Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog: November 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, November 30, 2009

Jaw Popping, Tired Voice? Here's help

I just received a comment on one of my articles about the jaw. Here's the question:
"I am 13, and do a lot of singing. My jaw always pops in and out of place when I'm singing recently, and my voice is getting really tired. Is my jaw the cause of my voice feeling tired?"
Her voice getting tired and her jaw popping is most probably caused by too much breath pressure. Here's my suggestion to her, which I hereby pass on to you:

Try this--
  • Find an empty wall; put your head and heel flush against it. You should notice that your ribs are open wide in this position. 
  • Put your open hand about an inch from your mouth. 
  • Sing to your hand, while trying to leave as little breath on your hand as possible.  This should cause you to back off the "air force" you normally think you have to use.
When you take the pressure off your voice, your jaw often just finds it's own comfortable flexibility and the popping will diminish. Let me know how it works for you.

ps... hope you all had a great Thanksgiving, with your jaws working on delicious fare!

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Booking Casinos & Fairs: Vinny Ribas talk at Indie Connect THIS MONDAY

Attention Indie Music Artists who live in or around Nashville: Next week is busy "turkey week",  but if you're interested in learning more about booking fairs and casinos, here's an event coming up TOMORROW (Monday) that you might want to consider attending.

Booking and Performing at Fairs and Casinos" with Vinny Ribas Note: This will be 2 separate talks at one meeting.

Casinos: A casino can be a very different animal than any other kind of venue you've ever played. Did you know that you can be too good to play a casino? Did you know that your job is not always just to entertain the gamblers or the people in the bar? If you understand the nuances of these venues you have a much better chance of getting the gig, and definitely a greater chance of being asked back. Former casino entertainer and casino booking agent, Vinny Ribas, will walk you through how to get and keep these often- lucrative gigs.

Fairs: Playing fairs can be very lucrative, and you'll never play in a happier atmosphere! However, fairs have their own ins and outs just like any other kind of gig. And if you know what the fair really wants and you are successful at delivering it, it can quite easy to get booked by multiple other fairs. Former fair entertainer and NV State Fair Entertainment Director, Vinny Ribas, will walk you through the ins and outs of booking and playing the fair circuit.

When and where:

Monday Nov 23rd, 11:30am
Corky's Ribs & BBQ 100 Franklin Road, Brentwood Tn
Cost = $5.00 + the cost of your meal
If you go... tell em I sent ya!

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Songwriting Workshop from Rand Bishop

Breaking news... If you are interested in songwriting workshops worth your time, there's a good one I just learned about from Vinny Ribas. Here's the email he sent me:
Indie Connect is proud to present: "12 Choices to Solid Song Craft, An Interactive Workshop", conducted by Grammy Nominated, BMI-award winning tune-smith, Rand Bishop.
 
Bishop has well over 200 cuts to his credit in a wide range of genres, "from bluegrass to heavy metal," including the 5-week #1, My List, recorded by Toby Keith, country radio's most-played song of 2002. Bishop is the author of the hit songwriting memoir, Makin' Stuff Up, secrets of song-craft and survival in the music-biz.  
The workshop will begin with Bishop filling attendees in on the 12 most essential choices to constructing a solidly crafted pop song. Attendees will then break up into co-writing teams to collaborate on these 12 choices. Bishop will circulate, coaching each team, and guiding them through their process. Finally the group will come together to discuss and evaluate each team's choices and brainstorm suggestions on how to improve them.
Saturday, Dec. 5
10 AM - 3 PM
Bongo Java
Registration: $40 (lunch not included).
Indie Connect Members save $5.00!
Seating is limited to 20 participants.
Note: The 1st 10 registrants will be eligible for a drawing for a free 30-minute consultation by Rand!

Go here to register. 

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Should You Eat Before You Sing?

