Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog: January 2009

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.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Payoffs for bad vocal technique

We do things for reasons. Singing badly is no exception to this psychological fact.

A useful tool in changing a behavior habit is to discover the "payoff" bad behavior is getting you, and then finding a better way to get that payoff met.

Take cigarette smoking.
We don't do it to give ourselves lung cancer. We do it for positively perceived payoffs. One big one: it seems to take stress away. But here's the truth: Cigarettes are ultimately counter-productive for minimizing stress. In effect, it lies to us. The stress and worry caused by range and tone-limiting changes in your voice, the weak immune system that allows you to get sick for that career gig, and your growing lack of stamina for reaching your life goals the ultimate shortening of life itself- far outweigh the addictive fix of a cancer stick.

OK! We identified a major payoff for smoking... now let's find some stress relieving substitutes:
  • some great nutrition (simple protein, vitamins, minerals and herbal supplimentation that de-acidify you also calm nerves), and consider getting tested to discover your individual needs,
  • some breathing exercises (a proven calming tactic),
  • possibly some interim drugs (no, not cocaine :<) such as nicotine "patch" to deal with cravings,
  • some oxygenating physical exercise (also stress-diminishing),
  • some wise human counseling (talking with a therapist and/or wise friend who can offer you encouragement, incentive and accountability).
  • some knowledge- about what smoking does, how it is really possible to quit no matter how "hooked" you seem to be.
Before you know it... you're chewing on carrots, washing all your stinky clothes and wondering how on earth anyone could ever want to light those horrible sticks up anyway! (there's nothing like a reformed smoker:)

So what are some payoffs for bad vocal technique? Let's identify a few:
  • To hit that high note
  • To hit a low note
  • To carry a long note
  • To hit pitch more accurately (a big payoff for session singers)
  • To communicate passion
  • To sing over the live band volume
  • To talk so you're heard in a noisy club
  • To please the studio producer who keeps asking for "more, more, more"
  • To please the judges who want so see something over the top
Get the picture? These are all worthy payoffs. But here's the truth: Bad vocal technique will make every one of these problems worse... and if they do momentarily seem get you to a goal, the limitations and damage they will cause your voice will far outweigh the momentary strain-fix. A vocal career can and frequently is cut short by the wrong solutions to these payoffs.

Some substitutes to meet these vocal payoffs:
  • Find out how to balance breath support and breath control... maximizing the size of the "vocal channel" while eliminating over-blowing air against vocal cords.
  • Learn to set-up and follow-through to make high notes as strain-free as middle notes.
  • Use the right posture for hitting low notes.
  • Learn how to use your hands to help you sustain a long note smoothly
  • Learn how you can balance breath, open throat and communication to have surgically-precise pitch with perfect tone color to match the emotion.
  • Discover how to mix a good middle voice instead of straining, pushing chest voice as high as it will go (i.e. the contest singer misguidedly pushing Martina McBride Mercy Me, Switchfoot or Christina Aguilera pushed from chest... argh!!!!)
  • When in the vocal booth ranslate the word "more" into "richer".
  • Find out how to incorporate your face, hands, legs- your whole being- into communicating passion that moves the heart, but does not strain the voice!
  • Get your speaking voice assessed- every time you speak, you practice vocal technique!
My suggestion: if you need to make payoffs like this, get some vocal training. There are many ways to train, such as getting free lessons from reading blogs like this, investing in wise vocal training products, taking personal lessons from a coach you trust, or a combination of strategies. It can also be helpful to have real vocal producer with your production team in the studio. Kudos to all my precious students and clients reading this- for your dedication to true vocal excellence!

Bottom line:
To change bad vocal habits, you have to learn new ones that actually meet your payoffs even better. Or you WON'T change. Practice solutions for real and lasting vocal goal payoffs until they are habits - instead of letting counter-productive strategies drive vocal payoffs into foreclosure!


For info on Power, Path & Performance vocal training products, go here

For info on Power, Path & Performance personal lessons, go here.
For info on my production services, go here.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Mindset for vocal breath : Support your intention!

In voice, as in life, one of the major factors determining success is support for your intention.

Say you want to become a photojournalist (which is what my son has chosen to pursue). If you support your intention by learning to be a professional photographer as well as a professional journalist - all of which takes great effort, money and time and dedication to see it through when it is NOT fun - you are MUCH more likely to become a good photojournalist. If then you further support your intention by exploring and finding your unique niche, you are WAAAY more likely to actually become a SUCCESSFUL (financially as well as artisticly) photojournalist.

Many people worry about whether they are breathing right for singing. Many teachers have great breathing exercises, and I'm about to explore a new one I'm learning from Jeannie Deva, because I think a vocal coach needs to know everything there is about breath.

But- to put it in perspective, my professional vocal coach Gerald Arthur's answer to my query about my breathing was this: "Don't worry about it. You're breathing is fine. If it wasn't, I'd tell you". So I didn't, and I went on, under his direction, to more vocal range and control than I'd ever had in my life... enhancing and protecting my reputation as session singer, and then becoming a recording artists on MTM with a #1 record and an Academy of Country Music award among other things.

