Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog: January 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.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Recording Final Vocals Soon? Read This First

I just listened to a rock singer who purchased my 6  CD PPP vocal training package. I thought I would pass along the assessment I emailed him to any of you who are going in to the studio soon. I include some links blogposts I've written that you might want to take the time to study... they make great supplimental reading to the training cds:
These and other "All Things Vocal" blogposts will get you thinking, then Power, Path and Performance vocal training cds should spell it out and give you specific exercises to help. I would also recommend at least one phone lesson with me before you go into final vocals. If you want to schedule one, let me know. My fees at present are $100 an hour for the first lesson, $75 for subsequent ones. 
Something else you might consider is my vocal production services. Check them out on my Judy Rodman Productions website.
Stay warm in this icy weather and watch the roads... remember, if in doubt, don't go out!

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Musicians and Lizard Brains: Why We Get Stuck

I just read an eye-opening post from Seth Godin explaining how the amygdala, a prehistoric lump of brain tissue near the brain stem which he labels "lizard brain", may be responsible for our irrational behaviour. (Talk about a disclaimer..."My lizard brain made me do it!")

Seth says it is responsible for fear, rage and reproductive drive. Its predominant fear factor hates change and forward movement and the unknown... all essentials for creating unique, moving and courageous new music and getting a music career going. It wants to be safe, to fit in, to sabotage and stifle the urge to make any brave moves.

Lizard brain in control: 

You swear you want to have a music career. But instead of studying materials on music business, marketing and promotion you whine about the fact that you don't have a buying audience big enough to recoup your expenses.

You say you are committed to growing your music skills. But instead of practicing or taking lessons on guitar/piano, stage work, voice or film scoring, you buy a new pair of boots, roller blades or a lobster dinner and when you get home from the dinner/movie/shopping/rollerblading, you're too tired to practice anyway.

You intend to write songs that will rock the world. But instead of scheduling some private time with your keys/guitar, thoughts, pencil and pad, you surf the internet (ouch that hurt!) or watch the 4th re-run of NCIS (that REALLY hurt!!)

We need to follow Seth's advice. The lizard brain will accompany us in our time on earth, but we can tell it to be quiet, we are listening to something else right now. My adage is "act as if, and ye shall be". I also like Yoda's "...there is no try. Only do."

btw...One finger's pointing at you, four are pointing back at me:)

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Why Singing On Mic is Hard For Opera Singers

I just got a great question about classically trained singers having trouble using mics. 
I am a classical/operatic soprano who is starting to do live radio and studio work. I also play guitar to accompany myself on some original songs. My vocals are fabulous when I'm at home practicing, but when I find myself in front of a mic, holding a mic, or singing and playing guitar at the same time in the studio, my vocals suffer. Is it just nerves? Does it just take some getting used to? After all the years I've studied how to project without amplification, how do I become a great recording artist? - Maria Kate Fleming
This will be a longer post, folks. To answer this question, you need three things:
  1. A psychological paradigm shift ... focusing on a different vocal goal.
  2. More speech-like articulation ... of consonants and vowels
  3. Use of your hands ... to help with breath control.
1. Make the psychological paradigm shift:

As good actors know, there is a huge difference between acting for the theater stage and acting for the camera. Theater stage acoustics require a lot more volume in the natural voice and bigger body language gestures to communicate to the people in the chairs. If you tried to do that for the camera, it would look absurdly over-done. A slight lift of one eyebrow, difficult to see from the theater audience, communicates reams of information to the camera. Subtlety creates a sense of realism for the camera, like an intimate portrait of emotion. Try that in the theater and your performance will fall short.. literally.

Classical singing demands theatrical voice. Usually  not electronically amplified, the voice must learn to resonate it's own natural amplification surfaces loudly and richly enough to be heard well and to emotionally move the audience. This kind of singing actually causes tissue adaptations- for instance in veteran opera singers, a thickened ridge of tissue develops in the suture line in back of the front teeth. When a singer who has learned to do this well suddenly finds themselves in front of a mic, there must be a shift in thought to back off the volume and resonance and create the appropriate vocal sound and articulation.

Your voice has to accomplish a different goal when using a mic than when performing unamplified to a hall. All it has to do is talk into someone's face or ear, not across a room. The mic will pick this conversational voice up and along with other recording electronics will "color" the tone with reverb, eq and level equalization. Important: Even in heavy metal rock, the scream volume should be a result of amplified tone so as not to strain the voice, because the resonating cave and tissues of the open throat will not be as expanded in the same places and "trained" to resonate as the classical voice. The throat should not feel the effort.

