might cancel due to an upper respiratory illness - but not from vocal abuse!

I have a lot to tell you so I'm splitting this into a 2-part series. Each contains 5 tips, for a total of 10, that can save your career and protect your voice from a hit song. Here now are tips 1 - 5 of Part 1:

1. PULL - don't PUSH for excellent breath control

This is my number one for a reason. Barring an organic disease such as laryngopharyngeal reflux, throat cancer, a nervous system disorder such as Spasmodic Dysphonia or receiving a traumatic injury to the throat, it's going to be excessive breath pressure that causes vocal fatigue, strain or damage. With the pressure of maintaining career success, your performances need to be high octane, but your power of delivery should be more of a magic trick. Get your volume from well-adducted (closed) vocal cords and your tonal richness by allowing laryngeal vibration to have free access to all your resonation surfaces and cavities. Not only will this protect your voice from injury, you will sound better and get the response you want!

If you use my pulling technique, your cords can adduct (compress) with ease and consistency, generating a laser beam rather than a flashlight beam of breath and sound. Your throat channel will also morph, or shape shift, to allow each pitch and vowel to find their most favored places to resonate the best. You don't have to fear singing loud and passionately when you do it this way. You will also have more vocal control in general... helping you with range, pitch, vocal licks; really everything you want to do with your voice. Think of it this way: Vocal cords love to be vibrated but hate to be blown. So pull... don't push... for power!

2. Sing every time like it's the first time

I could have said 'support your voice' and it would mean the same thing... because performing with fresh fire activates your core, your face and body language, which moves breath from your pelvic floor through your open throat to create an emotionally powerful delivery.

If you have to sing the same song(s) over and over again, it can be easy to get complacent and numb with your performance.  What a crazy thing to do... you got a hit and now you steal it from the audience responsible for your success! Use your prime directive... to make your listener (who you can imagine is always at least selectively deaf) respond to your message. This should to re-energize your delivery. James Taylor once said he and his band make light and fun of 'Fire And Rain' during rehearsals, but when he's in front of an audience every time feels like the first time he ever sang that classic smash of his. Maybe that's part of why his career has lasted a lifetime.

3. Limit and control your speaking voice

Remember when you said something as a child and were told to 'watch your mouth'? Truth! Many times, it's an artist's speaking more than singing that gets them into vocal trouble. When you're doing pre-show interviews, meet & greets, post show autograph signings and schmooze parties, remember NEVER for any reason push too much breath while you're talking. If someone can't hear you, lean in, talk with your hands or silently mouth words with facial language. Whatever you do, don't yell or whisper (both are like the Sahara Desert winds blowing through your cords). 20 minutes of screaming can cause the first sign of blood blisters on your vocal cords, a precursor to nodules. Learn to pull your listener in... you'll find the magnet more powerful than the blowhard.

When touring or otherwise doing back-to-back shows or sets, limit the words you speak in general, especially if you don't know how to pull your words. When you do talk, use pingy, bell-like quality of tone instead of breathiness.  And be careful not to push a laugh, either! I teach my students to scream, yell and laugh with a backwards sensation! Prone to longwindedness? Change your habits of protracted gab. Protect your vocal cords... they are your career's most important asset.

4. Rest wisely

There is no substitute for sleep. None. Yes, you may have to sleep on the bus, but factor quality sleep hours in your travel plans, and try to get to sleep before midnight if possible. If you have a road manager or other travel planner, make sure they get the message that sleep time is a priority that must be scheduled in.

During a busy tour, you will get tired. Be smart. Don't talk when you're tired; if you're speaking with proper support it will take a lot of your precious energy which you probably won't expend. Speaking without adequate breath support/control balance and with crunched posture will result in avoidable vocal fatigue... just what you don't need.

When your voice matters, the voice rest of silence is golden. Treat vocal sound like money in the bank... don't make unnecessary withdrawals.

