Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog: September 2008

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.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Weightlifting: Should singers do it?

Weight lifting, like many other vocally-related issues, is controversial. I got an emailed question about it this week:
"Dear Judy,
Out of interest, just why is weightlifting bad for singing? Is it just the grunting or is it more?
Best wishes
Andrew Hawcroft"
Funny - the last time I wrote a blog post about weightlifting was about this time last year! This post was in depth, you might want to check it out. Wonder if it's a seasonal quandary?

My answer to Andrew:
"Great question...Yes...the reason weight lifting can be harmful for vocalists is mainly the pressure people put on the vocal cords when they hold their breath to push the weights. There is one more big caution I would give: When lifting weights you are correctly advised to stiffen the back of your neck and shoulders to protect your neck. Do that when you lift weights... but NOT when you use your voice. That T-zone of neck and shoulders MUST relax when you sing or speak.

If you can keep from tightly clamping your throat together during weightlifting, and can remember to relax the tense and muscular areas you build in neck and shoulders when you use your voice, you can lift weights in a way that is safe for your vocal apparatus. I lift (light) weights myself. However, I would not do serious weightlifting the same day as performance. Do light aerobic exercise instead. "
Got a vocal question? Comment on this blog, or email me directly. As you can see, I do answer them, and they make great discussions here as well!

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Need to learn a different vocal style?

Sometimes our musical hearts are not where our vocal training is. Sometimes a classically trained singer or musical theater performer wants to find a more contemporary sound so they can sing pop, country, jazz, r&b, rock, or alternative in a way that fits the genre. Other times, a contemporary genre artist may wish to explore some classical or musical theater singing.

Here's a typical question someone emailed me last week:
...I was thrown a little this morning when I got a letter from someone close to me who said they had heard my songwriting demo and didn't like my singing, saying it was too 'formal' It's not the first time this has been said, and these were my songs (modern piano ballads) not musical theatre classics (Rogers and Hammerstein era) which I normally sing. I guess singing that way has gotten a little ingrained in me (formal baritone) and I don't have a 'modern era' voice if you will. Any thoughts about this? I don't suppose I'm the only one, and maybe others have something to say.
I understand the problem...I've had to change vocal styles throughout my whole professional singing career. As a jingle singer I frequently had to stifle my tendency towards slurs and vocal licks. As a background singer I had to exactly trace the style of different genres of artists. Earlier in my career, as a club singer in Memphis, I had to learn pop, r&b and jazz. Then I got my record deal and had to find my own style! Let me share from my experience, some tips for learning a new style:
  1. LISTEN, listen, listen! ... to vocal artists that have mastered the style in which you're interested. Immerse yourself in the rhythms, melodies, phrasing, vocal embellishments (licks), articulation that the they are using.
  2. DISSECT the performances - Where do the lyrics fall compared to the beat? Do they sing perfectly with the beat or do they lay back or are they "on top" of it? How often do they do vocal licks and what are typical licks they use? For instance, notice that pop & rock is often sung straighter than country or r&b.
  3. MIME! Go through the physical motions of singing with the master artist, but don't make a sound. It's important that you do this physically yet inaudibly. If your audience was deaf, let them see the words and the melody in your body language and face.
  4. SING WITH the artist (audibly). Try to make sure you are tracing them exactly.
  5. SING WITHOUT the artist...with only tracks if you can find them.
  6. RECORD yourself singing. Play it back, and ask yourself if you believe it.
  7. PERFORM ORIGINAL SONGS - get or write original material that is in that genre. This is where you will develop your inner connection with the style and can begin to truly deliver authentic performance.
Take the time to get real within the genre. You must paint other people's masterpieces before you can learn to paint your own, but you must make that transition - to sing the genre in a way that you make it your own.


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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Sounding Our Political Voices

As a vocal instructor, I am always looking for ways to be of service and offer helpful guidance to my students. Given the state of our economy, country and the volatility in the world right now, I would like to share a 'powerful and positive path' to facilitate your political voice as we move toward the presidential election. Please hear my best voice: Cast your vote!

How do we find our political voices?

First by listening.

Just like I found my singing, speaking and vocal coaching voice, I did well to truly listen to, and learn from, many other voices first. But here's the important thing: We need to listen for the truth. I learned that some vocal training is dead wrong, and harmful. I have friends on all sides of the political spectrum, and have been sent scathing and horrible "facts" in emails about candidates- "facts" which turned out to be "fiction". I have to admit that some of the lies were things I wanted to believe.

Second, by examining our own viewpoints.

All of us have veils of deeply held convictions that we see through. None of us can see the whole picture; that's God's vantage point. Yet I would submit that together we can see a lot more of the picture, if we take into consideration those who see things in ways we don't.

Third, by realizing there are legitimate reasons people can be for the other side.

I am absolutely sure of this, because I personally know people, even pastors, whose patriotism, intelligence, compassion, love, faith in & close walk with God I do not in any way question...on both sides! These are the people I love to discuss issues with, because I trust them and value their voices, and quite frankly, I believe that my opinions are best formed and informed by truly considering theirs. I have indeed been corrected on more than one occasion.

Fourth: by expressing our political voices.

Not to voice our informed viewpoints is to abdicate our civic duties. Thank God we live in a country where we don't fear the secret police storming our doors in the middle of the night because we voted in a certain way. However, I believe there are two reasons to voice our views:

1. To identify ourselves with our own sides, blasting those who don't agree with us with horrible names and lack of values. This of course changes nothing.
2. To inform and influence the other side, invite the kind of debate that could actually influence our own opinions!

If, like me, you choose the second reason, I would like to offer some guidelines.