2. You must articulate more like you talk.

The soft palate lifts a little differently for speaking vowels and you don't hold vowels so open so long; instead they should flow from and into the consonants more naturally. Your paradigm mind-shift goal of conversing should help you do this... you wouldn't articulate when talking to someone like you would if you were singing an aria!

Try holding a pad of paper in front of your face to check your articulation. How do you sound to yourself? Do you believe you?

3. Use your hands to help control your voice:

When you sing (well) classically, notice what is happening in your hands. Sometimes you will lift your hands or clasp them formally in front of your lower ribcage. Even with hands to your sides, if you're singing well, your hands and arms have an energy in them that will take their weight off your ribcage... and when you raise your hands, notice what you do with them that causes your ribcage to expand. Your hands can help you control your breath and balance your head tall upon your spine to ensure an open throat.

Now, when holding a mic, translate what you do with your hands to control your classical voice by learning to hold and use the weight of your live mic appropriately. Don't hold it limply in your hand, and don't crush your arms to your sides. You must control your volume to use a voice that is more like speaking than what you think of as singing.

In the studio... use your hands in front of your ribcage as you would singing classically. Don't hang them limply at your sides. Control is king - and queen! I have a technique I use which I call "studio hands". Put your fingertips together and press them into each other in such a way as to open your ribcage. Also, stand with your feet close to the mic so your head can't move forward without hitting the mic.

Finding yourself with more control will give you more confidence, so that you can stop "thinking" and commit to delivery that will elicit an emotional response.

Comments anyone? Go here for Power, Path & Performance vocal training products, here for lessons

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Monday, January 18, 2010

The confusion of differing vocal training methods

I've had a lot of queries about my vocal lessons which start with the question "what method of vocal training do you use?" A fair enough question, but more complicated to answer than you might think.

I teach my trademarked method "Power, Path & Performance". It is a three-pronged approach to training voices that I have developed revolving around breath, open throat and authentic communication of message. I find that when I can help a vocalist maximize their abilities in these three areas, they have all the voice they could ever need, and it almost always surprises them how much voice this is. These three areas are synergistic, meaning if something is wrong in one area, it will affect the other two as well. Thus, if you have a tight throat you are not able to focus on communication and you will have tight breath as well. If you have not taken enough breath you will tighten your ribcage which pushes the vocal cords and the throat tightens against the pressure... well, I think you get the idea. The opposite is also true-- get something right in one area and other areas will benefit.

The teaching points that separate my method from others are: my focus on this synergistic action, and that my emphasis on how authentically you deliver the message ("Performance") is equal to my focus on how you breathe and how open your throat is.

Now, there are all kinds of different issues vocalists bring to these three areas of vocal technique. There are also all kinds of ways to correct the problems, strengthen and coordinate the muscles and relax the counter-productive tension that frees the voice. Here is where the "art" of vocal training comes in. I have to ask myself what this particular student needs help with, and how best can I facilitate that help.

Most of my training ideas come from my years of observation of my own and others' voices and what makes them stronger, safer and more effective in practical application. However, I use concepts from any training method that works. I've studied all kinds of methods and teachers, and have pulled vocal secrets from everything I study. I'm still studying and intend to for the rest of my life. It is my belief that this is true of all other intuitive, responsible and effective vocal coaches.

The teachers whose products I have in my vocal training library include such diverse practitioners as Van Christy, Jeffrey Allen, Jamie Vendera, Billy Purnell, Anne Peckham, Melissa Cross, Jeannie Deva, Robert Lunte, Lisa Popeil, Joanna Casden, Dena Murray, Seth Riggs. The latest discipline I've been fascinated to discover is the body work of Feldenkrais Method and the Alexander Technique. My hat's off to AT practitioner Ethan Kind, with whom I've double-teamed some students. I learned so much from this master.

There are all kinds of methods of training voices. Here's the truth: If there is a singer (or speaker) giving a great vocal performance to a room full of vocal coaches, each coach better see his or her training method in that performance. It's that simple... vocal training must work in practical application, or it's useless!!

Here's my two-part challenge to encourage sharing vocal knowledge:
  1. Do you have a particular teacher, vocal training method or vocal training product (book, cd, dvd) that you would recommend for study?
  2. Do you know (or are you) a teacher whom you believe could benefit from studying "Power, Path & Performance" vocal training?

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What A Tight Tongue Can Do To Your Singing

Your tongue is connected to more than you think. Use it the wrong way and it can cause trouble.
That sounds like something your mother would tell you, doesn't it:) Well, here's how speaking or singing with a tight tongue can affect your voice:

  1. A tightness in the root or base of the tongue will cause or accompany a tightness in the jaw which will tighten and stiffen the soft palate, preventing the lifted palate necessary for an open throat. This will cause all kinds of vocal problems.
  2. A tight tongue grabs the hyoid bone and lifts the larynx. This will cause thin, choked sound, limited vocal range and vocal strain.
  3. Dr. Lance Robbins, DC, CPT, suggests we also check the digastric muscles. This set of muscles runs along the sides of the bottom of the jaw. Tension or spasm in either muscle can interfere with flexibility in the tongue, leading to the tight tongue we do not want.