5. Stay hydrated

There is also no substitute for adequate hydration of your voice. Did you know that vocal sound is literally set up in the mucous membranes covering your vocal cords?It's called the mucosal wave. If anything interrupts the free flowing of this wave - like an unhappy vocal cord surface - you're in for vocal trouble. It takes enough water to keep the mucous the right consistency.

A great friend of mine, Jennifer O'Brien, is a top studio and road tour singer. When her voice starts feeling stressed, the first thing she does is to increase the water she's drinking. On the road you may find yourself in dryer areas than you're used to, and of course planes, trains and buses (and cars) are like dehydration chambers. Drink like a fish, take a long shower and breath steam in deeply before your shows, and when going to dry areas, consider bringing an inexpensive humidifier with you.

Find a throat soothing remedy that works for you onstage, pack it and use it. My remedy of choice is diluted pineapple juice (3 or 4 parts water to 1 part juice). Others like honey/cayenne/lemon juice in water; ginger or throat coat tea, some have herbal throat sprays that work and some chew gum right before going on stage. Do NOT sing with a lozenge in your mouth. You could end up inhaling it.

OK that's it for part 1. Look for part 2, coming soon with 5 more important tips to protect your voice from a hit song! Your comments are most welcome.

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Friday, January 5, 2018

Tips For Stage Performers From A Sound Girl ... Interview With Fela Davis

Pro audio engineer Fela Davis 

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In the quest to become better performers, all singers and speakers would do well to learn more about audio engineering, and how to communicate with sound experts. 

So... for this episode of the All Things Vocal podcast, I interviewed Fela Davis, an audio engineer entrepreneur based in New York City. This amazing woman graduated from Full Sail University and now has over 15 years of audio engineering experience, including working for industry powerhouses Clair Global and House of Blues. You’ll hear the names of several legendary artists she’s worked with as you listen to our audio chat. 

Fela specializes in wireless mics and in ear monitors, has prepped gear for network and cable TV shows including Good Morning America Summer Series, The Colbert Report and The Macy's Day Thanksgiving Parade. She and her partner Denis Orynbekov combined their expertise to create 23dB Productions, located in New York City. Besides in-studio work, they offer a mobile one-stop shop for live projects: They film videos, do multitrack recording, mix and master for concerts and live events.
When Fela's not creating content for her company she’s on international road tours… currently working as mixing-front-of-house engineer for 5-time Grammy award winning jazz artist Christian McBride, and does some shows with 5-time Grammy award nominee Ottmar Liebert.

Read more »

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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Tis The Season To Be Singing!

My family's gingerbread creation

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Singing is always in season, but December provides very special opportunities. I want to take this time to wish you readers and listeners in our All Things Vocal village a very happy, joyful holiday season. I hope that music-making... particularly singing... is part of this time for you and your loved ones. Never has there been a more perfect time for 'making a joyful noise' ... whether that sound is professional or a family jam session where no voice is judged less important than another.

Here are some gentle reminders if you're going to be singing:
  • Getting ready for a road trip? Don't forget to take and pack your immune system herbs and supplements that work for you. If you're going somewhere dry, you might even pack a portable warm air humidifier.
  • Getting ready for a holiday parties and family reunions? Getting ready for outside games or events? Don't forget to wear something which will protect your ears and your neck. Also... don't forget to bring water and stay well-hydrated. Also... when you laugh, squeal or scream for joy, be sure and pull that vocal sound.. don't push it! I know... it's the last thing you'd be thinking about, so you better practice pulling now!
  • Getting ready for holiday feasts? Don't forget to limit mucous-enhancing foods like rich cream-based sauces, heavy casseroles, fatty meat portions, excessive deserts, alcoholic and caffeinated drinks. You CAN have some of these things, after all, even YOU can celebrate, but if you limit these heavy and toxic substances, you will be able to be in better voice. (Also better health). I say this as I wolf down a slice of my mother's traditional homemade pecan pie:)
  • Getting ready for a holiday performance? Don't forget to warm up your voice with your vocal exercises! Even if it's just 5 or 10 minutes... warmup and remember to pull, not to push, your voice.
My New Year's wish is that your gratitude list, like mine, keeps expanding. So raise a glass of something or other with me to toast the coming year. No matter what direction the economy and music business goes, no matter what life thing blindsides us, there will also be diamonds... blessings and sweet surprises ... embedded in every day. I find it so important, for so many reasons, to look for, notice and focus our spirits on those diamonds.

