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.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Singers, Got Trolls? Let's Talk! How To Deal With Internet Bullying

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 PlayTuneIn Radio, Android apps

There is a cruel practice on the internet these days commonly called trolling. People who do it are trolls. I would define trolling as the art of malevolently offering the meanest, most insulting, scathingly negative critique with the highest shock value the troll can create for the purpose of causing emotional pain for the one being criticized. And if the troll can deliver a surprise attack, all the better for their soul-sucking joy de vivre. The voice, dear friends, is a frequent target of trolls. If you have them, congratulations; you're in good company. If not, you need to be prepared. They're coming for you. And me.

My latest experience with a troll...

The situation: I won't go into enough detail to embarrass the organizers, but the program I recently performed in was a disorganized, logistic nightmare. The venue owner never showed up with the keys to the building. After all the musicians, artists AND audience members stood out in the sun for hours, somebody finally broke in the back window (yes, there was talk of being charged with breaking and entering) and opened the doors. You can imagine the ensuing chaos as the staff propped the stage and the musicians set up for an online video show that was a half hour overdue to start.. I sat as out of the way as possible on a bench in the front, waiting for my time to hurriedly set my keyboard up and do a quick mic check ...and then immediately perform. It would have made great footage for a reality show!

A bit of a rabbit trail:
I have learned to roll with the punches, and these things happen if you spend time on the road. This 'adventure' reminded me of the time years ago when my whole band and I waited in the hotel lobby for the scheduled vehicle that was supposed to get us and our gear to the airport in time for our flight to the next show. That vehicle never showed up, so my band leader commandeered a laundry truck for transportation in exchange for my signed picture! Yes, we made it to the airport, just in time and though nerve-racking back then, it's one of my funniest memories now.

The point is, people rarely know how difficult a performer's job really is. The backstage chaos, personal and career stress, travel guffaws, the mild illness or personality conflicts in the band have to all be ignored when foot hits stage floor. The performer's ability to capture the venue with a seamless, friendly, professional and musically excellent performance should be all the audience is aware of. (Although a glimpse at normal backstage preparation can be illuminating and fascinating, like this NYT fast-forward through backstage preparation at the Metropolitan Opera.)

OK, Rabbits, back to present day...
So we finally finished the late internet show, and got a lot of sweet comments from hosts and folks in the audience. I got home and after putting my keyboard back up in my office, revved up my computer to check my email. There was a comment on my Facebook page that took my breath away. Someone had written "I don't appreciate the way you strew your purse, bag (gig bag of stuff for my keyboard) and coat (what coat? It was 100 degrees!) all over the front bench! I want you to know you were rude and unprofessional!

While I'd had trolls comment with violent, sick profanity on some videos I tried to promote on YouTube, I had never had anyone in over 50 years of performing tell me I was rude or unprofessional. It was strange how deep it cut. I found out who she was, spent some time figuring out how I wanted to respond (various replies ranging from sorry she felt that way to tearing her a new one, then decided the wisest course for my own spirit and conscience was to unfriend and block her. I eventually found out that she hated any music that wasn't old-style traditional country. But instead of sharing that truth, she chose to cut a complete stranger (me) down as meanly as she knew how.

Things I've learned about trolls:

  • They want, most of all, to be seen and heard. Unfortunately, they are using hurting others to call attention to themselves. Therefore one of your best strategies is to decline to acknowledge the troll's existence. In other words, unfriend/block/delete the comment.
  • They also love to strike from hiding places of anonymity. Once more - best strategy is to erase them and their critique without your verbal reaction, which they live for. Starving them of your response is like starving them of food, and they generally move on to someone else who will feed them. 
  • Trolls are emotionally and/or mentally challenged. I mean, how many people who get an endorphin rush out of hurting others on purpose do you know who are not spiritually and mentally sick? Hurting people hurt people. Knowing this helps take the sting out of the hateful things they say... which is never based on the real value of the voice they are criticizing. 
  • Understand how they get their power. The reason singers can be so hurt by trolling is that voices need to be sensitive, unique and unguarded to effectively deliver messages. Trolling a singer is like shooting a sitting duck. So don't sit there turning the troll-scat over and over in your mind try to understand it. A troll's mind will never make sense to you. Move on to something affirming and positive so your heart can deflect the hit! 
  • Know the difference between an honest critique and bullying. Be sure to differentiate between a comment that is trolling, and one that is just an honest opinion you don't agree with. 
  • If you choose to respond, be careful: don't just feed the troll. Someone wise once asked me why I was trying to convince someone of something they didn't want to believe. Feeding a troll is an exercise in spitting in the wind, and a waste of time and emotional energy. That said, if you need to use the situation for your own purposes to straighten something out publicly or correct a damaging lie, do so succinctly and in a way that looks emotionally controlled and professional. Under certain circumstances, you can even respond legally and sue for defamation of character.
  • Your best weapon: Forgive and forget. The worst thing I could probably wish on a troll is his or her life. Unlike Martin Luther King, Gandi and Jesus, the cuttingest of troll comment hasn't stopped my heart beating. The nursery rhyme rings true, 'sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me' unless of course I continue to let them. You need to be emotionally honest and process the nastiness of being trolled, but then finish the process: forgive and let go of any lingering negativity. Then get away from the crazy makers! disconnect… unfriend/unfollow/delete/block them!  
  • Never Be One. It should go without saying, but there are always those 4 fingers pointing back when we point one forward! May all our critiques always come from love, not from cruel lack of empathy. It's ok to recognize that someone's performance sucked, but you'll probably never fully know why... and next time it could be you. Or me! Correction of the cause is almost always possible, if suggested with good timing and kindness. Do unto others as you want done to you.
More recommended reading: 10 Ways to Destroy An Online Commenting Troll and some of the suggestions are artful ways of engaging without actually feeding them.

What about you?

Have you ever been hit with a cruel comment? Have you ever mistaken positive correction for negative trolling? Have you ever been embroiled a troll flame war? How did that work for you? What has helped your heart deal with hurtful critique?

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Monday, June 5, 2017

A Lyrical Journey to Phenomenal Singing... Part 1 by Salem Jones

My guest blogger Salem Jones

From Judy-
A few years ago I was active in a singer's forum online and met the incomparable Canadian artist Salem Jones. Fueled by our like-mindedness and mutual curiosity, we have become close friends, regularly having tea via webcam as we chat about all things life. She is a fiery rocker and a fascinating combination of a brilliantly independent and original-thinking brain, a loving empathetic heart and a fearless spirit fighting for right things. She also sings her butt off. She guest posts today, going deeper than the usual caves we explore when pursuing the kind of singing that is truly phenomenal. I am so grateful she has chosen to share some of her thoughts on this blog. Here now is Salem Jones...


Hey, how am I singing?

Now there’s a question. It’s one that can float through various levels of our awareness, appearing here or there, remaining unknown, and consequently unasked (and therefore unanswered), gig after gig, session after session.

If the thought of it even occurs to us and we dare to follow through on the asking, the following often happens. (Unless we’re narcissists) we gird up our loins to courageously query cast, crew or studio, in part or whole, (ourselves included), while also staving off a near loss of consciousness due to the acute anxiety we experience in the scant split seconds- miniscule seconds that have gone into bombastic, cinematic sloooooow time, kettle drums and all- yes, those same s e c o n d s that we must survive, while we await an answer to a loaded question like that one.

It’s not easy being a singer. Our instruments are simply too close to the jugular vein.

So we may be offered multiple answers, some that start a fistfight or a new career path (probably for the one-time, bullet-dodging, overpaid “producer”, who insists he “ah, has somewhere else to be right now…phew…”), but regardless of whether or not the feedback is as positive as we want and will it to be, it is more often than not, technical in nature. Technique is necessary. Yesiree, it most certainly is! If for no other reason than to take a glorious stand against autotune. But I’ve seen the impact of a technical over-focus keep singers from deep, optimal performance. This became my nemesis one day. And what a brain battle it was.

I had been gaining some technical ground for a few years, but ironically, I found myself moving farther away from my own voice. I felt like I was sliding down an annoyingly muddy hill while some deranged farmer kept turning on the garden hose. I realized that I had actually been delivering The Message far better at the beginning of my vocal journey, even though my technical capabilities were few. I had been touching more Hearts, including my own, and I wanted nothing more than to regain the spirit of that. But how?

Well, if we ask questions, we receive answers, right? I’ve learned that the better the questions, the better the answers. Still, “How am I singing?” seemed to be a good question, one that was on the right track. But it wasn’t great. After some thought, I realized that it wouldn’t evoke a specific answer because it was too general. So I shifted the angle and experimented further.  This question materialized:

How well is The Message coming through my voice?

