Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog: May 2010

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, May 27, 2010

Songwriter Voice vs Performance Voice... Do You Know The Difference?

I work with a lot of songwriters, and I love helping them deliver their songs through their voices authentically. To do that, you have to know the difference between your songwriter and your performer voices- which are NOT the same thing. Here's the short answer:

Songwriter voice is internal. Performance voice is external. 

What do I mean by that? The longer answer...

Songwriter voice is a communion internally with yourself. You do it while in the act of writing or rehearsing the song. Performing that communion is an action for the benefit of someone else! There is a great deal of difference between the two as far as your vocal technique goes...in the use of your body- in your "body language", which changes your breath and your throat configurations.

If the lyrics you're singing are most authentic when directed to yourself... you have to be a bit schizophrenic. Try the following exercise:

Stand or sit in one chair and have another chair across from you. Imagine you are in that opposing chair. Sing to the person sitting in that other chair, and make that person feel the appropriate emotion.

Even if we were doing a Power, Path and Performance phone lesson with me, I could tell if you were doing this properly. I could tell where your breath was coming from, where your hands are in space, if your eyes and face were engaged and how open your throat is. Your audience can, too... even though they won't make those specific assessments, they can tell if you're really "with them" or just keeping it to yourself.

Songwriter voice... to get it "out there" -- even if just on a worktape -- you have to turn it into performance voice! Have you experienced these voices? Your comments always welcome.

Flood Notes... 

Are you near NYC? Another concert -- this time in New York City -- is being organized to support flood victims this Friday... My friend Cassandra Kubinski gives the details (thank you and all your friends for this, Cass):

Nashville In-The-Round Flood Benefit Concert featuring Josephine Ancelle, Christina Lea, Cassandra Kubinski, Craig Wilson
Date: This FIDAY, May 28th,
Time: 8pm
Venue: THINK COFFEE (248 Merser St in NYU area)
No cover, but donations from $1 up are encouraged... as much as your heart wants to give... any donation will help!

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Monday, May 24, 2010

Singing Authentically: Participant Instead of Spectator

My old friend and songwriting mentor, hall-of-fame songwriter Dave Loggins, once chided me that I was writing like a spectator instead of a participant. He was right. I took his advice, dove down deeper and came up with a song I wrote from the center of my soul. It was like automatic writing... I wasn't sure if I wrote it or it wrote me. It was called "Hands On Matter". Can I tell you, this song was different... and so much more moving to listen to. Later I would use that advice co-writing, among many others, the #1 song "One Way Ticket" with Keith Hinton.

Well, there is a similar choice you get to make when you sing. Dare to get in touch with the real message and story you're singing. Or ask yourself why you can't. The answer(s) may well lead you to become a more complete human being.

Singing: it's not for the squeamish.

Power, Path and Performance vocal training combines breath, throat and communication techniques for the total max vocal performance. Find it here.

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Vocal Warm Ups: What They Should Accomplish

There are a gazillion different vocal exercises out there you can do. How do you know which ones are best for you? Know what they should and should not do for your voice, and you will be better able to do productive vocal warm ups.

1. They should relax your voice and make it feel good and ready for performance. If an exercise leaves your throat feeling stressed and your voice fatigued, you are doing bad exercises, doing good exercises with bad form or you are doing good vocal routines too long at your level to support good form. Bottom line: If it's a tighten up instead of a warm up... don't do it!

2. They should help you develop more vocal ability by strengthening and coordinating your vocal instrument all through your range. If your vocal exercises are right for you, you should notice steady vocal improvement.

Specifically, the goals of a vocal warm up should be:
  • To loosen tightness, numbness and tension in the neck, shoulders, back, soft palate, jaw, tongue.
  • To focus tone...engaging the facial mask including eyes, opening the throat and allowing access to all the resonation zones, surfaces and cavities.
  • To get your breath support and breath control balanced.
  • To focus breathiness into laser beam power.
  • To stretch your range and broaden your highs and lows.
  • To connect your vocal registers seemlessly and get rid of vocal breaks
  • To get your voice mixed, developing a wide, rich middle voice.
  • To get you singing with precision of pitch.
  • To develop great control of tone color choices and volume intensity.
  • To get your vocal confidence high.
  • If you are a student of Power, Path and Performance vocal training, to practice the "basic move" of the voice... getting your voice path coming from pelvic floor, lifting above and behind the head, pulling by the word through the mask in a focused beam to the audience.
What about you? Do you use a warm up that makes your voice feel good? Leave a message on the web in "comments" below this post.