Thank you for being part of my journey. I can almost hear you singing! God bless you and your precious voices... love, Judy

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Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Why Singing Without Playing Your Instrument Feels So Weird

Singing sans your instrument can be excruciating!
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People who usually sing while playing guitar, bass, keyboards, drums or other instrument often find it weird and frustratingly difficult to sing as well without playing. The reasons can be psychological and physical.

You can find yourself lost without your instrument on the live stage and in the recording studio:
  • Live, maybe you want to get out from behind your instrument for at least a song or two for a more direct and intimate connection to your audience, or just to change the optics and the energy of the show. 
  • In the studio, it's usually wise to do vocals as a controllable overdub instead of simultaneously singing and playing. 
Let me give you an interesting example. When I first moved to Nashville many years ago, I was sang a lot of background vocals in what they called "simul-sessions". These sessions were where the musicians, background vocalists and lead singers recorded together at the same time. It was a lot like live TV... if you messed up, it was painfully and publicly obvious and made others have to do-over as well, so there was great incentive (some might say stress) to get your part right the first time!

Anyway, this session was for none other than Johnny Cash. As we prepared to record, I remember that I watched a studio tech take the strings off his guitar and give it to him to hold while he was singing. His wise and legendary producer (Snake Reynolds) had noticed he sang better when attached to his guitar! At the time I wondered why that mattered; now I understand.

PLEASE NOTE: The information in this post is only for those who are most comfortable singing and playing, and feel that's where they sing the best. It's not for those...

  • who are NOT confident playing at the same time as singing.
  • who play with bad, crunched posture.
  • who actually DON'T have good enough vocal technique to sing well while playing.

Psychological issues of singing without playing

When your brain learns to do something, it programs as much of the action into automatic as it can in order to accomplish the goal much more efficiently, easier and faster. The brain literally lays down myelin sheath fiber highways around the neural synapse pathways it wants to memorize. If you change a factor, especially as significant as what the side limbs of your body are doing, it can throw the auto button back to manual! Then you start thinking about the "how" instead of the "what" that you are communicating.

The result can be frozen or guarded stance, missing body & facial language, numbness and other performance fails. Vocal issues and limitations creep in, sabotaging your confidence even more. There's no way your voice can do it's best when your brain is occupied with so much conscious thinking.

Physical issues of singing without playing

When your hands aren't playing, they don't know what to do and tend to fall like dead weight. This makes your arms into 'ribcage anchors'. Then the dropped, tight ribcage allows too much slack and uncontrolled movement in the dome of the diaphragm. Think of this as the kiss of death to breath control!

Without the familiar instrument at your hands to brace against, your head tends to drift forward. This again adds to the collapse of the ribcage, and also the tightening of the throat. Then the chin starts coming up and forward to hit notes which had been easy when you were playing simultaneously. Think of this as the kiss of death to tone, range, pitch ... and say hello to vocal strain!

What you can do

There are some ninja tricks that can help you sing as well - if not better - without your instrument! Please understand that every singer is unique. You may not be aware of what you're really doing and it's best to work with a coach who can diagnose your particular issues and fine tune these tactics for you. That said, here are 3 suggestions:

1. Check your posture

Stand flexibly tall instead of crouched forward. Balance your head over your heels intstead of your toes. Make sure the upper curve of your back is flexibly straight instead of pronounced. On stage, use body language of the magnet instead of the blowhard (interesting term isn't it?). In the studio, know how to position yourself at the mic so you are flexibly tall.

