Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog: November 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, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving For The Voice

We take so many precious things for granted, you and I. But I don't want to let this day go by without offering thanks for my... and your... voice.

It's a gift you know, this ability to buzz vocal chords with air to create sound that matters.

And this is indeed why the voice exists: To speak and to sing in ways that change the world, one heart at a time. 

Ever notice how a sincere 'hello' can make a stranger smile? Perhaps that little word could slightly change the trajectory of that stranger's day... adjusting the outcome of an argument he might have just because his spirit has been slightly lightened by your voice. Then he pays it forward by a kind 'hello' to someone else.

No telling what you can do by 15 minutes of talking... and listening... to someone who needs your presence.

Ever notice how a song you sing can change the faces of your audience? What about how a great concert or songwriter round inspires and comforts you?

Sing more. Listen more. Say more.... And may we all remember to let our voices carry only things that matter.

I also want to sincerely say thank you all for being a part of my "village". Your readership is what gives this blog meaning and purpose.

This post was inspired by Seth Godin's Thanksgiving blogpost. A great read.

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Singers With Breathing or Rhythm Issues: Dance!

First of all, Happy Thanksgiving to all my subscribers... you are the reason this blog goes on, and I am truly thankful for your readership and your participation.

I have a quick but powerful suggestion for you today: If you want-
  • more breath support and control for singing...
  • help with feeling rhythm... 
...try dancing! Why?
  • Dancing helps you get your hips into action... even if it's just slightly swaying as in slow dance. When your hips are involved as you sing, your breath comes from lower and deeper, instead of higher in the chest. This widens your ribcage, causes more flexibility in your back and frees your diaphragm to control itself.
  • Dancing helps you with physical stamina, too, so that you are strong enough to sing with the balance of energy plus control... powerfully yet without vocal strain
  • Dancing helps you psychologically... creates endorphins like most good physical exercise. Your mind is a big part of what sings, you know.
  • And last but not least... dancing helps you aquire more of a sense of rhythm! Quite important in music, after all.
If you want to pursue these improvements, I suggest one or both of the following:
  • Start taking dance lessons. Ballroom dancing, clogging, hip-hop, ballet, whatever you want... and many times you can find inexpensive or even free classes.
  • Get yourself on the dance floor more often! Have fun with your family, your friends, or just dance alone to the music or with a dance video. 
Let me know how it works for you! And again... may your Thanksgiving be blessed.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

How To Increase Your Vocal Range Without Strain

 Alicia Yantz, photo by Peter Rodman

If you are wanting to increase your usable vocal range without straining your voice, here's the best way:

Strengthen your middle or mixed voice!

This is also known as bridging or covering, mixing your registers without a vocal break so that you seem to have one connected register rather than two or more. Some vocal teachers have a problem with calling it 'middle or mixed voice', but I like to use this term, because the area we're talking about is mixing vocal resisters in the middle of your range. Call it whatever works best for you.

When you work on developing your middle/mixed voice, you will be strengthening the muscles and creating flexibility you need to sing higher in full voice, raising your singing range for contemporary voice. How?
  • When you do vocal scales and exercises, try backing off pressure as you go up.
  • As you go up, lean back just a bit, but don't lift your chin. Stay flexible.
  • Mentally intend to make the top of your chest voice sound almost like the bottom of your head voice. In fact, I create a lot of vocal exercises that involve singing the high note in chest, then head, then in middle voice or mixed tone. 
  • Do sirens, bubbles and trills across your whole range, trying not to break.
  • If your voice breaks at a certain point, try smoothing it out with a yawning sensation through the area. Some teachers call this 'covering'.
  • If your head voice is not strong, focus on working it out more to balance strength between your CT and TA muscles (which work your head and chest voices respectively). You need this balance for a smooth register transition, to be able to lift in chest voice without 'going all the way over' to head voice, and to do so with no vocal strain.
  • Get rid of tension in your neck, jaw, shoulders... which can interfere with the tilting action of the thyroid cartilage. This tilting action is directed by the automatic nervous system to enable the vocal cords to produce higher pitches. Interfere with it and you will strain for your highs.
Middle voice, mixed voice, bridging, covering. Whatever you call it, if you want a bigger vocal range, get it... and get used to it!