That one changed the perspective completely and clarified the goal, which created a whole new focus on a pointed intention. Much better! I could feel I was onto something, with one dry foothold in the mud I was trying to climb out of. I then noticed that some songs were connecting much better than others, and that took me to the age-old, fantastically leading and logical question, one that should be asked over and over, “Why?” To not bore us, I’ll cut to the chorus… I finally asked myself, 

WHAT am I singing?

Something clicked and locked in like Tower of Power’s rhythm section.

That question was stellar, because in the answering, it was made crystal clear to me that the “how” and the “what” we singers sing, are completely cosmically connected. Meditate on that for a moment because that connection is not a new concept. But, I firmly believe that it’s one that needs to be taken to a higher standard and held there forevermore. The more I explored this, the more it became apparent that the “what” is paramount and that it must come first. So, as we approach the true beginning of this discussion, I ask right here, “What, then, are we actually singing?” It would be natural right about now, if the meditation didn’t stick, to go away mad and check Instagram while muttering something like, “Songs! We sing soooonnnnggggs. Cuz we’re sssiiinnnnggggeeerrrsss.” But please bear with me and just keep reading…

…because there are times when it really seems and sounds like nobody knows, including anyone and everyone associated with the performance. But what we want to be singing if we’re going to hit the zone and REALLY make magick is what I call Resonant Lyrics. First, we need to realize that, while people refer to the “words” we sing, if we’re delivering to the aforementioned ideal standard, it’s waaaay beyond “words”. We’re delivering “lyrics”, and these sacred morsels are something that I define as a unique and symbiotic relationship between “words” and “feelings”. (Enter, The Heart.)  The term resonant lyrics is somewhat self-explanatory, but it bears considering the definition here. For lyrics to be resonant, they must: 1. Touch a singer’s soul as though they’re her own story (and they very well could be as in the case of a singer-lyricist). 2. Be the best, and most refined (yet still raw- but that’s a whole other blogpost) that they can be.

So. How do we achieve Resonant Lyrics?

Stay tuned for Part 2 (coming soon) of this guest post for the answer to that question!

Meanwhile, you might enjoy this reminiscence about a few of the answers I’ve heard to our first question, “How am I singing?” Send yours in. Let’s laugh it out. There’s always some clown. ;)

  1.  “Like a drunken lone wolf sailor”. I wondered who’d been drinking after that.
  2.  “We’re not tossing seedbags here.” From a west coast urban “vocal aficionado”.
  3. “Amazing! No wait! I was soloing Glenn’s track.” Well, I can understand this one because the producer was talking about Glenn Hughes.
  4. “You need to stop lifting weights. You’re looking way too muscular.” Yup. That was the feedback from this uberclown, a small-time A&R guy lasciviously licking his lips.
  5. “Like a cat.” I often sound like a cat. Meow.
  6. “Like Geddy Lee. When he sings like a cat.” What else can you say to that? ROFL 

Salem’s Bio:

Canadian rock singer/songwriter/performer/author Salem Jones is a prairie-born artist who has written and released several CD’s to rave reviews, including a duet with rock legend Glenn Hughes. Salem scored a small soundtrack and produced/performed in several music videos. She has been shined on by some of rock music’s elite, and has performed live across much of Canada, including the famed Francis Winspear Centre for Music. Salem is a well respected performance coach and lyric consultant at Empress Performance Consulting and Empress Lyric Consulting. 

Fueled by the deep conviction and personal experience that lyrics change lives, Salem has just written her first book called,“The Book of The Lyricist: Lyrics as a Way In and a Way Out”. It likens lyric-writing to transformational journal writing, and in her uniquely entertaining way, opens the seemingly inaccessible world of writing lyrics to anyone and everyone. 

From her book, publishing date TBA:
 Your lyrics are your truth. They're your sacred secrets, your dazzling dreams, your cherished plans, your insistent demands, your delicate suggestions, your moon riding joys, your gut wrenching pains, your heart crushing losses, your cross-the-finish-line-at-all-costs gains. They're your style, and they are the way that you change the world. Your lyrics are you. They are the lifeblood of your songs. You want them to tell the whole story, the way you intended it to be heard, in the strongest way possible, so that someone can deeply understand and will walk away changed. By you. By your words. By your lyrics. This is the essence of being a lyricist.
Connect with Salem on Twitter: https://twitter.com/Empress_Lyrics or through Judy’s All Things Vocal Training Facebook page.

