Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog: November 2007

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, November 24, 2007

Phone Vocal Lessons - Do they work?

I have had people ask me if taking vocal lessons by phone really worked, so I thought I'd post my answer here for others of you who may be curious.

When you can't get in for a vocal lesson - you're out of town, on the road, scheduled to the hilt - phone lessons can indeed work. I can't speak for other teachers and their methods, of course, but here's how it works with me:

First of all, it helps tremendously if you have been to at least one vocal lesson physically present with me. I can hear what you're doing even if you haven't taken a lesson, but of course you can't see me demonstrate or feel me touch you on the phone. It's not a requirement, but it does help if you have the Power, Path & Performance cd course to study between lessons.

I am presently teaching several students in different states on a regular basis - once every or every other week. They get in to see me on infrequent trips to Nashville, but have been able to make great progress just from their phone lessons, and that is how I know it works. People on the road or going into the recording studio can also get vocal warmups and checkups this way.

How to prepare:
If at all possible, try to call from a phone you can put on speaker, so you can have your hands free. Also, remember to have a cd player near so you can put your tracks on if you want to go over songs (it's not important for me to hear the tracks clearly, just your voice, and yes, I can hear by cellphone).

Fees:
My phone lessons are the same as my in-person lessons: $100 an hour (or $50 for 1/2 hr).

Times: To see about scheduling availability, call my office 615-834-4747.

Question for you: Have you ever taken a phone lesson? How did it work for you?

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

How to articulate without tensing up

Articulation. Diction. These words don't sound very emotional, do they? Yet if you don't define the words you speak or sing, nobody will know the emotion you want to cause them to feel. In this culture of short attention spans, rather than try to figure out what you're almost saying, your audience may direct attention elsewhere. So, ya gotta do it. Articulate, that is.

BUT... and it's a big but here... you need to define your words a certain way so as not to tense up at the jaw and facial muscles, which causes a lot of vocal technique to go dreadfully wrong.

The answer is to define your words with the FRONT part of your articulators... tip of the tongue, not the base; flexible lips, not overtightened; hard palate right behind your front teeth, not back in your mouth.

A couple of exercises:

  • Try forming the word "Ya". Do it slowly. Are you creating the "y" in the back of your mouth, tensing your jaw? If so, you'll notice numb eyes and a tenseness in the base of your tongue. Instead, try creating the "y" with a more frontal part of the tongue up nearer your incisor teeth - not back at the molars. If you're doing this correctly, you'll notice it tends to cause your nose to flare and your eyes to open expressively.
  • Try putting your little finger in your mouth at your molars, and then try to articulate words. It will teach you not to form them at the back, leaving that space open for resonation. Or a turkey bone. Just don't swallow the thing. :)

How'd you do with this? Let me know by clicking the "comment" link below this post.

Happy Thanksgiving, by the way! Counting you among my blessings...

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Recording engineer Ronny Light Tangles with Tornado

Community of true friends in the music business is never more important than when you run into trouble. Recording engineer and producer Ronny Light, trusted-friend-to-many of us, tangled with a tornado about two hours south of Nashville last night and lived to tell about it.

Ronny called me about 7pm and told me that a tornado had picked his car and the back end of an 18-wheeler up and slammed them together. The semi was coming head on. Miraculously, both Ronny and the truck driver walked out of the wreck with minor injuries. As I was trying to figure out how to go get him, he also called a couple of other music buddies and Roger Ball was already on his way to the rescue when I called Ronny back.

Ronny is resting (phone off the hook, hehehe) today, lucky to be alive. He is the type of friend who would be the first on the scene if any of us called him from the scene of any literal or figurative tornado we had run into. He has always made time to develop deep and lasting friendships, and now it finally was his time to be on the receiving end.

May we all remember how dear our friendships are. May we take the time to say "how are you" and mean it. Our business can be an isolating one; I've learned in the last few years that no man or woman can make it as an island. It does take time out of our busy schedules to actually join a community in a meaningful way, but what good is it to have successes or failures without those with whom we can share those experiences?

Too many times we are jealous of others' successes or we want to distance ourselves from those who seem to be failing. This is where love is a verb. And it's worth it. The music we make will be sweeter, and indeed when we look back on our lives, it's the love generated around the music that will have been the important thing.

Thank you, God, that you left Ronny with us a while longer. Thank you, Roger, for being the angel sent to rescue him from the disaster zone. And thank you, Ronny, for the honor of your friendship.

Now, there's got to be a country song about love, tornados and cellphones. Isn't there?

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Top 5 bad vocal habits

Here's my vote for the top 5 bad vocal habits I see in my work:

1. Jutting the chin forward on high or loud notes
Doing this tightens the throat, compromises pitch and range, limits expression to a painful one

2. Crushing the chest (even a little bit) to squeeze out power
Doing this plows too much breath into the vocal cords, limiting ability to control the voice, also affecting tone, pith and range. The inhale is even affected because it's taken too high in the chest since that's where the squeeze is going to come from.

3. Not communicating lyrics clearly
This drives me nuts... especially if the music makes me want to actually know what the song is about. You lose your audience quickly since you're not communicating anything they can understand.

4. Dead eyes with no expression
Eyes are very important to subtle lifting and opening in the throat. Dead eyes mean dead tone, limiting range and ability to communicate.

