Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog: July 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.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Vowel Modification: Practical Cure for Tight Throats

 Have you ever noticed how some verses are harder to sing than others? That some words are harder to sing a particular note that is easy with another word? That sometimes you seem to luck into a way to make it easier after you sing it a while and you'd like to know what you did to change it so you can do it on purpose?

I'd like to introduce you what vocal coaches call "Vowel Modification". Simply put, it's the act of changing the shape of the vowels you use ... usually applied to singing but in my experience also works for the speaking voice.

As Shirlee Emmons states in her comprehensive article on the subject:
...in order to reconcile with higher frequencies and intensities of higher and louder tones, a large resonating cavity is needed. A strained larynx will result when this is not provided.
You can get quite detailed with this process (if you are into the science behind the concept check out Karen O'Conner's article), but in practical application just imagine the vowel sound 'uh' ... as in 'duh' ... in the back of every vowel you use. Thus a tight, horizontal kazoo-like 'ee' would turn into more of an 'eh'. A pursed lipped 'oo' would turn into more of a relaxed lip "uoo"; etc.

The throat opens three ways... up (lifted soft palate/upper nasal membrane), down (relaxed and dropped tongue and jaw) and back (head balanced over tailbone/heel, chin level). When you, keeping your head positioned as I suggested, allow the 'uh' shape to influence any other vowel shape, you will be opening up and down more and you won't believe the instant cure this can provide for your tight throat.

This is part of what I call learning the 'dance of the melody'. If you'd like this personalized for your voice and your songs, train with a personal vocal coach. Even one voice lesson can open your throat and change your world.

Any of you experience vowel modification?

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Monday, July 18, 2011

Assessing Vocal Coaches

If you are trying to find a vocal coach that can help you obtain the vocal healing, improvement and mastery you want, there are things you can look for to help you figure out who you want to work with.

Credentials
There are three types of credentials: academic, professional and student success.

First of all, you should make a decision about the genre you wish to focus on... classical or contemporary. For classical voice, academic credentials can indeed be important.. they must be very knowledgeable about classical repertoire and how to perform the vocal sound required for authentic classical delivery. I gained a lot by studying Italian Art songs with my college professor.  It helped me expand the power and range of my head voice, and I've used some of the soft palate lifting techniques with my own students who are excessively nasal, strained or thin-sounding.

However, for contemporary singing, classical training can cause problems. Throat configurations and projection volume are different for the classics, which are largely unamplified, and contemporary styles, which mostly involve a microphone.

Yes indeed, there are some academically credited teachers who teach all styles ... especially clear, bell-like voices needed in some jazz, pop and alternative genres. My own professional teacher, Gerald Arther, was classically trained. He taught not only me but most of the other session singers in Nashville. Interview your prospective teacher and find out what kinds of singers have been training under him/her.


Professional credits:

Taking classical voice from a voice teacher who has Metropolitan Opera credits is a great idea. Musical theater teachers should have a few performance pictures or posters from musicals around. If you are interested in contemporary singing (anything that's not classical) it is my strong suggestion that you look for a teacher with successful professional credits in contemporary voice. These teacher may or may not have academic credentials. While it's true that a lot of people can sing well that can't teach others, the best coaches have successful, practical experience behind the techniques taught.

If you want to mix them up, it has been my experience that classical training is most helpful (and least problem causing to contemporary singing) if the singer has a lot of previous experience singing contemporary music before engaging in classical study.

Student success:

If a vocal coach has a string of stars he or she has been coaching, he/she may be a very successful and effective teacher, and careers may have been built by voices maximized by his/her instruction.

Or... the coach may have a lot of big name people that were already singing great before they took lessons. These singers could even be worse off for the lessons! Hard to tell.

Much better: Look for a vocal coach who has taken novice or damaged voices and made them better or brought them to mastery... or to successful careers they didn't have before training. Think about any singer whose voice you heard before and after they started taking lessons with a particular coach... can you tell a difference between what they sounded like before they started training and now? Ask them to candidly compare the way their voice has felt before and after. Is there less strain? Is their vocal control and range better?

The absolute way to assess a vocal coach, of course, is to take a lesson.