I say that not to blow my own horn, because its only importance now is the experience and authority with which I can help you. And one of my experiential bits of wisdom is that breath needs to be a natural part of vocal technique. How?

Get your posture right, then get your mindset right:

Just fully intend to sing (or speak) with an authentic confidence that communicates the words and emotion of the message. Then support it from your core with the fusion energy of controlled breath!

Here are some saboteurs of adequate support:
  • You're thinking about communicating, just rehearsing the act but not really doing it. This does not require support. Think of it as cold feet... or just plain chicken :)
  • You're not sure you can hit the note or phrase well. This fearful state stops short of intention... like getting up to the edge of the cliff to dive but then your feet come to a premature hault. If you're not gonna jump, you're not going to support the lift off. On the contrary, you must learn to dive in like there's no bottom to the swimming hole!
  • You're too tired, hungry, sleepy, depressed or sick to drum up the energy to support your voice. In this case you must learn how to choose this energy even when you don't feel like it, or your voice will suffer. (...then eat , drink and get some sleep!)
  • You have a bad habit of supporting from the wrong place... say the throat! (Ouch!) This is when I would advise you to study breathing with a coach who can observe you and re-set your default "modus operande" (how you get things done.) You must learn or re-learn the physical sensation of placing your support just in front of the tailbone at the pelvic floor, where squeezing the tube of toothpaste will result in breath support AND breath control, and the chest & throat expand when energetically supported instead of crush inwards.
The bottom line is this:

You must get to the point where you don't think about breath, where breath is obedient to your mental intention to sound your voice. Come to think of it, this is another example of "Power, Path & Performance" vocal training method. The three-way synergy of your breath, your open throat and your intention to communicate really do affect and magnify each other when coordinated properly. Vocalizing feels natural and easy, and sounds great!

And by the way, I'm very proud of my son, Peter, who has chosen to support his intentions!

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Singing with others: A time to blend, a time to stand out

In singing as in all else... "There is a time for everything under heaven" (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

It is as irritating to hear a group of singers singing with individual voices sticking out like wild hairs as it is to hear a soloist sounding they could disappear into the wallpaper. When you do what would otherwise be the right thing at the wrong time, it is inappropriate and ineffective at best.

We just passed a season of choir music. Think back on what you experienced or heard: Was it a blend of voices or a chaotic ego fest of solo divas? Ouch, I know... we don't usually do this on purpose :)

You need to know both how - and when it is appropriate - to:
  • step out with individual communicative power,
  • step back to add your important presence and resonance to the blended power of a group of singers in such a way as to make it hard to pick you out of the mix.
For solos or step-out singing:

Make sure you are in the right mindset: As a solo you are SUPPOSED to be heard above anything else. This is no time to be shy or timid... you should understand that you goal to capture the audience's ear is no ego trip... it's a job description. If you just wrap your head around that, it will cause you to automatically assume a more distinctive sound so your message can be understood clearly. When your musical and lyrical delivery has been made you can fade back out of the center of attention until your solo voice is needed again!

For group or choir singing:

Again, make sure you are in the right mindset: As a group singer you need to blend with other voices or you will distract the audience and detract from the message in the song. How do you do this?

Tips for blending voices:
  • COMPETITION has NO place in group singing. No place whatsoever. It should be an "all for one and one for all" vibe, not "I sing better/poorer than ___ does" or "I better sing loud or she/he will drown me out." or "watch this...I'll show the director/audience/fellow choir member how well/loud I can sing". Ewee. You will stick out with these attitudes and the whole performance will suffer. If you are in a choir competition ... my suggestion is to focus on out-blessing the other choirs instead of out-doing them. Make friends with them, share information and techniques and keep in touch with them to encourage them after the competition is over. (What a concept).
  • TRAIN and apply good vocal techniques that give you options of tone color instead of "all or nothing at all" sound, techniques that give you access to different mixes of chest and head voice registers as well as blending your register breaks seemlessly. If you have breath, control, pitch, tone problems but you'd love to learn to sing in a group, invest some time and money with a coach, even if for just a short time. Or consider buying vocal training products like CDs DVDs or books from vocal coaches you trust. If you're interested, my Power, Path & Performance products can be found by clicking here. also this site offers an interesting list of choral training products.
  • LISTEN to other voices carefully.
  • MIMIC the blended sound, volume intensity AND the articulation chosen for the words (Ah-le-lu-ia, Hal-lu-lu-ia... one or the other but not both!!!). Use the amazing power of intention...just listen closely and intend to duplicate the composite sound of the group.
  • CHECK yourself... can you hear yourself stick out of the group? Are you backing off TOO much, instead of adding valuable resonance contribution which enhances the sound and makes sure the harmonies are balanced?
A great way to blend voices is to get everyone in a circle or semi-circle where you can really hear each other. Too many times, choirs only rehearse straight towards the audience and never really hear the sound of all the other voices with which they should be blending and matching diction. Everyone assuming a correct posture will also greatly aid in breath and open throat issues, which limits among other things, vocal blending capacity.