2. Use your hands

As I mentioned, the position and action of your hands affects your breath control, and breath control creates vocal control. If on stage you have a mic or mic stand in your hand, learn to use your grip to widen your ribcage. Mostly keep the butt end of the mic 45 degrees down, and the head of the mic right at your mouth. Squeeze it - not continually, just as you articulate your lyrics. Done correctly, this should create a pulling sensation that makes you tall and wide, opening your throat and ribcage. Just don't pull it away from your mouth much.  If singing in the studio, hold a backscratcher or the equivalent stick-shaped object between your palms, which should replicate the ribcage widening that happens when you play your instrument. Gently squeeze the stick between your palms to open your ribcage and brace your head back over your spine.

3. Focus on the point of the spear... the message

Here's where not having an instrument can help you. If you don't have to worry about playing the right chords, and you use these other ninja tricks so your voice feels controlled and strong, you can focus your mind even better onto the message and the person to whom you're singing.

Why I keep giving away the farm

I'd like to take a moment today and tell you why I create All Things Vocal blog and podcast. I put so much into it I've been told by many people that I 'give away the farm'. Actually, they are right... if you can't afford professional vocal training at all (keeping in mind I have a course that's just $19.95) then it is my purposeful intention that you can improve your vocal ability for free from the information you read and hear on All Things Vocal. You can help by sharing it with others. You can sign up for my newsletter at judyrodman.com to get monthly blog updates so you don't miss one!

However, there's so much more I can help you with. If your voice is important to you, and you want to go farther with more proven techniques, look into my training courses and/or take one-on-one singing or speaking lessons with me in person or online. The improvement you'll experience is fast... even one lesson can jump-start you to your next level of ability.

Your questions, comments and suggestions are always welcome! Do you play and sing? What's your experience with/without your instrument?

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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

27 Ways To Absolutely Murder Your Voice

Be scared... be very scared...
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The slight chill in the Tennessee air tells me it's Halloween season, so I thought I'd share some practices that should send a chill up every singer or speaker's spine. If you want to lose your voice temporarily or even permanently, there are some sure-fire ways to commit vocal murder. Some ways are subtle, some overt, most are totally avoidable. I've either done the following things or worked with someone who has, so this list is not just theory... it's all a thing. Your voice might survive a tangle with one of them or get by with something abusive for a while, but your vocal apparatus will suffer and will definitely need recovery time! So be scared, be very scared of these...

27 Voice Murderers

1. Cough loud, hard and/or often. This is one of the best ways to cause laryngitis that I know.

2. Scream forwards. For any reason. Even metal screamers can do it safely ... if they learn to scream backwards!

3. Have someone elbow you in the larynx during a pick up game of basketball. Yep, created quite a fright for a major star I've worked with.

4. Rev your stress level up before a very important gig . Great way to tighten you up and weaken your immune system, making you vulnerable to those microscopic viral voice murderers!

5. Sing songs out of your range. Go ahead... shred your cords like Freddy Krueger!

6. Start your show with your highest, hardest, loudest song. To put the last nail in your voice's coffin, don't warm up before the show.

7. Push breath while talking in long phrases with no breath support. A cruel vocal cord punisher in it's own right, this is an especially effective sneak attack on your unsuspecting singing voice.

8. Sing or talk with breathy tone over an extended period. This should dehydrate and thicken the mucous covering your vocal cords; torturing them while insisting they create sound.

9. Speak on the phone hunched over. The double saboteurs of tight ribs and forward leaning head should create nightmare configurations for your breath and throat channel.

10. Eat or drink things that create phlegm in your throat and or exacerbates acid reflux. Then punish your heavy laden, acid washed vocal cords by forcing sounds when they're too gunked up to freely vibrate.

11. Do vocal exercises wrong. If you turn your vocal warmup into a tighten up enough times with bad form, you will see the results in reduced vocal range, control, tone and when you finally go to the doctor, you'll see evidence of vocal abuse on your laryngoscopy photo.