5. Entertaining with no artistry (singing at the crowd without the slightest indication you know what the lyrics mean)
The best singers are artists first, entertainers second. It's a subtle thing, but you can tell the difference by whether or not the singer moves the heart.

Sooooo.... what's the worst vocal habit you've seen (or have !)?

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Thursday, November 8, 2007

Overpowering Vocals

Overpowering vocals is bad vocal technique because it communicates a kind of power that is counterproductive on several levels, including:
  • Yelling is not persuasive communication that invites listening. So if you want me to listen to you, don't yell at me.
  • Screaming your melody to the top of your lungs may make me momentarily go "Wow, the singer is certainly trying to be great", but it won't make me go buy your album.
  • Over-blowing your vocal cords hurts them. If you value your instrument, you must take care of it unless you intend it to only work badly for a short season.
Watching the Country Music Awards Show last night (just like every other genre of music award show where energy and emotions are high), I saw overpowering in several performances. If you've never done these kinds of shows, they tend to be events where it's hard to hear well. You have a lot of ambient sound swirling round and it's easy to get disoriented, disconnected to your voice. Then, oh my gosh, you have to make such an impact so you give it all you've got.

Mistake.

Giving it all you've got translates to pushing 100% of the breath pressure you have available through your vocal cords- and 100% is TOO MUCH PRESSURE! Doing this always results in a lack of control. Lack of control makes you pitchy, makes your vibrato flutter irregularly or unnaturally, makes you unable to execute vocal embellishments (licks or ad libs) well. It also causes your tone to be too thin or harsh, because it tightens your throat.

You need to do what great sparring partners do... learn to pull your punches. Control what you are giving out and it will be much more effective (not to mention, it won't hurt them or you!). Back off the forward breath pressure until your power seems to be balanced at your tailbone. Then you can actually give more communicative life to your performance.

Here's the magic equation for best vocal performance:
Back off the pressure and add passion.

Country artists who habitually balance pressure and passion just right include Reba (the queen of balanced vocals), LeAnn Rimes, Faith, Trisha, Jennifer Nettles, Clay Walker, Brad Paisley, Randy Travis, Garth Brooks and sometimes Keith Urban (he began pushing too hard at the end of his performance). Notice again... these all give quite empassioned performances. Martina and Gary of Rascal Flatts can also be great and balanced but were, I thought, pushing just a little too hard last night.

Did you catch the CMA's last night? Do you agree with my assessments? What did I miss?

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Monday, November 5, 2007

Intention and Expectation - Vocal Magic

Just as in any athletic endeavor (and yes, using your voice optimally IS an athletic endeavor), it makes all the difference to get your thinking right. If you intend to do it, and then expect to be able to do it, you are going to be a lot closer to actually DOING IT.

If you want to:
  • Center your pitch perfectly - intend that pitch and expect to hit it.
  • Hit a certain note like a bull's eye- intend that note and expect to hit it.
  • Cause someone to feel an emotion- intend that emotion and expect to be heard.
  • Breathe and control your breath more fully- intend to communicate the phrase and expect to have the right amount of breath, and it's almost automatic.
  • Deliver a phrase with a certain color of resonance that communicates- intend the 'between the lines' communication you want to relay
  • Feel relaxed and focused as you deliver your vocal message- intend to be relaxed and focused, expect to encounter no tension.
  • Blend your voice other voice(s)- intend and expect that your voice WILL blend in with the same tone and rhythm of the other voice(s).
  • Get the rhythm of the music in your phrasing- intend to immerse your muscles in the feel of the music
  • Lose any anxiety or nervousness- Intend to make it about them instead of you, and expect to encounter no nervousness as you do.

If you intend to do so, you will find that you set yourself up more correctly for the vocal chore.

If you expect to do so, your follow-through will predict success much better than 'dropping the ball' (dropping the end of your phrase/breath/focus or/nerve).

Let me know how this change in thinking affects your next performance. Do you have any other special thought preparation that helps you?

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Saturday, November 3, 2007

Lift Before You Sound your voice

To 'lift before you sound' your voice is the only way to find your vocal 'sweet spot' where you experience full resonance without strain.

You may know that comedians have to learn to time their quips to be successful. Well, so do singers. But what I'm talking about is something that should happen before you make a sound. A vocalist needs to lift the ribcage and the inside of the throat and mask (which includes the nasal passages behind the eyes) before pulling sound through the vocal instrument to the audience. Actually, you should experience feel flexibly tall and ready to communicate something. This way, you inhale almost effortlessly and you experience the open - not tight - throat when you use correctly compressed breath to sound your instrument.

The voice path imagery I recommend is one originally suggested by voice teacher Jeffrey Allen. It's a hook- or question mark- shaped path that begins in the pelvic floor (POWER), goes back to a spot above and behind your head (PATH), and then connects to the audience (PERFORMANCE) by the articulation of the word. This feels like you're pulling the word, not pushing it, no matter how hard or long you need to sound the note. I guess it's obvious how this relates to my teaching method Power, Path & Performance.

At a vocal lesson with former boxing champ Memphis Cole, I suggested he think of this as leading with the LIFT (instead of the left). He gets it very, very well indeed, as his blooming career is showing. However you think of it to make it natural for you, it's non-negotiable for great singing.

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