A group of confident, colorful but blended voices is the sweet sound of true, loving community- of playing well with others. There is power in community; there is emotional power in the voice of community to be sure. Like angels voices, there is great emotional power in this sound... it's probably a link to the "music of the spheres", whatever that is. It's worth learning to do.

In fact... I have made a lot of money learning to blend me voice with others. For anyone wishing to pursue session singing, jingle singing, live performance and tv backgrounds, etc), learning the fine art of blending is basic job requirement. I call the extreme techniques of stunt singers (professional level group singers) "surgical blending". You can't fit a gnat's wings between voices like this!

What are your thoughts, pet peeves, success methods and experiences with appropriate or inappropriate vocal tone for solo and group? Comments most welcome!

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Why a singer needs a better speaking voice

This one's easy:
Because every time you speak, you use your voice!

When I was on the road as an artist, I used to try to get interviews scheduled for AFTER my performance instead of before, because I noticed that using my speaking voice negatively affected my singing voice.

Now I talk all day and never get vocally tired! It's truly amazing. When you learn to "pull" instead of "push" your speaking voice out, it seems that you almost communicate by telepathy, it's so effortless to your throat. You resonate your rich speaking tones out and they invite listening!

Perfect practice makes perfect performance. While I usually don't like using the "p" word (perfect), I use it to make a point here. Every time you speak you practice using your voice. So watch your mouth, as your mama always said!

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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Pre-production for recording projects

A studio recording project is accomplished with better quality and more financial economy if time and effort is allowed for pre-production.

Here is my list for pre-production goals:
  • To find out who the artist is (what songs fit their voices and their hearts best) and what impact they want to make with this project (what kind of emotional messages within lyric and music do they want to deliver).
This "discovery" part of pre-production is necessary for new artists and also for established artists with each new project. The process can go quickly (one meeting) or take months of experimentation, with the timeframe agreed upon between producer and artist on the front end.
  • To discover what the artist wants to accomplish with the resulting CD...
  1. Should it be an inexpensive demo to learn studio technique, to put on websites or use to network with other singers/songwriters or to try and get live gigs)
  2. Should it be a full demo to use for serious song plugging to majors?
  3. Should it be a limited press or limited budget master with great quality for limited sales as they build their fan bases?
  4. Should it be a full master (absolutely radio-ready with commercial quality "sonic envelope" mix?)
  5. Do they need information about photo sessions, graphics and CD replication?
  • To discover how committed the artist is to the work required for the resulting quality desired. This should include an assessment of where the artist is vocally and if they write, the quality of songs they are writing.
Here I must ask myself as producer: what kind of project does this artist want me to help them attain? What can I suggest within their abilities that will leave them completely satisfied and even surprised with the quality of the end result?
  • To find out the artist's or their label's available budget for the project.
Then I can work up a cost estimate of the project, keeping within their budget constraints. This will determine, among other things, the number of musicians, the choice of studio and engineer.
  • To decide where the songs will come from... will the artist write or co-write some or all of them?
Will I write or co-write on the project? Will I need to collect, listen to and suggest songs from other sources? My criteria for song choice is simple: WHAT IS THE BEST SONG FOR THIS PROJECT... not who wrote it. If it's a tie, I'd go for one written or co-written by the artist.

At first pre-production meeting with artist:
I talk to artist and the artist's team (management, label, etc.) about the above concerns, including the budget they have available, the type of project they want to record and their expectations about time frame for completion. I try to ascertain what commercial success the artist would consider to be worth the money they want to spend on the project, and then make recommendations based on how realistic I think their aspirations are.

Even though sometimes I can help the artist network or suggest marketing plans, I never promise to pitch projects to labels or promise commercial success.

At pre-production meeting with team:
After making the choice of studio and band leader, I like to have myself (producer), artist and band leader meet together to brainstorm overall production values (the acoustic and/ or electronic feel and grooves and instrument choices wanted for chosen sub-genre), musician choices, track, vocal and mix recording dates. I like to include studio engineer if possible at this meeting.

Then I finalize song choices, pick keys and lay down piano or guitar worktape tracks for the artist to practice to. I also schedule vocal lessons with the artist to get them completely ready for the studio, which limits the studio time needed for their leads and gives them more confidence for the best vocal possible.

When song choices and keys are final, I book the studio and players. We cut the tracks usually having artist do "scratch vocals", have the artist live and work with the tracks at home and in vocal lessons until ready, then we book the lead vocals, background vocals and mix.

Bottom line: Don't skip pre-production. It makes much better use of your money and when you listen to the final mix, you will be ever so grateful you took the time!

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Friday, January 2, 2009

Power, Path & Performance vocal training reviewed and vocal production tips shared

I love the Internet... I am thrilled that my course has been given a great review by Austin Jenkins of "Modern Vocal Training". He liked it so much he has become an affiliate... high praise indeed.
Go here for his review.

Also, a blog post called "Vocal Production Tips" which I added on my page at The Modern Voice social networking site was also recently featured on:

"Music Producer's Forum- a global music production resource for musicians, songwriters and artists" .

If you are interested in reading my vocal production tips, do click the Music Producer's Forum link above, and after reading, please consider leaving a comment. Thanks much!!

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