Don't forget to look for part 2 of this post!

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Saturday, April 29, 2017

How Your Voice and Your Messages Create Each Other

As you think, so shall you sing...
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The message you are delivering is the autopilot that works your voice. That means your message actually directs the movement of the muscles, cartilage and other tissues of your vocal apparatus. The message you're communicating even affects how you breathe, and the shape of your throat channel! Let's talk about how this happens, and how we can use this information to give your voice more power.

The vocal apparatus is operated mostly by the automatic nervous system which I refer to as the autopilot, not the conscious mind. An autopilot (in tech speak a 'macro') is configured by consciously choosing the job we want it to do. In the case of the voice, the job is: To Communicate a Message! 

How the voice creates messages

Effective communication requires shaping vocal sound so the message can be understood by the intended ear. As discussed in this interesting article I found, shaping vocal sound is accomplished by
I would add that movement of eyes, jaw, soft palate, and the larynx itself help differentiate messages. The degree of tightness in the ribcage, stiffness in the spine, active language in the face and body cause subtle changes in vocal sound, too. Whew! Amazing how many shades of tone colors can be created in the human voice!

Let's try experimenting with some exercises. Using the sentence "You better not do that" see how many different messages you can create:
  • Say or sing it 5 times, each time emphasizing a different one of the 5 words. Notice how the message of the sentence changes, becoming a threat, a warning, a pleading, an invitation to play, sarcasm.
  • Say or sing it while moving the jaw with a slight chewing motion, then with a very still jaw. Notice the still jaw message is more menacing.
  • Now do it with a tight ribcage, then with your spine moving like a lava lamp.
  • Try it with a flat, then lifted, soft palate. 
  • If you know how, overlift (it will sound thin and strained) and then overdrop (it will sound hooty) your larynx while sounding the message.
  • Do it with a numb 'poker face', then while smiling and moving your eyes around.
  • Try pushing it out with a lot of (uncontrolled) breath, then pulling it out with wide ribs but using very little (controlled) breath. Oddly enough, the second way can sound a lot more confident!
These are only a few of the variations the human voice can use to create different messages out of the same 5 words!

How messages create the voice

Your choice of message will definitely change the configuration of your autopilot! Try focusing on the following messages and notice how it changes the working parts of your breath, throat and speech organs (lips, teeth, tongue). Sing or say a phrase like 'you're the reason I feel this way' and with the same 7 words, intend to send these different messages to the listener: 
  • you're the reason I feel this way (you make me happy)
  • you're the reason I feel this way (you made me angry)
  • you're the reason I feel this way (you left me lonely)
  • you're the reason I feel this way (you gave me this courage)
How did your choice of message change your voice? Your breath? Your throat? Your face? Where in your mouth did the words come from? What did you have to do to create those messages?

Messages that diminish the voice 

Sometimes we aren't consciously focused on a message, but we still deliver one. Here are some counterproductive messages that get delivered when the singer or speaker distracted, scattered, insecure or tired. Quite often they even result in vocal fatigue and strain. The response they get is usually negative or none:
  • I don't know what these words mean. I'm just making noises.
  • I'm bored with this song. It's not worth my time or yours.
  • I'm sick/ weak/ stressed/ tired/ worried/ otherwise in need of your pity.
  • Didn't I just hit a great high note there?
  • I'm scared. Don't hurt me, audience!
  • I don't know who I'm talking to. Certainly not you.
  • I suck. I'm just proving it to you.
  • This is a vocal exercise (not a message). Laugh, then come back when I have something to tell you.
  • I'm singing GOOD... you want to give me the PRIZE... I'm the BEST... I can do more VOCAL LICKS than anyone else (I hear these messages a lot at contests, church, and sometimes awards shows). 

Messages that empower the voice

The best messages are authentic, and strong enough to get the exact response desired. That means the choices of vocal tone color are perfectly matched to the meaning of the lyric being articulated, and the shape of that tone is as focused as the point of a spear on piercing the heart being sung to, eliciting a powerful response. 

