Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog: December 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.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Singing In The Studio? You'll Like This


Dear blog friends...

I usually reserve "All Things Vocal" blog for giving you actionable articles on the voice. In future I'll be adding video and audio to some of my posts.

However, I've decided to do something rare and announce the new price on my multimedia professional guide "Singing In The Studio" first on this blog. If you get my newsletter, you'll hear about it again.

I've dropped it to $49 for the download, $54 for the physical DVD. And you're the first to know about it. If you are getting ready to sing in the studio, or know someone who is, this is something that can make all the difference in the world. Endorsements are already phenomenal. Check out the details here.

and... Happy New Year! May 2012 bring you the best ever!

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Friday, December 23, 2011

Tis The Season To Be Singing!


I want to wish everyone a very happy, joyful and loving holiday season. So many of you have written me, sent cards and letters and I want you to know how thankful I am for your friendship!

It is my Christmas/Hanukkah wish for you all that music-making... particularly singing... is part of this time for you and your loved ones. Never has there been a more perfect time for 'making a joyful noise' ... whether that sound is professional or a family jam session where no voice is judged less important than another.

My New Year's wish is that your gratitude list, like mine, keeps expanding. Raise a glass of something or other with me to toast 2012. No matter what direction the economy and music business goes, no matter what life thing blindsides us, there will also be diamonds... blessings and sweet surprises ... embedded in every day. I find it so important, for so many reasons, to look for, notice and focus our spirits on them.

Thank you for being part of my journey. I can almost hear you singing!
God bless you and your precious voices...
Judy

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Digging Deep for Songwriting Gold

Real songwriting, like real singing, is not for the squeamish. Got a great question about the sometimes perilous activity of digging deep for songwriting gold from a very dear friend. He is a singer/songwriter who is also an Army veteran of the recent Middle East wars.

I have noticed a bit of a trend with writing and I'm a bit worried or confused. When I write songs and I come up with ideas for songs, I tend to stop when it gets TOO real inside my head.
Now I know that when song writing you have to be honest and have integrity, but what if it's something you are so passionate about it's scary to even venture there?Odd question I know, but there are things floating around my skull and some of them are a bit rough to face, if that makes any sense.
Here was my response: 

An interesting question indeed. Here’s a thought… we write for different reasons, and all are valid and important. Sometimes we write just as a catharsis. The definition of that word, according to Webster online, is  
  • purification or purgation of the emotions (as pity and fear) primarily through art  
  • purification or purgation that brings about spiritual renewal or release from tension  
  • elimination of a complex by bringing it to consciousness and affording it expression      
This cathartic exercise can really be a form of therapy work. Sometimes we talk it out, sometimes we write it privately. Point is, sometimes this turns out only to be for ourselves, not for the public. Like when you write an unsent letter to express and process something. Oddly there is a whole website named "Letters To Breathe" dedicated to these letters. Songs can do this, too.
I have done this in my life. We don’t have to face all our demons at once… there is a time and place to ‘do some work’ and only God can tell you what you need to be working on. Always write towards healing and love, always. Write as if God is wanting to know what’s on your heart (which of course is true.) But don’t omit the truth and the hate/fear/regret that you need to process on the front end of the writing. Just then go on and write towards healing and release.

I hope this helps… just know you are not alone, that you will never be perfect, that you are loved right where you are, as I am. It’s not about us anyway… it’s about clearing away the crap so we can live useful, prosperous and peaceful lives that make a difference to at least one other soul. 

Do you mind if I share this great question on my blog… and not mention your name? [He said yes.] I know there are many others out there who are not yet able to even ask the question from where they are on their journeys. Maybe you bringing it up will lend courage and get some info out there to help other travelers.

And sometimes, sometimes, the song turns out to be for the public after all. You won’t know til you finish.

Love
Judy



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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Speaking with Vocal Fry: Danger!!


 Frying is for turkeys... not vocal cords!!

Vocal fry in the speaking voice, or what I like to call 'falling on gravel', is one of the sneakiest and pernicious causes of vocal fatigue I find. If you don't talk much, maybe this doesn't turn into that much of a problem, but most people find themselves talking for long stretches.
 
