Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog: August 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.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Vocal Training: Change Habits, Then Strengthen Weaknesses

It's so much fun - for both of us - when a student comes to me for the first Power, Path & Performance vocal lesson. There is such an amazing leap in vocal ability that can be made by some simple changes I can suggest from watching a student do "their thing".

The first plateau of vocal training is reached by changing some breath, throat and communication habits, both physically and psychologically. I do this by giving some suggestions, then having the person sing again. When the student can feel (and hear) the difference, I show why these suggestions help, by teaching some basic anatomical principles and putting it all together where the training makes immediate sense.

The student's job will then be to practice these new habits. In this first plateau of vocal training, new habits are effected by choosing to do things a different way, and by correctly doing special exercises designed to develop new muscle memory to connect the mind-body-voice.

The next plateau is reached by gaining strength in vocal and breathing muscles, and coordination among the parts of the whole instrument - which really includes the whole body. This strength can increase the vocalist's ability beyond what was possible to improve at the first vocal lessons.

I'm enjoying watching my more regular students bloom with special exercises to strengthen the breath and coordinating and focusing exercises to enable better bridging of the vocal registers. Some of these exercises are the sirens along the right voice path, bouncing belly breathing staccato runs and paradigm shifts in how to make performance more authentic.

People wonder how vocal training works to improve the voice. I hope this illuminates some of my process. If any of you have thoughts from your experiences, please chime in. I would especially like to know of any frustrations you've had with vocal lessons. This is how all vocal coaches can improve their services... by listening to your feedback.

Considering taking vocal lessons? Contact me here.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Vocal Range... What It Is, How Much Of It You Need To Sing Great

How can you increase your vocal range? It's a question I hear all the time. Many times, this question is uninformed. There's no need to sing in whistle register if you're not doing Maria Carey style vocal runs, or singing the part of "Tony The Tiger" in those commercials. Why people have contests over this eludes me. Here's a more informed question:

How much vocal range do you need?
Answer: You need enough range to sing the songs you want to sing... without straining your voice.

So, if you experience vocal strain or weakness trying to hit the low or high notes in the songs you want to sing, you may indeed need to extend your range. But wait...what does this mean?

Extending vocal range has two meanings, the way I see it.
  • Extending voice as low and high as you possibly can without strain.
You do this with vocal exercises designed to work your voice lower in chest voice and higher in head voice or falsetto than you would ever really sing in a song. This is very good for working the vocal apparatus out, flexing and strengthening the vocal muscles and adding to their ability to change the thickness and length of the vocal cords to the extreme. The cardinal rule is that this training and exercising must never be undertaken so far or so fast as to cause vocal cord strain. Ever pulled a hamstring? Can you imagine doing that in your throat? If it hurts it's wrong! As in other athletic endeavors, form is everything, and patience is the key to improvement.
  • Extending your middle, or mixed, voice where you will be singing in practical application.
This involves vocal exercises that enable the coordination of musculature within the vocal apparatus, so that changing the thickness and length of vocal cords is done with great finesse, which involves such things as the tilting of the thyroid cartilage and the balancing of strength in the thyroarytenoid muscles with that of the crycothyroids. It also involves a lifting of your soft palate. These vocal exercises must be designed to carefully go over the "break" point(s) in your vocal range until they erase that break and your voice blends in one seamless register.
A little understood fact: Extend your ability to mix your chest and head voice registers and it will have the practical application of extending your vocal range when you sing. I used to have the worst break of anyone I've ever heard; Power Path & Performance method cured it.

Hope this helps clarify. If you'd like a vocal lesson to learn safe and effective vocal range extending exercises, let me know.

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Affirmations For Professional Musician & Songwriter - Nancy Moran

This guest post is a list of wisdom offered by singer/songwriter/music biz guru Nancy Moran. I wholeheartedly agree that if we practice and act on the following affirmations, we would be miles ahead of most, in fact, there is no telling what will be possible. So here goes... and THANK YOU, NANCY!