To deliver such messages, you have to be crystal clear to whom you're communicating, and what response you want. And ALWAYS focus your message to one heart (or the one composite heart of a group)! 

The voice really exists for one reason: to deliver messages. 

How well that message is created will determine the strength of the response you get. THIS is the power of your vocal performance! Even when going after a commercial vocal career, the paradox is that vocal performance is the most powerful and valuable when it's focused on making a particular heart understand something at an emotional level. Your gift is made for giving.

Want more?

Try Power, Path and Performance vocal training.
Communicating the message is a primary cornerstone of my 3-stranded vocal training method, with balancing breath support/control and keeping an open throat comprising the other two. The synergy of Power, Path and Performance courses and vocal lessons creates significant vocal improvement with immediate and ongoing gains... and without strain. Check it out at www.judyrodman.com

PS... Your comments here on this blog are always welcome and your podcast reviews are extremely helpful! Thank you!

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Monday, April 10, 2017

Why the Message is Music's Point of the Spear, and How To Miss It

My bowed psaltery
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What I'm about to share with you is rather humbling, but I've come to believe the best teaching is informed by actual experience. That said... I'm going to teach you a fresh lesson I learned this weekend about musical performance. In this case, the voice was that of my bowed psaltry. It's a German variation of the ancient plucked psaltry. This one is laid out like a mini-piano keyboard, and I play between the pegs with two bows. I place it on a tripod (mine has a screw hole in the back) so the wooden sound board can vibrate freely.

I was invited by Melissa Dupuy, brilliant multi-instrumentalist, writer and teacher who frequently plays at Nashville's 2nd Presbyterian, to play this instrument I hadn't played in years for both Sunday morning services. I would be in a quartet of musicians for an instrumental round of the 8 bar cannon 'When Jesus Wept'. It's a beautiful piece, and the other players - on guitar, recorder, violin - were truly gifted musicians. I'd never heard the song, and had to translate the sheet music into numbers to learn it because my bowed psaltry is tuned in G, not C. Also, I had never played it with anyone else, so I'd only tuned it to itself. It was about 1/4 step sharp, so I tuned all strings down with a guitar tuner (a major feat itself for this delicate instrument) and practiced for days to try and get my bowing-between-the-pegs chops back up. Melissa kindly came over to rehearse a couple of times. I felt ok by the time Sunday rolled around, but I found myself unusually a bit shall we say... anxious!

To get to the church for our first and only practice before the early service, I had to get up far earlier than is my custom, so there was that. I wore heels, which is usually something my lazy legs only do when I get to sit down a lot. Coffee was non-negotiable. Drank my protein smoothie in the car while my husband John drove. We were also joining the church last Sunday, so there was that to do between services. They actually vote on you in the Presbyterian denomination. We love the people there so much already, but there was still that fresh meat probie aspect... and I'd be performing for the first time for them, too!

OK so it gets to be mid-service; time for the offertory. We've been standing for a while, so my heeled legs are feeling a bit fatigued. Did I say I started the round? Yep. It's a light, ethereal sounding instrument, so we put it first to give it sonic space. And of course my bow slipped a bit. Did they hear that? Also the rosin in my case was hard as a fossel. There could be some dinosaur DNA in it. So my bow was a bit scratchy, and harmonics appeared from the psaltry that were reminiscent of fingernails on a chalkboard. Hmm. The psaltry was mic'd so its volume was balanced in the auditorium, but we didn't have monitors, so I couldn't hear the thing when the other beautiful instruments came in for their part of the round! I realized mid-performance how much I depend on hearing what my strings are playing. We finished; no one seemed appalled, and I pretended nothing was wrong. However, my husband knew I needed some air. Yep. Oh well, I'll never have to do that again. Oh no... yes I do... there's the 11 o'clock service and tons more people!

Between services, I drank more coffee, unexpectedly took sweet compliments from several folks who had attended the early service and then hunted down the violin player, from whom I begged a bit of her jade rosin. Quickly rosined up both my bows and prayed for help! It really was much better this time; the fresh rosin made a quality difference, I focused on the pegs and sweated my way through. Did I say these musicians were awesome? after the service, I got all kinds of questions about my odd instrument, and comments about how cool these particular 4 instruments sounded together. Whew. Driving home I felt like a truck had run over me and then backed up. Amazing how much stress I experienced with this.

