Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog: April 2011

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, April 28, 2011

Need To Sing Loud? 11 Tips For Doing It Safely

                                        Billy Devereaux and me singing loud

Two facts:
  1. Unless one only wants to sing for a short while, the voice needs to be protected from strain.
  2. However, there are times when a singer wants or needs to sing loud. 
Here are a 11 tips to do it safely:
  1. Understand that volume should come from resonation, not excessive air pressure. You need to add some pressure, but that pressure should be absolutely controlled so as not to over-blow the vocal cords. Think of playing a guitar (or ask a guitar player)... what happens when you strum the strings too hard? 
  2. Open the back of your mouth with plenty of vertical space no matter what you are articulating. This will add richness to your resonation.
  3. Never use 100% of your air power. This will always tighten the throat, strain the cords and limit resonation.
  4. Learn how to pull instead of push your voice from the correct voice path.
  5. Squeeze from your pelvic floor while at the same time widening your ribs. 
  6. Don't lean forward... instead, put your weight into your heels and come from behind to power your voice. If you do bend forward for visual effect, bend from the waist to avoid crunching your ribcage.
  7. Learn how to use your hands in gestures, on the mic or on the instrument you're playing in ways that can help stabilize and widen your ribcage.
  8. Don't freeze your jaw and soft palate...a sure way to tighten your throat. A slight chewing movement can often help you with this.
  9. DO use extra energy. Just be sure you balance breath support with breath control, creating compression centered in the pelvic floor for the power.
  10. Make sure you have enough breath to carry your voice completely through and past the end of your phrases. If you run out of breath, your ribcage will start to come down and in and you will push your voice.
  11. Remember to use the magic formula: Back off the pressure + add passion!

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Monday, April 25, 2011

My Performance Preparation Routine

I have a gig this weekend... Just 4 song, but I want every performance to be full of magic musical moments where my audience is carted away to where each songs take place. I must do more performance preparation than when I used to perform regularly.. and I thought you might it helpful.

A few days before:
  1. I stop eating hardly any junk food (OK, confession...I'm a nutritional hypocrite).
  2. I up my physical exercise routine.
  3. I up my consumption of water and of healthy foods such as fruits, veggies & lean protiens
  4. I start intensive vocal exercise warmups and practicing songs (1 hr per day or more)
  5. I get enough sleep (for me, 7 or 8 hours) and avoid late night work.
Day before:
  1. I continue above 5 steps.
  2. I double-check gig details (gig location, time of soundcheck & show, people I particularly wanted to invite.
  3. I figure out what I'm wearing. Stressing out the day of can zap energy.
  4. I double-check my schedule to see that I haven't loaded my performance day down with appointments or other work. Sometimes I will cancel something.
Day of:
  1. Again I do physical warmup, eat smart and hydrate fully.
  2. I warm up and practice the show once.
  3. I check any equipment (keyboard, cords, etc) and music/lyrics that I need to bring.
  4. I try to have enough time not to rush getting ready so I stay in a center of peace.
  5. I get to the gig with 'chill out' time to spare; I minimize talking til my performance is over.
Do I do the above every time? No. Just every time I really care about doing my best and having the most fun:) Great singing requires energy, centeredness and preparation (oh, and of course great material to communicate!)

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Separating Music and Business


For recording and performing artists who are in or want to be in commercial music business, meaning the making and selling of music, I have a suggestion for you:

Separate music and business in your mind and in your actions. Why? Because unless you do, you will not do either as effectively or successfully.

What do I mean?

When you are in the act of making music (writing, recording, performing), have a clear goal in mind... to deliver a message with impact. If instead your primary goal is to
  1. win the contest,
  2. make money,
  3. impress powers that be 
... you will write or record either 'safely' or for 'show'. You may indeed win a contest or make someone think you have great vocal technique, but you won't win a heart ... and you probably won't win a decent record deal, either.

When you are in the act of doing business, think like a business person and not like an artist. If you don't, you will
  1. excuse yourself because you are have an artist mindset that doesn't want to get into the details of business strategy or balancing a checkbook (really this is laziness), 
  2. pick songs for your project or set list that don't relate to the audience you seek to win,
  3. get bitter instead of better, blaming someone else or the changing industry for your failure and your financial insecurity.
Oh yes, we used to categorize creative artists as 'right-brained'. However, as this fascinating Jack Milgram article points out, current research points to much more synergy between both hemispheres working together. I've never met an artist yet who didn't have a 'left brain', too. Use it!