Affirmations
For The Professional Musician And Songwriter

By Nancy Moran
  1. I present myself in a positive light and display a professional image with everything that I do.
  2. I respect people’s time by being organized, pleasant, and concise.
  3. Despite anyone else’s disposition, I am likable, friendly, courteous, polite and easy to work with at all times! I treat everyone—regardless of title—professionally.
  4. I treat my music and/or songwriting as a career, even if I’m only doing it part-time for now. I am not in this for a one-time “quick hit.”
  5. I take my music and/or songwriting seriously and treat it as a successful business operation.
  6. I constantly hone not only my music and/or songwriting skills but also my business skills – such as communication, negotiation, and sales skills.
  7. I invest in my own career by making demos, attending workshops, going to Nashville (or other music centers), and buying books, audio, software, etc. to help me advance and grow.
  8. My oral and written communication skills are impeccable! I treat each and every conversation, e-mail, and letter in a business-like manner.
  9. I understand all of the various parts of the music business, even if I am not working in all areas right now. I know how they interrelate so that I can speak intelligently about them.
  10. I stay informed of current music industry affairs through the Internet and various trade publications. I am familiar with the major players in a variety of areas.
  11. I constantly hone my craft through practice, writing, exercises, workshops, books, etc.
  12. I am persistent in my efforts, yet careful not to be pushy or pesky.
  13. I make myself easily accessible through e-mail, fax, voice mail, and/or a cell phone.
  14. I am confident of my abilities, yet remain humble in my approach with people. I let my music and my songs speak for themselves.
  15. I am passionate and enthusiastic, yet careful not to appear overly eager or desperate.
  16. I am flexible and open to suggestions for improvement, new ideas, and feedback.
  17. I listen more than I talk.
  18. I always use my common sense!
  19. I don’t make “contacts.” I build lasting relationships that are mutually beneficial.
  20. I am tremendously appreciative of all who help me in pursuing my dream. While I always express my appreciation verbally, I also show my appreciation through thank-you notes and other small tokens (where appropriate)

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Musicians and Depression: Going Deep

Depression is not something that can be easily summed up and cured. Oh that it could. This short three part series can only stir the conversation, and I'm glad it has. Deep, chronic depression is debilitating life threatening and hope must be found. In this post I'll share some sources that may be of help.

First of all, there are all kinds of different personalities. We don't have to be laughing all the time to be deeply joyful. We can bravely chart our own course with which we are satisfied, and for musicians and other highly creative people, a satisfied life is often one that is lived on the edge, in full color.

My highly creative musician/writer/gardener, etc. sister Pam Hubbard, who has now found her own way to successfully deal with panic attacks and depression, says this about a "creative mind unleashed":
We shouldn't and cannot estimate the depth of creativity by labeling it as such-and-such mental "disorder". The uncreatively focused mind (a very controlled mind having been successfully tamed by society) fears the mind of the untamed. I believe the element of the wild (essence of God) is most evident in a creative mind unleashed. Treatment, yes, for some who would self-destruct...but not capture and taming. I don't understand the self-destruct mechanism other than that it is estimated from time to time in the lives of some of us that it is best to leave here now and go on to what we know is much better out there. Maybe that is more rational than the tame would ever allow themselves to be.
I'm grateful to Pam for pointing me to several of the following websites:

Wings Of Support's website
asks...
Is there actually a link between artistic creativity and mental illness? Most artists are not mentally ill, and most mentally ill people are not artists. However, several studies have suggested that artists are more likely than others to suffer from a class of mental illnesses called mood disorders... Some researchers, including Jamison, speculate that mood disorders allow people to think more creatively. In fact, one of the criteria for diagnosing mania reads "sharpened and unusually creative thinking." People with mood disorders also experience a broad range of deep emotions. This combination of symptoms might lend itself to prolific artistic creativity.
I would add that any musician I know would be bored stiff with a leveled out psyche. It's just that we need to figure out how to take the good with the bad.

Stephen L. Bernhardt, at Have A Heart's Depression Resource website suggests a process he calls "emotional thought stopping"... say "STOP IT" whenever the negative thought come.. and do so repeatedly for a concentrated period of time. (Read about the process on his site.) He says further that positive thinking is not the answer to severe depression if it comes from the outside... only if it wells up from the inside after the negative thought is consciously stopped. Stephen says;
It is this internally generated positive thought from the subconscious that you want to seize and to reinforce. Go with it! In other words, do not try to shove positive thought into the subconscious, let them come in response to the renewed hope you gain from emotional thought stopping.
I know one sure-fire way to get a musician depressed... take away his/her music making. That's why I tell people who come to me and wonder if their music is commercially viable that they are asking the wrong question. How badly do they need to make music?