I just read a troubling article in "Science Now" that says vocal fry is creeping into US speech patterns, especially among young women. I've got news for them, it's been here for quite a while. I find it in people who are restaurant servers, salespeople, receptionists, teachers, students, business people and clergy- really folks from all walks of life. I'm so aware of it and the voice irritation it causes that my throat hurts when I hear someone talk with it.

What is vocal fry?

In the singing voice, it is a style sound, sometimes used to communicate a certain emotion or to help get the voice down to a lower register. Metal singers use it a lot, and train to do it right. If created without excessive breath pressure (a feeling of controlled, pulling power instead of pushing), it can be done in a healthy way.

In the speaking voice, you make this sound when you allow the voice to drop completely, causing the characteristic rusty spring squeak. It happens most often at the ends of phrases. The vocal cords are pushed by air at the bottom, hence the grating sound of vocal cords operating on gravel. It feels like you talk farther than you support and lift your voice with breath, and your open throat tightens down as it drops its ceiling.

Here's an example of Vocal Fry.

When I help people change their speaking voices so that they are still supporting the ends of their phrases with lift, their singing voices are spared as well. 

Here's a wakeup: 

Every time I hear chronic vocal fry in someone's speaking voice, I always find that they are getting vocally fried (pun intended) after speaking a lot. EVERY TIME! They usually think their vocal fatigue is normal... and are shocked to find that even after talking for hours their voices can remain strain-free!

Three vocal training techniques I find very effective in breaking this habit are...

  1. to make people aware of how much they are speaking with vocal fry. You must become aware of a habit before you can change it. Try recording your speaking voice and listen for the tell-tale gravel sound (fry) when your phrases drop off. Do you do it? How often?
  2. to get people speaking with active eyes and body language. This helps create balanced breath and open throat.
  3. to use tongue tanglers as vocal exercises, with the rule that you must not hit the gravel at the end or you have to do it again. My students repeat phrases such as "red leather yellow leather" "eleven benevolent elephants", "good blood bad blood", "you know you need unique New York".
We laugh a lot but my students get better and better and at the end of the practice, they are surprised at how much less vocal fatigue they are experiencing. 

If you drop your voice into this sound from time to time, it shouldn't create issues. Almost all of us do. But don't underestimate the problems a chronic habit of talking with vocal fry can cause. Fatigue the voice long enough with the vocal cords rubbing each other the wrong way and it can indeed lead to loss of high range and even serious vocal damage. I've seen it happen. And if you speak or sing for a living? You have GOT to get vocal fry out of your voice!

Here's the bottom line:


Whether or not it is becoming socially acceptable and cool to speak with vocal fry, it is absolutely a habit you need to minimize if you care about your voice. So what do you do? First step: you must become aware of a habit before you can change it. Try recording your speaking voice and listen for the tell-tale gravel sound (fry) when your phrases drop off. Do you do it? How often?


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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Singing And Playing Guitar... Breath Issues


Singers who play guitar sometimes have breath issues. Most of the time, especially if the singer has been playing for a while, they typically sing better with the instrument than without.  However, sometimes it's the opposite. Singers are all so interestingly unique!

I just got a great email inquiry about this: Andrea wrote...
I had a question about taking breaths when I sing. I noticed when I sing and play my guitar I seem to want to gasp for air versus when I sing with a CD. Do you have any suggestions or advice you could give me?
Here's what I told her:
Great question, and great awareness on your part. This is actually a common problem among people who play and sing. You are most probably hunched, with rounded back, over your guitar when you sing while playing. 

Try this: play your guitar while standing or sitting on a stool against a wall. Put your heel (if standing) or butt (if sitting) and your head against the wall. When you play and sing like this, it should make you feel much taller and more open in your chest. Be sure and don't freeze in this position, but keep your head against the wall.