So... If you want to be successful in the music business, do two things well:
  1. Make great music! Create and perform your art bravely and freely. Watch out for playing too safe, too far away from what your heart loves, or dumbing your music down to fit a market that isn't right for you. And...
  2. Take care of business! Learn current successful music marketing and promotion strategies. Seek out, join, network and actively participate in organizations where you can find trustable industry insiders with good information. Look for chances to meet one on one with folks who can help you. Keep your income-making "day job" until you're making enough money with your music to support yourself. You also will be far less likely to fall prey to scams out of desperation to succeed.
Bottom line:

The real mark of success in the music business is... did you reach the heart of your audience and are you financially secure while you do it? This kind of success is deeply rewarding. To find it, you don't have to be a superstar, you just have to be secure and happy with your art.

Thoughts anyone?

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Saturday, April 16, 2011

When Not To Take Vocal Lessons

I had a blast performing on the Ronnie McDowell show this week. When it was time to do the interview, Ronnie asked me a very interesting question. He said when he recorded "Older Women Make Beautiful Lovers" he did it in one take, and it of course became a hit. So, he asked me, what would I as a vocal coach have suggested about that vocal?

Well, folks, the short answer is that if you do a one take vocal and it becomes a hit I would not mess with it! If any vocal strain occurred, I would of course be able to help the artist be able to accomplish that vocal more easily, but would not want to alter the gist of the performance. So, I thought I would speak to this here:

If you...
  • ...are singing as well as you want/need to, 
  • ...have no vocal strain
  • ...have no reason or desire to learn to do anything new with your voice...
...then there is no reason for you to want to take vocal lessons. Period.

If you do need some help with vocal ability or strain or want to improve in some vocal area, don't let these reasons stop you:
  • lack of finances (you can train very inexpensively (such as with my 1-cd PPP course) or even for free by searching for articles and blogs like this on the voice.
  • lack of time (how bad do you want it?)
  • distance from a good vocal coach (many voice teachers including myself give phone lessons which are highly effective)
  • fear that someone will find out you're taking vocal lessons (most professional singers have vocal coaches and sometimes they even thank them in award acceptance speeches. Heck, a recent huge movie unearthed the fact that even a king needed vocal lessons!
PS... "Music City Late Night with Ronnie McDowell " will be broadcast on a giant internet platform and on a new Comcast cable TV channel soon. I'll let you know when and where it launches.

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Saturday, April 9, 2011

Where/When To Squeeze For Vocal Power

                                      Bridget Lappert in "Runaway Home" musical

To power your voice requires effort. It is not a passive thing. Air must move and air must be held back (breath support/breath control must be applied and balanced). This compression (squeeze) effort can be subtle or quite strong. And there is a catch-22: Squeeze at the wrong place, at the wrong time or for too long and you'll end up in vocal trouble.

Where To Squeeze:

You should sense your power coming from below the belt...your pelvic floor, or saddle area. You can even sense it coming your heels or  thighs. You can also balance yourself there by what you do with your hand on the mic, instrument or just with certain hand gestures. CAUTION-- that hand action must not cause tension in the arm higher than the elbow.

This squeeze can be quite subtle for easier vocal passages... really just staying flexibly tall with your head balanced back over your tailbone can automatically provide all the balanced power you need until you come to a harder place. Then you should rev up the power ... but only from the right places (from below the belt, and from using your hands).

DO NOT squeeze from your ribs, neck, jaw or shoulders.

When To Squeeze:

When you need to apply a lot of power, apply greater tension from the appropriate places. For instance, you might press against a piano stool and press your feet down to apply a power surge.

Do NOT keep tension in the butt, pelvic area or thighs... this will cause tension to move up where you don't want it and will tire you out so there's nothing left when you need more. A great trick to learn is to quickly DE-TENSE at every opportunity. You should look both relaxed and full of energy if you're doing this properly.

Make sense to you?