Rules Of Engagement:
  1. Check your facts with non-partisan sources such as http://snopes.com .
  2. State your case clearly.
  3. Back your opinion up with verifiable facts, then give the source where you found those facts.
  4. Never, never engage in name calling or sarcasm. To challenge a candidate's intelligence, character, integrity is fair game and valid concern, but use facts... and never challenge your discussion partner's faith, intelligence or personal values. That will influence no one and only adds to the polarization and division which has sickened us for too long.
  5. If in a chat, engage the other voice with respect. If they don't give your voice respect, either quietly leave the conversation or if you can do it without sarcasm, state why you disagree.
  6. Be OK with people not agreeing with you. Remember... their voices are as important as yours in a free society. Some of the people I love the most have vastly different opinions about how to handle problems that we face. The love between me and these people is not diminished by our political discussions. Oh yes, it is indeed possible to agree to disagree in love.
  7. Hold our media voices accountable! Check out CNN, Fox, MSNBC, PBS etc. from time to time. Hold all political parties... including your side... accountable also. If you catch them misrepresenting the truth, or not fairly representing all of the truth, contact them and comment... again backing yourself up with facts and sources.
I say inform, don't inflame. Then our political voices can make a difference. Wouldn't it be wild if us grass roots people out here could teach both parties a lesson in civil debate??!

Lastly, we all must remember that just because an internet site says it's so, doesn't mean it's fact. We should research what we find and help squash rumors and lies that lead us and others to false conclusions.

You may wish to do as I do on the Internet: Google a candidate's name plus an issue (economy, security, etc.) that is important to you. When search results come up, look for links to appropriate websites and blogs from both sides, read and educate yourself and then engage in passionate but respectful discussion. One important note: make sure you read what is written on the site so you know what is being discussed. Otherwise, trust me, your political voice will fall on deaf eyes.

As always, I invite your comments, but please understand that I have dedicated this blog to sharing "all things vocal", not to discuss partisan politics. I hope you will chime in with your ideas about getting all our political voices heard, but please limit your comments to the process of discussion and debate itself. So ... what do you think?

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Performance: How to make your next one masterful

Performance is an art, not a science. But as in all art, there are techniques to learn, especially the subtle ones, which can bring it into the realm of masterpiece.

  • First you must learn to sing well. Duh. It matters... if you are screaming, if you have a weak "spread tone" or you don't articulate well, your performance will not be a masterful one, even if you are a media star. We've all heard about the stars that gave publically humilating performances from time to time. They usually go on to take vocal lessons, recover and deliver master performances like Taylor Swift did on the last awards show.

  • Then you must learn to work the stage, within your genre and personality comfort levels. This could mean staging, choreography, or just learning to stand still without looking bored.

  • But singing well and moving well is not enough. You must connect with the audience.
Take my student Lyndsey Highlander. Her first public performance was not long ago. She sang really well and she is well-coordinated within the "groove" of the music. But like all fledgling acts upon their first tries, she still had some things to learn.

Her second performance was last week at 3rd & Linsley (a Nashville club). I suggested something she was already on to... that she forget about her nervousness and completely focus on the audience, one person at a time. I've never seen such a jump in performance ability. She had them in the palm of her hands, and as pro singer Leslie Ellis and I sang bgvs behind her, I felt like a proud mama.

Lyndsey was rewarded with her first standing ovation... not just from friends but from all present in the room...for her second public show!!

One final piece of advice: When you perform, you must connect through the song to the audience. If you just connect to the audience, but not to the lyric first, you will not elicit nearly as deep an emotional response. Remember... connect from yourself, through the song, go the audience, one heart at a time.

And if you get the chance, go watch Lyndsey Highlander perform!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Power, Path & Performance seminar goes to El Paso

I gave a Power, Path & Performance vocal seminar to a drama group at "Center Stage" theater in El Paso, Texas this last weekend. Judging by the sound of their voices at the end of the seminar, and the after-seminar comments, it was a smashing success!

Go here for pictures.

Some of the comments from attendees:

"She (Judy) was amazing. In a matter of 10 minutes she helped me more than any voice teacher ever has... and she totally understands how we feel!"
-Conner Myers, son of Center Stage owner and director Stacy Myers

"I always knew about breathing but you actually showed us how to do everything properly instead of just expecting us to know from seeing a picture. You are an amazing teacher."
-Courtney Curtis

"Your methods of singing put less stress on our throats. You put everything in a way I can understand. You make everything easier for me to do. I learned a million new things."
-Camille De Los Santos

"My current vocal coach has been causing several problems and she hasn't addressed several problems that were worrying me. The seminar really helped me with musical theater."
-Laura Parton

"I was really nervous but you helped me to feel confident with my voice. I'm a new singer but you treated me like a regular. I had a really good time and I sincerely appreciate it. Thanks!"
-Shelbie Ponder

"It was an amazing experience, I learned so much and was able to sing an end of a song I was never able to. I had so much fun and now that I learned so many new techniques and how to use my voice the right way, I'm not straining myself. Thank you so much!"
-Beverly Landcaster

"I learned a lot and you were faaaantastic! Thank you! - Rebecka Mott

"Thank you so much! You are amazing! - Patrick Zavala

Seminars are a different learning opportunity, unique in the fact that you get to watch others as they try on techniques. My seminars are whole-day affairs:
  • Two hours teaching about how the voice works
  • Two hours teaching vocal exercises that create correct muscle memory
  • Two hours of attendees performing in front of the group, assessed and corrected by me and singing with the new changes
If you or your organization would be interested in discussing booking a seminar that can significantly increase the vocal ability of all present, please contact me for scheduling.

... and many thanks to Danny and Brenda Bishaw for booking this El Paso seminar.

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