Here's a quote from the webpage "Musicians And The Link To Mental Illness"
We know that there are some for whom music is so compelling and innately powerful, they are unable to contain it within themselves. They can no more seperate themselves form music as they could their own limb.
Indeed, take away the creative effort and you have a sad human being. This webpage also calls into question why we tend to attach the mental illness label to a creative soul. However, there is a certain vulnerability in sensitive creatives... from the same website I quote-
Anyone who knows something of the psychology of creativity, also knows that creative people suffer more severely from social pressures than 'adapted people' because they are more sensitive to them, because their creative drive is emotional in nature, not rational, and they have to rely upon them without the security of rational argument which makes them extra vulnerable to hostility from the environment.
But finally, they quote Sting about the healing powers of the very music we create;
If you play music with passion and love and honesty, then it will nourish your soul, heal your wounds and make your life worth living. Music is it's own reward. ~Sting
To that I would add that music is not enough... we must find a spiritual connection to the master creator who gives us music and "in whom we live and move and have our being". In my life, God has turned my lows turn into depth of understanding... and to trusting that the lows are temporary.
"Weeping may endure through the night, but joy comes in the morning" Ps 30:5.
When the emptiness get particularly deep, do as my wise, creative friend Terry Smith says ... "let God fill the hole". He writes on his poetry blog;
I do know real joy
Along the way I have found it
My greatest treasure
Drink deeply from this great joy
Practice its presence daily
Two other good websites for further reading:

A Book Review of Touched With Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament
Kay Redfield Jamison, Ph.D


and
Gifted People And Their Problems

Your comments? Please go to the web and post by clicking the comment link. Thanks!

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Musicians and Depression: Triggers That Start The Downward Spiral

Depression, as I said in my first post, can be caused by multiple causes. In this post I'm going to talk about three types of triggers that can begin a downward spiral in the brain.

A high in your musical career.

Strange but true, just on the other side of a significant accomplishment in our musical career (our "baby" is metaphorically finally born) , we can experience a plunge in state of mind. I refer to it as artistic "post partum depression".

Typical scenarios:
  • A cd project you've been working very hard on is finally finished, to your great satisfaction. The following day you feel strangely let down, tired and even sad.
  • You win a talent award you've been deeply hoping for that will launch your career to another plateau. Soon after you wonder why you are feeling so down and scared.
  • You get a deal... on a label, with a publishing company, with a booking agency. You celebrate, then feel empty.
  • You conquer a difficult vocal issue such as chronic tension in your voice. You are elated at your voice lesson, but soon after become afraid that you can't really do that consistently. It becomes a self-fullfilled prophecy when your voice assumes the old nasty habits next time you sing. You feel like giving up.
How can you deal with a high-low cycle?

Know what it is. Just recognizing a post-high low can keep you from being afraid of it, and can take it's power away to hurt you. It's like a coat hanging on a coathook that looks like a monster in the dark... if you know it's a coat, even though the lights are out you stop being afraid of it. You can even use the lows to rest, reflect, pray and get back to the source of your strength and get ready for what you'll do next. Choose to see low is just a temporary balancing so the highs don't burn you out!

Too Much Sensory Input
  • Too much to do, too many people to be around, too many promotional events and phone calls, too many things happening at once, too many people talking, too tooo toooooo much! You find yourself on edge, unsatisfied, unhappy no matter what is "going right" and you don't understand it.
This happens a lot to highly creative people. Many times artists fall into the trap of substance abuse just to find some peace. Here's a better way... find some S P A C E! Silence and space can be restoring and healing. You don't have to have money for a big sabbatical, just tell everyone you're taking a break for an evening, day or week and then DO IT. Turn off phone, tv, limit talking, just chill. Ways I do this include my morning meditations and prayer, walks in the woods, time sitting on my deck outside, walks on any ocean shore.

Bitterness and Resentment


OK, if you say you have not fallen victim to these twin mindsets, you are lying, friend... or you are not from this planet! (I, by the way, am also from Earth) And those who don't admit their imperfect attitudes are in the most peril of all... because a stuffed resentment can fester and even create more internal havoc than a confessed one. For instance:
  • You notice someone's career moving faster than yours. (And there's always someone...)
  • Someone else wins an award you were competing for. (Competition monster strikes again.)
  • You think someone has stolen your gig. (A big nasty trigger... especially if it's true.)
  • Someone diss'ed you (critiqued or assessed your performance negatively).
  • You got hurt by an unfair music business reality or decision. (Radio won't play you anymore, the label folds, your point man left the organization, the venue gypped you, your songs/music/production are not chosen for ___ project).
  • You hate yourself for your mistakes, failures and inabilities. This is a big contributor to depression, which is also defined as anger turned inwards.
There are so many reasons a musician lets bitterness and resentment take hold because we as artists are often fragile. This can turn into the end game... unforgiveness, which is truly a happiness, joy and peace killer.