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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

5 Differences between classical and contemporary voice

Both classical and contemporary are brilliant and beautiful... 
just make sure you are 'singing in the right language' for your song! (Post updated 2017)

NOTE: The audio player should appear below, if not, please click on the title of this post and go online to hear. 
 Available also on  iTunes , Google Play,  TuneIn Radio, Android apps

It can be harder to go from classical to contemporary singing than vice versa. However, I can tell you from personal experience that some classical singing can strengthen a voice in many ways, and even contribute to vocal healing especially for singers who sing mostly in the chest register. To make the switch successfully, a classical singer does need to do a few things differently for authentic performance of contemporary or 'popular' genre material.

Here are 5 tips to help with the transition from classical to contemporary voice: 

1. Your low end needs to have more buzz and edge. Classical singers tend to sound a bit "hooty" and weak at the low end. Find a brighter, more speech-like tone; to do this you need to mix more chest register in your lower notes.

2. Don't use as much vibrato. You don't have to cut it all out, but it should be used sparingly, with discretion and control. This means you need to develop the control to sing with straight tone so you can have that choice available in your performance.

3. Watch holding out notes too long. This is very typical of classically trained vocalists... do some research and listen to your favorite artists in the genre you want to learn. Notice how long (or short) they hold notes out. Notice what feels communicative instead of 'sing-y'. Practice miming to match what you hear and incorporate it in your phrasing.

4. Vowels need to be more flexible instead of wide open all the time. Sometimes I find that suggesting a chewing, circular movement of the jaw helps formal singers find more conversational shapes in vowels. A good study of blues or jazz singing can help you understand what I'm talking about.

5. The diction of natural communication needs to influence vocal performance more. A powerful contemporary performance requires more focus on the defining consonants instead of concentrating on perfect vowels... this authentically delivers a message in more popular styles of song.

For contemporary singers:

If you don't know how to sing classical songs correctly (or don't want to), don't worry. You can achieve vocal cord stretching, flexing, relaxation and register mixing by doing lots of head voice exercises instead.

Here is a video vocal lesson I did to help a more formally trained singer transition to contemporary style.



As always, your comments are welcome! Be sure and check out my YouTube channel for more free video vocal lessons.

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Saturday, April 2, 2011

7 Wrong Ideas About Singing

There is controversy in vocal training, and different teachers embrace differing philosophies. There is more than one effective way to accomplish training a voice. However, in my experience, there are some counterproductive techniques that actually limit vocal ability... and that can be flat damaging to the voice. Here, from my practical experience, are 7 wrong ideas about singing:
  • When phonating (making a vocal sound) the belly should go out.
Nope. In my experience, breath support and control are enabled and balanced by the low belly coming in when sounding the voice. Belly out, throat will feel the strain. Try it... see?
  • A singer should inhale from the nose only.
Nope. I have gotten a lot of work from vocalists in vocal trouble from the chest breathing that comes from this practice. I think this counterproductive notion comes from sports training where you inhale from the nose to moisten the breath. However, it's not a good idea to sing anyway when you jog or lift weights. 
  • You should never drink coffee if you want to sing.
Uh... if this were true, I would not be able to sing. Is coffee dehydrating? Yes. Is is debilitating to all singers? In moderation (1 morning cup), far enough away from performance time -- and if the singer is not overly sensitive to caffeine -- not a problem I've run into. NOTE: If you ARE sensitive to caffeine, stay completely away from it, and don't drink it close to or during performance.
  • It takes at least a month of breath training to prepare a vocal student to sing a song.
Ah... nope.Change a singer's posture and voila... breathing problems radically solved. Do breathing exercises help? Sure... especially with certain singers... but in my experience even simple rib stretching and flexing can help instantly improve the singing breath.
  • Singers should sing with arms hanging limp and still at the sides.
NO. Sadly, this is a common belief of choir directors, musical theater directors and recording artists that gets me a lot of work. Turning the arms into what I call 'rib anchors" is one of the worst things you can do to a singer or speaker.
  • The face should be quiet and still... too much facial expression detracts from the performance.
I've actually heard this from misinformed engineers, performance coaches and choir directors. Without an active face, you will never sing as well as you could with communicative facial movement... especially the eyes and eyebrows.
  • You can't learn to sing unless you were born a singer (also known as 'you can't teach an old dog new tricks").
Au contraire mon cheri... If you can talk, you can learn to sing. In every instance of "tone deafness" I've ever encountered, all it took was some consistent target practice to train the ear-challenged singer to aim at pitch. The question isn't 'can you learn to sing?'... it's 'how bad do you want to?"

Got any favorite wrong beliefs of your own?

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