Then ask yourself the questions I just mentioned. You should feel you gained some vocal ground. At the very least you should be aware of some new techniques that you came to trust at that lesson which will make a difference when you get them under your belt. You should NOT feel vocally strained or worse than before the lesson. If you do... time to assess another coach!

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Monday, July 11, 2011

My Latest Performance Mistake

I did a recent performance for a SallyCat show benefit for The Dance Theatre of Tennessee. (I love these people so much... Sally and Cat are fantastic personally and professionally, and the new DTT is a magical company exploring, nurturing and performing the art of dance. I thank them for uploading the video they took!)

Anyway, my observant husband has been telling me I make a habitual mistake when I play and sing but you know how we listen to husbands:) 

Weeeellll... I saw it for myself on this. I am so busted.When I play piano, I move my mouth away from the mic when I'm looking at my hands, and it loses my voice (duh, of course it does!)

Here's the video.

I am going to have to figure out a way to play and sing and stay on the mic. One thing I need to do I think is to get the keyboard up higher when I'm standing.

Yep, he was right. Dang it. Your thoughts?

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Friday, July 8, 2011

When Drummers Sing

Got a great question from Phil Smith:
Do you have any tricks to get me, a drummer, to make it easier to play and sing ,,and remember lyrics??
Here are some thoughts for you drummers that sing:

1. write the lyrics out a few times longhand... a great memory tool.

2. Make sure your mic is not too far forward from your mouth. You need to be able to have your head back more upright and balanced over your seat so your throat doesn't close.

3. Use facial expressions and communicate with your eyes when you sing. This give more interesting tone and also opens your throat. Be sure and 'make a hole' (open your mouth and don't clench your jaw when you sing). Clenched jaw = frozen soft palate- a definite limitation.


4. Try not to clench your shoulders as you play. Keep tension out of shoulders and neck as much as possible.

5. Try and be 'singer first' instead of 'drummer first'. Practice playing and singing separately, then together... practice, practice, practice:)

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Vocal Resonation Zones

Someone suggested I do a post about resonators (physical woofers, tweeters and other frequency eq creators) for the voice. I have to point you to a great, comprehensive and well-written article about vocal resonation in Wikipedia, and I highly recommend that article and a short accompanying discussion there.

So that is the science of vocal resonation. Now I'd like to talk about it in terms of practical application.

What does vocal resonation do for a voice? 

In a nutshell, it gives the voice access to tone color options. We use different vocal tones to deliver different kinds of spoken or sung messages. While there is communication that calls for thin, harsh, whispery or dark tones, most confident sounds are richly resonant, and so most speakers and singers will be needing full access to all vocal resonators (larynx, mouth, pharynx, nose, and some say chest).


What can a singer or speaker do to gain access to vocal resonators?

1. Open the pathway from the larynx to those resonators. I call this pathway the open throat. Tall, flexible posture is everything... head forward and crunched into shoulders will tighten this pathway. This is why in my Power, Path and Performance vocal training method I give fully 1/3 of my teaching to the voice path through the open throat, which should open up, down and back.

2. Use enough breath correctly and efficiently to sound those resonators. This calls for a balance between breath support (air you are sending to your vocal cords) and breath control (air you are witholding from your vocal cords).

3. Stay flexible in your spine and jaw and don't tense your shoulders. Your resonation will and should move around as you hit different pitches.

4. In performance... set yourself up well and stop thinking! After you have opened and powered your voice, focus your intention to communicate a specific feeling. Trust this clear intention to choose from the tones your resonation zones make available!

How to feel your resonation zones:

Put your hand on your chest... you'll be starting there. Making a sliding siren sound (ooooooo) from your low chest voice up into your head voice. Make sure you keep a loose jaw and pull this sound instead of push it or your voice may break. Notice where you feel the vibration occuring... it should change places from your sternum, through your facial mask and up to the middle of your upper head. Notice that if you freeze you will make it hard for the vibration to smoothly travel.

What happens if your vocal cord vibrations don't reach your resonators effectively?

Pretty simple: Your voice will sound like a cheap instrument instead of an expensive one! More correctly, it's like you have great speakers but you haven't plugged them in. Consider playing an electric guitar not plugged in vs playing that same instrument plugged in to an amplifier. You get the idea.

OK, any specific questions about resonation I didn't cover here (or wasn't in the Wikipedia article)?

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