If that works for you, then practice that way until you get used to 'wearing' your guitar rather than 'cradling' it while you sing. Keep your spine tall and flexible, and your head balanced on your tailbone. Let me know how this works for you.
 If you are a singer who plays guitar or other instrument and want to schedule a vocal lesson to clarify and get a little deeper into the practical issues that may be limiting you, let me know. In office, by phone or Skype, sometimes all it takes is a little tweak to make a huge difference for your voice.

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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Numb/Lifeless Singing: 9 Causes and Cures


So you've either noticed or been told that you have a numb or lifeless singing voice. Getting to the root  (the why) is the only way to change this ineffective, boring vocal performance into a voice that is understood at an emotional level.

The top 9 reasons I see in vocal coaching for numb/ lifeless singing:

1. You don't know what your main vocal goal should be. 
  • Your #1 goal should be to make somebody feel and/or understand something... much more important than technically 'singing good'.
2. You don't know what the song is about. 
  • Read the lyric out loud... what is it saying? Go deeper... What is it saying between the lines?
3. You don't know who you should be communicating to. 
  •  Again... read the lyric. The answer should come. You should also understand who you should NOT be communicating to in order to be authentic.
4. You don't know what response you want to generate from your performance.
  • As every great actor knows, you can't get a response you don't go for. If you communicate effectively, you will create some kind of (even a subtle) response from the listener. Not everyone has to like what you say, but you should be able to generate some kind of response energy from your performance. Sometimes it's just a feeling of electricity in the room... you know it's there (or not).
5. You're thinking too technically during performance.
  • The time to think technically is during vocal training and technical rehearsal, not during actual performance.

6. You are psychologically constricted due to past trauma, low self esteem, fear, fatigue, chronic pain or physical illness 
  • Treat the underlying physical or psychological condition. Yes... freely singing can do wonders to free the psyche, but sometimes it can also uncover the need for some extra help from counseling or medical professional. 
7. Your mental focus is scattered in too many directions.
  •  You as a creative person may need to rein in your enhanced sensitivity to read a room. You must focus your thoughts on your #1 goal (above), informed by knowing the who, what and why of the song!
8. You are not using facial and/or body language.
  • Singing with a poker face or stiff body will generate a numb vocal sound because of the breath and throat issues that result. Learn to your body and your face correctly to give life to vocal tone.
9. You are uncomfortable and insecure vocally due to vocal strain, inability to hit high or low notes, do vocal licks or sustains, make use of tone colors and other vocal control issues.
  • Hit me up. I can help... with all the above, in fact.
There's no need to settle for numb singing. When you discover the cause, the cure can be found - and your voice can become a sound that moves mountains in the ears of your listeners.

PS... this works for the speaking voice, too.

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Thursday, December 1, 2011

How Crying Affects the Voice



Tis the season to sometimes... cry.

Tears can be
...happy (people getting engaged, finding out they have booked that gig or won that award, finding out the sickness is curable, hearing just the right song at just the right time, singing an emotionally relevant song to yourself, or just crying from sudden realization of gratitude and happiness)
...or sad (so many reasons... and tears help with unblocking pent up feelings and emotions that need to be expressed for well-being).

But if you have an impending singing or speaking gig... be careful. It's important to know how crying affects the voice:
  1. It swells the vocal cords. Swollen vocal cords do not work very effectively, period.
  2. Sinuses also swell. This gives the typical nasal sound, like when you have a cold or sinus infection. 
  3. All kinds of vocal problems present... including limited range, impared vocal control and tone quality.
  4. It can lead to vocal damage. If even an infant crys too hard or long, the vocal cords can start to be injured. Long enough, it can turn into the beginning of nodes.
  5. It can take time for the cord swelling to go down. A lengthy period of crying, such as in mourning or from depressions, can cause rather chronic swelling that needs time to shrink. Voice rest is imperitive, not to mention physical rest and psychological peace.
So go on... if you need to, cry. But try not to push your voice too hard or too long. Cry it out, talk it out, and then give yourself time to rest and heal. DO NOT sing hard with recently cryed-out, swollen vocal cords. Be kind to your voice; you are responsible for its well-being. Don't ask or expect it to perform well when it's swollen.

Blessings to all.. may the peace and love of this holiday season lead only to happy tears.

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