So, as is my habit, I thought back on it all day, and a lightbulb came on. I had forgotten what I know and teach... it's about the MESSAGE, dummy! I had focused on perfection of playing, on what people thought, if my mistakes had been noticed, if my musicianship was judged inadequate... on MYSELF! This is not like me. But it was true. Everyone was so kind and complimentary, but I figured I was just barely able to pull it off. Thank God I guess the music blessed the room anyway!

Here's what I missed:

The point of the spear of this music, like all art, is the message. And this was the message I had missed on Palm Sunday: Jesus hurt! Jesus was in every kind of pain one could imagine... physical, emotional, even spiritual pain. The song's haunting melody sings of Jesus' deep suffering. A 'man of sorrows', Christian belief says he is more than able to be present with and care for all who suffer, and to follow Jesus means we do the same. This message was all I needed to have avoided the stress and anxiety of delivering it. 

Next time, I will remember. (Remind me I said that!) My job whenever I am playing or singing is two-fold: 
  1. To prepare my instrument or voice and rehearse so I know the music like the back of my hand.
  2. When performing, to focus on and deliver the message in the music. Period.
Oh, I'm also going to get myself some Jade rosin just in case anyone ever asks me to play the bowed psaltry again!

Humbly yours:)

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Friday, March 24, 2017

Excellence vs Perfectionism - post by Leah Grams Johnson

Leah - in an excellent place!

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My guest blogger today is Leah Grams Johnson, a Nashville transplant from northern California. She is a gifted singer/songwriter indie artist who I proudly claim as my vocal student and part-time brilliant office assistant. Also a horsewoman, training both horses and riders; she's an all around Renaissance Woman! Here now is Leah on the subject of Perfection - the dark side of Excellence:

One Thursday afternoon, Judy and I were having lunch at her dining room table when I brought up the topic of “striving for excellence, versus grasping for perfection.” She asked me to write this blog post and further discuss the idea as it pertains to being a vocalist. I would like to include: any craft that a person desires to dedicate themselves to, and grow within that field.


Let’s begin with excellence, and I’ll add an important word: to humbly strive for excellence. Excellence is a personalized mindset and a way of being. It is fluid, open, curious, awake, and responsive. It is also a life-long process, and the process is everything. It means doing the best we can while staying in the flow of our own “river” (as Judy would say). Are rivers straight? No. Do they twist and turn, change with the seasons, contain obstacles, collect debris, and surprise us overall along the way? Yes, all of these. But a river keeps moving, and that is the key.

In striving for excellence, we are doing the best we can, but we're allowed to make mistakes as well as to change. In fact, we understand that mistakes are imperative to growth. There is a spaciousness around it which gives us permission to be human. This brings me back to that key word, “humble.” When I trip on the laces of my own ego, I remind myself that to be an artist is to be a tool for something far greater than me. So we must make mistakes, learn from them, forgive ourselves, and move on. A river doesn’t wait for us to grovel— it continues to flow.


Grasping for perfection on the other hand…

Perfection is steeped in fear. It is fleeting. Perfection does not make room for mistakes, and therefore it does not encourage growth and change— responding instead with judgement. It is stagnant and close-minded. Perfection is a circus ring, and we are walking the tight rope. It feels as if everyone is watching, waiting for us to fall. And as we gingerly take each perfect small step to resist falling, we become paralyzed while living from a place of fear.

Singing, songwriting, and performing are my crafts. My trades. Like being a mason or a seamstress. They make up my unique “job”, and I do my best to show up to my job with gratitude— expressed by working daily on my crafts with both humility and fire. But I’d like to extend this idea of excellence in craft and let it overflow into other areas, such as self-conduct, morality, relationships, responsibility, and self-care. Tom Waits said, “The way you do anything is the way you do everything.” I agree. What if we tried striving for excellence in the art of compassion, and then went to sing? Kindness, non-judgement, and wisdom deserve just as much effort to be excelled at than that elusive high note.

If art is a direct expression of the human spirit, and the sharing of that art is one of the best ways to create connection and authentic common ground between hearts, then “perfect art” appears to be an inhibitor to the prime directive of the artist. We have no business being perfect.

You can find Leah and her music at www.LeahGramsJohnson.com.

Here we are discussing the voice and horses:

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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
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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:


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.


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


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!



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.


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.


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.

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.

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.



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!


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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