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Friday, November 12, 2010

Why is Gladys Knight So Good?

 photo courtesy of Ron Oates

I just got back from singing background vocals for the Jim Wilkes Show at the House Of Blues in Las Vegas. Our performance went very well...Jim truly rocked the house...and the all star band from Nashville (with horns!) was fabulous. We then had the extreme pleasure of watching our headliner...one of the best vocal artists out there… Gladys Knight!

Gladys Knight raises the bar for all singers. She gave fresh meaning to having the audience in the palm of her hand. She was friendly and generous… giving thanks to not only her amazing band, but also honored my friend, producer/pianist Ron Oates, who was there in the audience. Ron had arranged and produced Gladys on the song “Wind Beneath My Wings” which didn’t get released due to some label politics at the time, but which remains in my opinion the best version ever created on this song. 

We got a bonus…she had her brother (who happens to be the head of her old bgv group “The Pips”) step in for a spot in the middle of the show. He had everybody roaring and appreciating his still-smooth choreography and showmanship.

But back to Gladys. I’ve never heard her better. Here are some reasons she is so respected as a master vocalist and live performer:

•    She is a master stylist

She knows exactly what kind of vocal lick to use to make the right emotional point when the song calls for it. She also know when NOT to do anything other than sing the simple melody, and when it's more emotionally powerful to end the song on an easy middle note instead of some grand diva vocalise.

•    She is a master of vocal control

She knows how to use her whole body’s posture - getting taller and pulling back for the most difficult notes. She knows how to masterfully use her microphone- squeezing and pulling the mic like it’s a structural part of her voice.

•    She is a master of vocal tone colors

She knows how to use her face- how much to free her jaw, what shape to open her mouth and how actively to use her beautiful eyes to create different vocal tones, creating a kaleidoscope of vocal colors to use in her musical language.

•    She is a master of dynamics


She very effectively surrounded her signature ballads with crowd- hypnotizing r&b groove songs (Heard It Through The Grapevine juxtaposed with Killing Me Softly”. I thought it might be a mellow show… oh no. The energy had us all on our toes, and then her ballads were set apart like pictures in picture frames.

  • She is a generous artist
As I said earlier, she is generous with credit, honoring others who helped her along the way, but she is also generous with the audience. She made us all feel like she was singing especially to and for every one of us. She was present with us... and never gave the slightest impression that she was bored with a song or with having to do a show. I have a feeling she limits the number of shows she does so that every show stays fresh- a true event - for her as well as her audience.

Gladys Knight… one of the masters of our craft of singing. If you ever get the chance to see her… jump to it!

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Saturday, November 6, 2010

Stomach bug and have to sing?

Oh my, there's nothing like the stomach bug to destroy your breath support/control for singing. Hard to be stuck on the 'throne', not to mention it's really disconcerting to have to throw up all over your bandmates/ audience!

This just happened to my poor fellow background singer for a live show we were doing last night. Here's what worked for her:
  • Checked in with bandmates who connected her to her employer who called in a hotel doc.
  • Got some prescription meds (never take a prescription drug without asking your doc- it could kill you and it's hard to sing dead) phenergan worked for her.
  • Finally got some liquid down (soup worked for her).
  • Skipped sound check and slept.
  • Made the gig. Didn't dance a lot.
Oh well, it could have been laryngitis. This ever happen to you?

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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Do You Really Have To Play THERE?

So. You are having trouble singing and playing a particular part of a song at the same time. Many times this is caused by the particular rhythm pattern you need to play being different from the rhythm pattern you need to sing. When you perform insecure about getting both right, both your playing and your singing suffer. What can you do? I see you have three options:

  1. Practice doing it... until it no longer feels weird. Start by just practicing your instrument til the muscle memory is down pat. Then put your voice with it... slower than usual. Then speed it up to the right tempo and make sure it feels so natural you can put it on automatic, and focus on your audience.
  2. Don't play the trouble spot. Especially for guitar players... in performance, let your band carry the section and just rest your arms on your guitar. If you pay attention, you will be amazed at how many major entertainers do this, and make it look quite natural.
  3. Don't play that song at all... just sing. Let your band do without your instrument, go to the footlights and have some fun with the audience! You don't need to be able to dance... just connect and communicate. Do this effectively and authentically and they'll probably never miss your instrument!

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