So can we solve the tight tongue problem?
  • Certain jaw exercises and tongue stretching can help relax these muscles, as well as manipulations by an intuitive chiropractor. 
  • Put two fingers up under the jaw and check for a bulking, tight tongue base. Try talking or singing again, holding those two fingers against the tongue and willing it to relax.
  • Articulate, or form words, with the tip and front sides of the tongue at the front of your mouth instead of back in your jaw. A deaf person should be able to read your lips for the lyrics. 
Your comments and feedback are always most welcome. If you are a student of Power, Path & Performance, focus on the exercises for tongue and jaw flexibility.

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Why Studio Singing Is Hard For Guitar Players

Singing at a studio mic can be frustrating for guitar players. I will illustrate with a true story:

When I first moved to Nashville many years ago, I was singing backgrounds in a "simul-session". These sessions were where the musicians, background vocalists and lead singers recorded together at the same time. Like live TV- if you flubbed it was extremely obvious to everyone!

Anyway, this session was for none other than Johnny Cash. As we prepared to record, I remember that I watched a studio tech take the strings off his guitar and give it to him to hold while he was singing. His wise producer had noticed he sang better when attached to his guitar! At the time I wondered what that was all about; now I understand.

When a singer is accustomed to performing well with something in the hands (be it guitar, piano or just mic), there is a subtle balance adjustment in the body memorized by the muscles. When you take the instrument or mic out of the hands for studio singing, the singer usually drops hands to their sides. Big mistake, because the lifeless arms and hands usually become "rib anchors", crushing in the ribcage and interfering with breath control.

You don't want to mess with your breath control. All kinds of odd things start happening -- to sum it up, you just don't feel comfortable singing, and you can hear that in playback. Your pitch, tone, stamina and style "lics" suffer. You become nervous, lose confidence, assume a more guarded posture and everything gets worse.

It's important to get this terrible chain of events going the other way.  Learn to use your hands and arms in ways that mimic the playing of your instrument. I recommend putting your fingertips together to cause the ribcage to stay wide. If you need to put a dummy mic in your hand to synthesize the feeling, do it! Get help from a coach who can show you how to do these things BEFORE you go into the studio.

Singing for Johnny Cash was truly an honor. I'm glad I moved to Nashville early enough to get in on this and all the other great historic sessions. I learned so much from my mentors and teachers, and I'm happy to pass it on. My thanks to Hurshel Wiginton of the legendary background vocal group the Nashville Edition for hiring me.

Do you have any instances of having to sing without your usual gear? How did you do?

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Sunday, January 3, 2010

The #1 Vocal Mistake Made By Musicians In Live Performance

First of all, Happy New Year everyone!... I hope your Dec 31st gigs rocked and everyone is home safe and ready for a beautiful new year! Now onto my first post of 2010:

Performers come up in my list of favorites based on one thing: Do they get my emotional attention?

There is a reason that Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne and John Mayer don't move me in live performance like  Bono, Sting and Mat Kearney do. The difference is surely NOT in brilliant, creative musicianship.. all six are full of that. It's not in the magic of their edited recorded vocal performances we hear on the radio in which we understand almost every word. The difference is that Sting, Bono and Kearney deliver -and Dylan, Browne and Mayer DO NOT deliver-  their lyrics in live shows. This frankly irritates me... they almost give me this incredible song, but stop short and it's like when the satellite goes haywire right at the payoff at the end of a movie!

Here's the deal... the #1 vocal mistake I hear great musicians make:  using MUDDY ARTICULATION.  It's not enough to mumble cool "sounds" instead of forming messages. This can be career-snuffing for those trying to break out, and for those who are enjoying radio success it results in under-delivering disappointment for their concert ticket-buying fans.

Consider this: In live performance, there are three ways we impact our audiences:  
  • Visually,
  • Musically and 
  • Lyrically.
It is a testimony to the power in Dylan, Browne and Mayer's live music shows that two out of three ain't bad. But just imagine... just imagine if you could have all three! Lyrics matter. Don't make empty promises of a great live music experience and then fail to deliver it all. Whether you're a stadium star or a songwriter at open mic...Talk to me and tell me something good. (that is, unless your lyrics really do suck.)

Wanna hear the difference?
Watch me demonstrate for you here in my first YouTube video vocal lesson!
Thoughts anyone?

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