I got a question in last week's comments about eating before singing. The short answer: Yes, and No. The longer answer:

Yes, you can eat before singing...
  • if you haven't eaten enough. You need to eat an easy-to-digest but nutrient-packed meal or snack, or you will not have the breath support or energy you need for performance.
  • if you eat early enough so that the food has shifted lower in your system and will not tend to make you feel stuffed, interfering with breathing.
  • if you note in your own personal experience how eating before singing affects you, and you are confident it won't be a problem.
No...
  • if you eat too much or eat things that are hard to digest, diverting energy to your belly instead of your singing.
  • if eating makes you sleepy. Again, this has a lot to do with what you've chosen to eat.
  • if you tend to hunch over after eating because you have eaten too much. This will affect your breath.
  • if you eat foods that bring on acid reflux, or mucous.
  • if what you eat catches in your throat (for some people, foods like peanuts, popcorn and chips can present problems.)
What are your experiences with eating before singing? I find it's a very individual thing, but also very important to know.

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Monday, November 16, 2009

The Vocal Booth: 7 Tips To Make The Recording Space Singer-Friendly

What does a singer need in the vocal booth? More than just eye-friendly recording studio design. The voice is a picky, sensitive thing. If you want to record it, here are 7 things it wants:
  • Lighting -
It wants mood lighting, OK? Twilight dimmed to pitch black - experiment to find the lighting that makes it the least shy. Sometimes a singer is not bothered, but if there are windows to the daylight, the voice may like you to cover them with something.
  • Smell -
What the nose doesn't like, the voice won't either. It can affect breath, throat and focus. Save the incense candles for the smokers who sing. They are usually more used to the effect! One must be careful with perfume or room deodorizers, too. The plainer and cleaner the smell in the booth, the better.
  • Orientation of mic to control room -
The voice doesn't like to be stared at. You can fake it out by not aiming your singer (yourself if you're the singer) eyeball to eyeball with the producer, engineer or anyone else. If at all possible, position the mic so that the singer is facing a corner or side of the room... not the control room window.
  • Temperature -
Try and get the temperature in the booth comfortable for the individual singer. It amazes me how many engineers don't understand the importance of this. Ever tried singing when you're shivering? It messes with your control big time. Ever tried singing while burning up? It saps your energy like a vampire, and the voice will sound tired, uncontrolled, numb. If the studio vents are not optimally placed, the people in the control room may need to suffer a bit to get it right for the vocal booth. Yep. The singer comes first.
  • Furniture -
While not a deal breaker, it's nice to have a few simple pieces of furniture. Some kind of waist high table or ledge for water is nice so the singer won't have to bend over and then re-position at the mic. It can be helpful to have a tall stool for the singer who is fatigued. (And of course the vocalist will sit tall and flexibly from the front end of the stool, not hunched back into it.)
  • Music stand -
The last thing you want is for a singer to have to hold lyrics. This will, I promise you, affect optimum breathing. It's always best if a singer has memorized lyrics, but if it's a situation where the lyrics are needed, have a stand (or duck tape for securing the lyrics to the wall!)
  • Headphone box -
It's great if the "more me" cue box is on a stand instead of at the feet, so micro-adjustments can be quickly made from time to time. If, as I recommend, the singer is wearing headphones with one side half-off the ear, the headphone box should be set on "mono" instead of "stereo".

Anybody care to chime in on their thoughts for the perfect vocal booth area? What have I left out?

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Singing At The Piano? 7 Tips For Keyboard and Voice Synergy