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Sunday, May 16, 2010

Running Out Of Breath Singing?

Are you running out of breath when you sing or speak? Do you get to the ends of your phrases and have to barely squeeze them out? Is your inhale inadequate to allow control of tone and pitch all the way to the last word? It's highly unlikely that your lungs aren't big or healthy enough. More likely it's one of the following: You either...
  • ...don't take a breath (or inadequately top off your tank when gasping a small high inhale) 
  • ...use too much breath to accomplish your phrase
  • ...or need to find or create a breath mark in the phrase.
What to do about it?
  • Remember you have to inhale! So give yourself permission and create the habit of inhaling adequately for what you will be singing or saying. Learn to take this breath low... fill the bottom of the glass of air first.
  • Learn to focus tone like a rich, controlled laser beam instead of a leaky, breathy uncontrolled flashlight beam. It doesn't take much air to vibrate your vocal folds if you focus tone properly. As I mentioned above it matters more WHERE you take your breath-LOW- than how much air you get in. Use imagery such as "don't leave a breath mark on an imaginary glass plane in front of your mouth". Learn the art of "pulling" instead of "pushing" breath.
  • Plan your breaths for particularly long or wordy phrases. Make it make sense with the thought... and breathe!
  • The "Power" part of Power, Path & Performance vocal training concerns breath. Know that you must master all three cornerstones (breath, open throat and communication) for your best voice. Inhale and control that breath properly and you will also help open your throat and avoid being distracted when you try to communicate.
What is your experience with running out of breath?

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Tips For Singing With A Jacked Up Throat

Vocal strain is unfortunately a common issue for active live performers who are not doing good, consistent vocal training. "Jason" emailed me this question:
I think that I overused my voice last week. I had a couple of extra gigs I picked up and am just not used to the extra singing and now my throat is all kinds of jacked up... Any tips you can send my way to help me make it through tonight and tomorrow night?
OK, first of all, it's best not to sing with a jacked up throat. That said, for the real world of contracts and scheduled performances, here are some rescue tips:
  1. Get yourself hydrated. Drinking water and inhaling steam (bath/shower vapors, humidifier or towel-over-head-over-pan-of-hot water) are vital.
  2. Get yourself some sleep. There is no substitute for a good night's sleep. It helps to eat and drink things with lots of minerals to soothe your nerves so you can sleep soundly. Also, make sure room is darkened so you can sleep as late as possible instead of having the sun interrupt your dreams.
  3. Get yourself some nutrition. Eat easy-to-digest meals that are full of lean protein (eggs, avocados and nuts for vegetarians) and simple carbs. I find it good to start the morning with fruit, then go for the heavier lunch.
  4. Warm your voice up carefully with perfect form in your exercises. When your vocal cords are swollen in a jacked up throat, it may take longer than usual to condition your voice properly. Take the extra time and warm up slowly.
  5. Prepare some performance aids: ginger tea (steeped raw ginger and lemon juice), pineapple juice, fire water (water, lemon juice and ceyenne). Drink between songs and during instrumentals you're not playing.
  6. Don't talk!!!!!!!! (are there enough exclamation points there?) ...unless you absolutely have to. 
  7. If you are doing more than one set, warm up again in  your head voice between sets.
  8. Be sure to warm down! This is the thing we most neglect... but very important if you don't want to wake up next morning with vocal cords that sound like Darth Vader. A vocal warm-down is the same as a warm up except it is shorter. Bubbles, trills, sirens, "the voiced consonant" exercises from my Power, Path & Performance course are all great exercises to put your voice back on roller skates.
And finally... resolve to train your voice so that you never get a jacked up throat from singing again. And yes, you can!