12. Have a fight or take a stressful phone call right before you sing. You'll be sure to tighten up for performance and power your voice from too high in your body.

13. Give a pre-show interview with a ton of vocal fry. Think of it as committing vocal murder by friction.

14. Talk and laugh loudly with friends between multiple sets you're performing. Silence is something to avoid if you want to trash your voice.

15. Cry. When you start singing soon after, you'll want to cry more.

16. Smoke. Vocal murder can be accomplished by desiccation of tissue from toxins and acid reflux. Not to mention the lung damage.

17. Sing like a zombie. A lack of facial and body language will kill your efficient use of breath and make your voice feel and sound, well, dead.

18. Catch a bug! To make sure you do, never wash your hands, and frequently wipe your hand across your nose or mouth when in the presence of someone with a cold, especially after shaking their hand. Don't support your immune system, either, with food or supplements that work for you.

19. Get drunk. The dehydration plus the ability to injure your cords without feeling it should do the trick.

20. Sleep with your window open to the cool, damp night air. When you awake, the evidence of your sore throat will let you know you've murdered your voice for at least the day.

21. Stay up really late the night before you sing. The lack of sleep should swell your vocal cords, which you'll then torture with an important performance.

22. Don't cancel .. go ahead and sing with laryngitis. Your voice should be trashed for at least 2 weeks afterwards and possibly much longer.

23. Roll in the hay (or anything else) you're allergic to. Allergies are great voice killers!

24. Have nothing to drink on stage. In fact, make it a habit not to drink enough water chronically.

25. Blow your voice out at rehearsal. Kiss it goodbye for the actual show.

26. Hurt your neck or shoulders incorrectly doing physical exercise. The pain will cause those muscles to spasm and guard which interferes with the free movement of your vocal apparatus. Then you'll really get scared and experience a vicious cycle of vocal issues/ bad technique reinforcment unless you get to a coach that can set you right. Free weight neck strain had severely sabotaged the career momentum of another big star who finally came in for vocal lessons with me.

27. Sing while believing you can't.  You'll undoubtedly be in guarded stance, tightening and sabotaging your voice's operation and health, and ensuring the demise of a good performance.

Are you scared now? Good!

Best defenses against voice killers 

  • a healthy fear and recognition of them, because they are quite real, and they really do cause fatigue, irritation, strain and damage to your voice.
  • good information about how these voice-destroyers operate and ways you can stop them, 
  • correct habitual vocal technique to prepare and protect your voice, 
  • and vocal training with a vocal coach you can trust. Fyi, you can find my courses and contact me for lessons right there at www.judyrodman.com, so there's no excuse for murdering your voice... unless of course, you want to! 👹

So what about you?

If you've done any of these things, or found any another ways to kill your voice, please add it in the comments! Also, if you listened to the podcast please review it at your favorite listening site. That helps me keep this going for you.

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Friday, September 15, 2017

Career Tips for Female Artists - Interview With Bree Noble

Bree Noble
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Available also on iTunes , Google PlayTuneIn Radio, Android apps

For this post, I did an audio interview with Bree Noble… entrepreneur, musician, speaker, business coach and hit podcaster. Bree is a delightful, caring mentor whose advice all rings true to me, and comes from her years of professional success. Listen to the interview at the podcast audio link above to get insider tips for creating and growing a successful music business, with a focus on female artists. If you're a guy please feel free to eavesdrop:)

Subjects we covered include:

  • A look at Bree’s 2 popular podcasts
  • Music business issues that tend to be more woman-centric
  • How to deal with ‘female artists don’t sell’ mentality
  • Why women need to learn business skills
  • Fears that need to be conquered for music biz success 
  • How to create longevity in music careers
  • What is the same, and a change prediction for music marketing
  • How to submit music to Women of Substance Radio

About Bree:

Bree Noble is an entrepreneur, musician and speaker. She founded Women of Substance Radio, an online radio station that promotes quality female artists in all genres, in 2007. She launched the Women of Substance Music Podcast in November 2014, a 5 day per week show which promotes Independent female artists. Her podcast has hit #1 in New & Noteworthy for the Music, Arts and Society & Culture categories and #4 Audio Podcast on all of iTunes. She draws on her extensive experience running her own music business, both as a solo musician and as an industry professional, to train and mentor other female musicians. Learn more about the station, the show and the artists at www.wosradio.com. Bree also hosts a blog and second podcast and offers training at Female Entrepreneur Musician, which is about creating and growing music business careers. 

About YOU:

If you want to grow a great singing and/or speaking career, you need your best voice possible. For vocal training proven to maximize and protect studio and stage voice, get Power, Path and Performance vocal lessons and/or courses on disc. No matter what your financial means, I've created several options so you can get this training. It's 'chump change' if you truly mean business.

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Saturday, August 12, 2017

Why Inhaling Through Nose AND Mouth is Best for the Voice

For the voice, three inhale holes are better than one or two!
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Among the controversies out there concerning vocal technique is this question:
Should you breath in through your nose or mouth when you sing? 
From my experience as singer, speaker and vocal coach my answer is... 
Why? Let's do a three-part experiment:

1.  Just inhale through your nose. 
Flare your nose and try to suck a big breath in. Where did the breath seem to go? I bet your upper front chest expanded, and your shoulders probably lifted. Most of the lobes of your lungs are lower and more the back part of your torso. And lifting your shoulders are going to tighten the bottom of your ribcage. None of this is good for your voice.

2. Inhale from your mouth. 
Open wide and breathe in. Where did the breath seem to go? It was high again, wasn't it? How drying did it feel to your throat? How tight did your neck get?

3. Now inhale through both nose and mouth. 
You don't need to open your mouth wide... open your lips for a little sip, at the same time flaring your nostrals. Don't suck air like a Hoover... let it fall in. How much faster and deeper did you breathe? 

OK, here's why I find inhaling through nose and mouth to be best:

  • It allows breath to fall the fastest.

It does this by encouraging expansion in the low torso, shifting body contents downwards to make room for the flattening diaphragm to lower the lungs and create a partial vacuum. This action draws air in instantly. You get a much better quality breath.

  • It encourages a low power center for the voice. 

Singers and speakers tend to power the voice from where the breath seems to be taken in. For optimal balanced breath support/control, it should feel like you're powering the voice from the pelvic floor. Opening nose and mouth allows air to fall in low, not be sucked in high.

  • It is the least dehydrating way to move air through the throat.

You'll notice when you inhale from nose and mouth, you tend to do so silently. It doesn't feel like you moved the sahara desert through your throat, drying it out and causing irritation that could lead to a voice-sabotaging tickle or cough.

  • It expands the whole throat channel (nasal, oral and laryngeal pharynx).

This pre-opens the throat for conducting laryngeal vibration to resonators before you say or sing a word. 

So why do so many people say you should breathe through the nose?

Many athletic coaches recommend nose breathing for athletic activities, for many good reasons. However, for the voice, it's not the best strategy. When I began teaching one of the books I read was Jeffrey Allen's book 'Secrets of Singing'. He came to the same conclusion, while also mentioning it was controversial. In my teaching experience, every time someone comes in singing while nose breathing, they have all kinds of vocal issues including lack of breath control, tight throat and range limitations. Just opening all three holes to let air in (both nostrals and the mouth) creates instant vocal improvement. 

Silent, Deep and Wide

I find that a lower torso sensation of 'Silent, Deep and Wide' will create the best quality inhale for the voice. Opening nose and mouth creates this sensation. Practicing it on purpose will create muscle memory so it becomes your modus operande for singing and speaking.

Did you try it? What do you think?

For more practical vocal training like this, check out my course "Power, Path and Performance".

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