As a singer who frequently plays keyboard instruments, and a vocal coach who works with a lot of piano players, there are things I've had to learn about the most efficient ways of accomplishing this musical multitasking. Depending on how you do it, playing keys can either help or hurt your singing. Here are 7 piano/singer tips for you:
  • Prepare by playing and singing separately.
It's extremely important to practice your voice and your keyboard separately so you can put your undivided attention to the task. When practicing the keyboard part, just sing very lightly if at all, going over to head voice on high parts. When practicing singing, sing acapella or to a piano track you've recorded, or just play "diamonds" or simple chord changes so that you can focus your attention on your vocal technique. When you get them both right and easy, start putting them together. If there are syncopated or complicated rhythms in the piano, even this can become muscle memory as you carefully put voice and fingers together and PRACTICE!
  • Get your posture right.
Sit or stand tall, retaining a flexible feeling in your spine. Slumping, for any reason, is "smooch de mort" (kiss of death) for the voice. It will negatively affect your inhale, breath support and control of breath. It will also tighten your throat. Standing or sitting...do not lean forward in such a way that you collapse your ribcage at all.
  • Get your mic right.
Make sure the mic is positioned close enough to your mouth so you don't have to lean over to sing into it. Also make sure it's high enough to encourage that tall spine. This will greatly improve your breath and open throat technique.
  • Get your power coming from your seat or your feet.
I see way too many keyboard players powering their voices from their shoulders. You need to center your power in your pelvic floor so you are not tempted to tighten your shoulders, neck, jaw- all of which tighten your throat and your breath. And absolutely yes, if you sit correctly, you can sing sitting as well as you can standing. But you must sit on the edge of your seat, not back into it, so that it feels the same as standing. Squeeze your butt against the seat for power. If you're standing, power from your heel.
  • Secure your pedals
If your feet have to slide forward looking for a slipping pedal, you will find your performance focus thrown off, along with a possible sudden posture slippage. Ducktape can be a keyboard player's lifesaver. I keep a roll in my cord bag at all times.
  • Lightly use your fingers on the keys to tip your balance over your tailbone instead of into the keys.
Don't press hard enough to cause tension in hands, wrists or fingers. Just lightly "intend" your fingers to keep you flexibly tall and open... and not slumping.
  • Be a singer who is playing piano... not a piano player who is singing.
This one is a mindset issue. You have to put your priority on communicating your voice, and your playing HAS to be secondary when you're doing it at the same time. For an interim instrumental bridge, go ahead and focus on the keys, but when it's time to sing.. back to your voice and the message you're delivering.

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Sunday, November 8, 2009

Stage Fright Ambush: How To Prevent or Defuse A Sudden Attack Of Nerves

Have you ever had a strange, unexpected attack of stage fright you couldn't understand? There are two prime causes for uncharacteristic stage fright, numbness or nervousness sucker-punching a performer.

1. Unfamiliar Venue
  • When you haven't played a type of venue in a while, you may experience a guarding reflex triggered by your primal fight or flight response. Your inner "horse" (the automatic nervous system that gives your voice cues) isn't use to running this particular field, and will shy until it knows there are no lions, tigers and bears about to jump at it from the sidelines. (Or tomatoes about to be thrown!)
What you can do: Know that there will be a tightening of your body for the first part of the first song you sing. So, make sure your first song will be easy for you to do... not one of your most vocally challenging. Then, start to sing without fear, because you know what is going on and that the "clench" will pass if you don't hold on to it. Just allow your ribcage, throat and auto nervous system to relax... and they will.
  • Note that size does not matter here. If you are used to playing arenas, a small venue like a 100 seat listening room may feel oddly petrifying.
The cure for this ambush: play more of these venues til your 'inner horse' learns to trust them!

2. Inadequate Preparation

During performance, the stage fright beast WILL jump on you to some degree or another if you don't accomplish these two preparation steps for performance:
  • Know your material.
How? Practice, practice, practice. You should know the lyrics so well you could recite them in your sleep. You should be able to know the song so well in your fingers (if you play an instrument) that your fingers are on "automatic".
  • Have vocal cords at peak operation.
There is no substitute for doing the things that put your voice on it's best footing. If your voice is smoothly running, it will smoothly run. If it's rough, it will get rougher because you will try to push it through. So... make sure you are rested, hydrated, peaceful, and exercised... both physically and vocally. WARM UP YOUR VOICE!

Think your little gig is too small to worry about? Think again.

Picture that in the hallway of the venue of your little gig happens to be the boyfriend of a girl who works in the mail room of a significant record label who would be interested in an artist like you. He hears a less-than-stellar performance and casually mentions it to his girlfriend the next day...

The cure for this ambush: Maximize your vocal stamina with Power, Path & Performance lessons and training Cd's .

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