Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog: May 2013

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, May 26, 2013

Jaw Movements and Vocal Consequences



How open does your jaw need to be for your voice? As is often true in 'all things vocal'... it depends.

I just read a great article in the NATS  "Journal of Singing". In the latest segment of his article series, author and professor Stephen F. Austin discussed the controversies concerning how far one should open the jaw for singing. I was very happy to see that he also believes 'it depends'. Mick Jagger, Barbara Streisand and the great Wagnerian tenor Loriz Melchior had a very open jaw on high notes in common (an interesting grouping, don't you think?). On the other hand, Willie Nelson and Luciano Pavarotti (another interesting association) sing with jaws opening much smaller. Austin added that Leontyne Price's jaw opened differently according to the range, dynamic level and artistic goals of the phrase at hand.

Why does the answer depend?

The degree a singer or speaker opens the jaw will determine the resulting tone of voice and style of articulation. Willie, as well as Bob Dylan and other thin-tone-branded artists would not want to sound like Mick, Steve Perry or other great rockers (and vice-versa). Pararotti and Loriz sang different types of classical material, and would not have been able to do what they did with the other's jaw opening propensities. Ms Price's style of singing required great diversity of tone.

It's important to get this right!

I've had students in my office that had either received or interpreted wrongly suggestions to keep the
jaw too still. Upon helping them loosen that joint, they were able to make vocal ability improvement in leaps and bounds.  I've also had students who opened their jaws too wide, causing a sort of knee-jerk reaction of the joint to freeze. Giving them permission to relax the jaw opening opened brand new avenues of vocal ability.

So what should YOU do? 

Experiment and see what works best for your voice and the style you sing. As you do, consider the following that I have found true for ANY voice:
  1. When you do open your jaw, open it in a motion like a monkey wrench, not pliers. If you don't know what that is, go down to the hardware store and play with some tools:)
  2. If you experience vocal fatigue or strain, try opening your jaw more at that point
  3. If you move your jaw like a ventriloquist (whose jaw is quite still) try a slight sideways chewing motion to loosen the joint. This has freed up stuck jaws -even those diagnoesed with TMJ - in my office.
  4. Know that when the jaw freezes, the soft palate also freezes. Don't believe it? Try yawning without moving your jaw. If you want the ceiling of your vocal resonance cave to open more, the floor has to drop, too.
  5. If you want your jaw more open but can't quite make yourself trust that openness, try practicing singing or speaking with your knuckle between your back molars. Notice the rich tone you get.
  6. Don't try to keep your jaw open in the same width throughout everything you do. I find it best to give the jaw permission to move and then let your voice dictate what it wants your jaw to do to accomplish the vocal sound desired.
  7. No matter what openness you choose for your jaw, don't freeze it. Flexibility rules.
  8. Keep articulation coming from the front of your mouth, not your jaw. 
  9. Do tongue tanglers to free up the jaw before speaking or singing. Some examples to say over and over: "red leather yellow leather", "eleven benevolent elephants", "good blood bad blood".
  10. Ask yourself when altering your jaw opening, as in everything you try differently, does it work? Is it easier to sound the way YOU want to and sing the material you choose?
 OK what about you.. what are your experiences with jaw movements and voice?

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Monday, May 13, 2013

Voices and Allergies... Practical Tips To Quell The Mucous Monsters


Ah spring! 
Tis the season to be sneezin' - and it's no laughing matter for singers and public speakers! 

Your body decides that some particle is a foreign invader and has to be stopped at all costs... even at the cost of inflaming your sinuses, nasal passages, throat and/or vocal cords. Sometimes allergies can trigger an asthma attack in your bronchial tubes. And to add insult to injury, your inflamed tissues act like mucky petri dishes awaiting to birth the next overgrowth of bacteria, fungi, etc to launch your spring cold. What can you do???
  • Hydration to thin out excessive mucous is vital. Drink like a fish... and breathe in steam from various sources such as shower or hot bath, pot of steaming water with towel draped over your head, personal steam inhalers such as MyPurMist 
  • Have throat soothing drinks available during your vocal rehearsals and performance. Diluted pineapple juice (about 1/4 juice to 3/4 water), ceyenne-lemon-water, ginger tea, H2O Overdrive all can work wonders for soothing and hydrating irritated tissues.
  • Try herbal remedies such as butterbur, peppermint, ceyenne, ginger,  oil of oregano, echinecea, Superior Vocal Health's Sinus Clear Out, etc. Check with a doc if there is the chance you are allergic or have other reaction to an herb (for instance, some cannot take echinecea without heart racing and adverse reaction). Then experiment and find what works for you. CAUTION: Don't experiment with herbs on the day of performance... try them out before!
  • Use prevention... avoid allergens as much as possible. Common sense, but I can't tell you how many of my highly suceptible people who have animals to which they are allergic! Clean house... wash and replace filters, pillows, throws, etc.
  •  Minimize your use of over-the-counter (OTC) remedies that can dry you out. Again, try these things out when you don't have an important performance scheduled and notice how they affect your voice when you talk or sing. In an emergency gig situation, prescription steroid nasal sprays work but can be addictive. If you use steroids, count on going on voice rest after the gig you need them for. 
  • Using throat pain anesthetic sprays is NOT a good idea for performance. There are several reasons, the main one is that the numbness can fool you into thinking you can push your wounded voice so hard you sustain lasting vocal damage.
  • Rest your voice as much as possible. GET SOME GOOD SLEEP! And try not to sleep on your back, allowing post nasal drip to coat your throat tissues all night. Sleep on your side.
  • Warm your voice up with best form of exercises and use great vocal technique! When you do as I teach and pull instead of push your voice, you will be using breath support/control balance that will keep you from excessively winding and drying out the edges of your vocal cords. Your throat should also not get tight.
  • Decide whether or not to cancel performance. Stuffy nose and sinus? I wouldn't record a master lead vocal but you should be fine for live performance. You'll just sound a bit more resonant with thicker m's and n's. Where does it hurt when you sing? Do you just have irritated throat tissues from post nasal drip, or does it hurt at vocal cord level (laryngitis)? Consider cancelling.
  • And finally... deal with the root of your allergy issue. There are alternative health remedies that really work such as acupuncture, lasers (treatment of choice by my chiropractor Dr. Dwaine Allison) and progressive types of allergy shots (ask your doctor about these).
OK here's where the audience participation part of this post happens... what remedy ... medical or alternative ... has worked for YOU?  Stuffy noses would love to know!

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