We MUST turn these thoughts around, and the sooner the better. It helps to have a sane circle of friends to whom we can be accountable, so we can say "I am having trouble letting this go. I admit it and I want to stop it." If this friend will help you NOT DIG THE HOLE of resentment deeper, but will instead agree with you that you need to forgive, forget, let go, wish the person well, that's the talk you need to have. Oh yes, and prayer works to. Someone told me one time when I was crying about some unfair insult I'd received that Jesus didn't have a party here, either. That did it for me, I couldn't top that so I was quickly able to let go. I was able to see this person as fearful and sick, and actually began to care about her. I also was able to admit and forgive myself for being foolish and manipulative. Then my own clouds lifted.

Now... here's where I need your help. What other triggers of depression have you experienced, and what did you find useful that you could share?

We'll talk about more severe forms of depression next post.

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Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Blues: Musicians and Depression

Being highly creative is a double edged sword. Gifted musicians are prone to periods of depression and "the real blues". In fact, from my experience and observations, I would suggest that many if not most musicians go through a low period of life that they barely survive. We have to take the good with the bad and learn to turn the bad into good.

Good news: with insight comes power. What I mean is that when you become aware of something you can change it. With that in mind, I'm going to write a series of blogposts on the subject of musicians and depression. This first post will shed some light on defining the problem.

When we are depressed, it is most important to get to the source of the problem.
There are many reasons for it, from physical issues like
  • brain chemistry imbalances
  • other underlying health disorders and diseases
  • nutritional deficiencies
to mental and emotional issues like
  • stinking thinking
  • dysfunctional coping behavior habits
  • and real or perceived traumatic life events.
There are many levels of depression. The low feelings can be "acute"- a temporary condition tied to some life event- or "chronic", which is a pernicious, lasting condition that is sometimes triggered by a life event or an underlying physiological problem such as a simple thyroid imbalance. The condition can run from a little moping to clinical depression- a life threatening mental and emotional state. DO NOT IGNORE CLINICAL DEPRESSION. It can become a soul abscess, robbing you of the joy of your music... and of your life. If you think you could have it, get professional help, and don't wait one more day to do it.

On the other hand, learning how to deal with-- and not be afraid of-- temporary, natural mood swings can take their negative power over you away. Much like compost, crappy thoughts can be turned into fertilizer. It is my hope that this series will help people do just that. I look forward to your comments and suggestions along the way.

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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Singing The Whole Line: The Slinky Principle

As a vocal coach I use the Slinky in my vocal lessons to demonstrate several things... here's another.

Put a Slinky in your hands and play with it for a moment. Now, think of the left hand as the "set up" of the line. If you don't have that end in your hand, the Slinky doesn't work very well, does it? If you don't set your line up, deliberately singing THAT LYRIC on THAT PITCH, your line is sabotaged.

Think of the right hand as the "follow through". Drop that end of the Slinky. Slinky doesn't work anymore. If you don't communicate and support the end of the line, the audience is left to wonder what you said (drives them crazy and not in a good way). And... your high note in the middle of the phrase is sabatoged.

When you sing or speak, set your lines up and completely follow through. And play with Slinkys a lot. And ask my students about hoola hoops and Martian Popping Things:)

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Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Path Through An Open Throat: The Slinky Concept

Whether you are singing soft jazz, southern rock, a pop anthem, a country ballad or a screaming metal song, if you have a tight throat you...
  • ...will not have control of your voice (because your breath is overpowering)
  • ...will not have the best sound you can make (because of limited vocal resonance)
  • ...will not be freely connected and communicating with the audience (because you're feeling your throat)
  • ...and you will be gambling with vocal damage (because your vocal cords are being abused)
I think you can see from the above list that your open throat is synergistically connected to your breath and your performance. This is the magic of Power, Path & Performance vocal training.

With my vocal students, I use a Slinky to demonstrate several things. In this case, I'll use it to show you how to put your breath, open throat and communication together.

If you are operating the Slinky with both hands, think of the left hand as your breath power, centered in your pelvic floor. Think of the right hand as your performance. These two places are where the action should be, and the "path through the open throat" is represented by the freely moving , unobstructed and loose hump of the Slinky. No tension, just doing it's thing. Fun, isn't it? That's how singing should be!

For vocal training that puts everything together for your maximum vocal ability, book a Power, Path & Performance lesson in person or by phone, or get a cd training course.

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