NASHVILLE FLOOD NOTES:
Graceworks is an organization supported by my church, Franklin Presbyterian. Visit this page to find out how to help them help others.

Thank you, everyone, for your help! If you care to share any other information of help to flood victims, please comment.

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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Vocal Control Problems? Check Your Upper Back

Whenever I am working with someone having slight vocal control problems, I check what is happening in their upper back as they sing. It is almost always quite rigid, even if they are bending at the waist.

Why do I look at the upper back? Well...
  • The back is connected to the ribcage, 
  • which is connected to the shoulders, 
  • which are connected to the jaw, 
  • which affects the base of the tongue,
  • the larynx 
  • and the soft palate.
Therefore, what happens in the back will affect all those other areas! This means it will affect breath support/control and openness of the throat channel.

What do I recommend?

Slightly flex there. You don't have to move much at all... just a slight "lava lamp" type undulation is all it takes.
You can also try swaying in your hips and allowing that flexibility to transfer all the way up to your cervical vertibrae.

Better breath and open throat will lead to freer communication... another illustration of the three-stranded approach of Power, Path and Performance training.

SPECIAL NOTE, DEAR READERS:

For a while, I'm going to tag my All Things Vocal blog with some information I think might be useful to those caught in the Nashville Flood:

For salvaging photos and paper items, go here

For saving quilts and other fabric items, go to this site.

To those not affected by the waters...thank you for all your thoughts and prayers directed to those who are just devastated. For pictures of the situation, go to the Boston Globe's online page about it.

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Monday, May 3, 2010

The Nashville Flooding... Indie Connect reaches out

The historic Nashville flooding has put many in dire straits. As happens in every disaster, good people rise to the challenge of helping each other and true community forms around real needs. Here's a great example of proactive caring:

Vinny Ribas is mobilizing Indie Connect's online community to try and connect needs with help. Email sent by Vinny this morning to members of Indie Connect:
If anyone on this site needs help as a result of the flooding, please post what you need in the forum under the Nashville Support category. For example, you might have lost some musical equipment, or something personal like a bed. Let's all rally to help each other. After all, that what communities do! Watch your email for the status of upcoming Indie Connect meetings.
May we all watch out for each other. May we recognize where we can help. If there is anything I can do for you, please let me know. I'll be watching my comments and my email. As for me... we only sustained some minor basement flooding, which is already under control. The roads around my office are soaked but seem quite driveable. I'd like to thank everyone around the country who have had us in your thoughts and prayers... the sun is shining and it looks to be a beautiful day to begin cleaning up!

Remember to be sure and check road conditions before venturing out anywhere in the Nashville and surrounding areas. God bless you and keep you safe.

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Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Dance of The Melody: Secret To Memorizing Vocal Technique

 When we singers change our modus operande of singing to give us more ability, there's a bit of a paradox involved.
  • It takes a great deal of thought and conscious focusing to learn new breath, open throat and communication. We are after all, resetting our defaults as to how our voice operates. 
  • BUT... we can't commit to inspired vocal performance when we are thinking too much about how our voices are working.
The secret to getting this right is to learn what I call "the dance of the melody":

This is just like learning to dance... you memorize the moves. These moves I'm talking about are not overt choreography, they are mostly subtle inner adjustments. They way you learn them is, like dance, to practice them until you memorize these moves, which are different for each song and often for each verse and chorus. You must learn for instance...
  • when you need to elongate the vowel
  • when to get ready to use extra support,
  • how to coordinate breath for a high or low note coming up
  • when to move your head slightly, use your eyes, lift your brow, flare your nose, etc
  • how much to drop your jaw, 
  • when you need to back off the air pressure you're using
  •  when you  need to "deconstruct" and relax technique for casual effect
When you practice this dance enough to retain that muscle memory, you can relax and simply trust your vocal technique. It helps you make your vocal training highly practical for the performance event. It helps to avoid perfectionism and direct your singing TO your audience, it really does. Then it's not about you anymore... and magically your voice works so much better.

Thoughts on the dance anyone? In fact... now that you think of it, how have you used this method of practice?

Listen to this as mp3 file at  "All Things Vocal Podcast" or iTunes.

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