Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog: June 2015

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, June 30, 2015

Repeating Lyrics: How to Turn Boring Into Mesmerizing

Can your choruses make a house cat yawn? Read on...

NEW: I'm experimenting with creating this audio version of the post. Let me know if you find it helpful:
So we all understand the value of a repeating 'hook' line in songwriting. But how do you repeat the same words multiple times without boring yourself and your listener to death?

First of all, please know that much on the radio DOES bore. Sometimes it's not the best song/singer/performance that gets on the radio (I know; shocking :)

If YOU want to repeat hooks or other lyrics in ways that engage instead of anesthetize the listener...

Never repeat a lyric exactly the same way!

Change it up - find a subtly different meaning for the lyrics which will encourage you in the moment to -
  • slightly alter nuances such as vowel shape, vocal tone, emphasis and/or volume.
  • make major melody variations, taking the line up, down or another place entirely.
  • change the way you end the lyric, shorter, longer or falling off. 
  • add or delete a slur or scoop.
  • add or subtract vocal embellishments/licks or words like 'yeah, no, uh, aw oh yeah, or a repetition of the last lyric.

Exceptions: 

  • When recording, you can cut and paste a word, line or even a whole chorus if this means it saves enough studio time to stay within your budget. You need a smart production team to call this wisely.
  • Sometimes you want the repetition to take on a machine-like exactness, especially in some pop, electronica and hiphop genres. Again, a smart production team is needed to choose these kind of production values on purpose for the chosen effect. 

How do you know...

when to alter or exactly repeat repetitive lines? Go back to the reason the voice exists... to deliver messages that get the desired response. Ask yourself what each way would communicate. What is the message-between-the-lines of the sound of altered or exact repeats? Which way gets you the response you want? Pick that one.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. Please add your thoughts in the comments below this post.

AND... please let me know if you find the audio version helpful.  All Things Vocal podcast is now also available on iTunes!

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

How Fast Can You Sing? (So 50 Gazillion Lyrics Walked Into a Bar...)


These days the song lyric count per bar norm is - more often than not - as many as one can possibly fit in. You'd think songwriters were being paid by the word! (not.) And that's cool; some of these lyrical tomes are skillfully crafted and are great fun. However, ALL lyrics need to be singable and understandable to grab the heart's attention. The cornerstones to singing word-count-intensive songs are:
  • tempo 
  • key
  • and articulation. 

TEMPO

For this cornerstone, here's a refrigerator magnet I'd like to give out:
Never sing faster than your words can fly - or slower than your breath can control!
When you sing too fast, you sabotage...
  • your breath (you don't have time to take one and your ribs don't expand enough to control one),
  • your throat (your jaw and tongue will tighten, your eye language will freeze, your neck will stiffen and head probably will drift forward) 
  • your performance (the lines will form run-on sentences with few dynamic and communicative nuances)
When you sing too slow, you sabotage...
  • your breath (you run out of it, your ribs can't maintain width enough to control it),
  • your throat (you can open it but then find it hard to keep it from collapsing), 
  • your performance (you are too concerned with your uncontrolled voice to be present with the message, and can't pump up enough energy to create magic).
Recognize our three stranded cord of Power, Path and Performance? Sing too fast or too slow and it will be difficult to do vocal licks, high and low notes, not to mention actually articulate the lyrics!

KEY

The key you choose for any song will determine your ability to sing it richly without your throat strain or their ear strain. For rapid-fire lyric songs, the sweet spot of best key simply must be found. More on finding your keys at this blogpost

ARTICULATION

This cornerstone should really be considered at the songwriting session. One great reason songwriters need to know how to sing is to test-drive lyrics! There are certain vowel sounds that are harder than others to form and hold out. Ee's & oo's can be especially pesky: If a word such as 'Weeeeeeeee...' or 'Youuuuuuu....' are formed with tight jaw and lips, tension will set in that feels and sounds terrible.

Voiced consonants, especially 'n', ng', 'r' tend to tighten the base of the tongue, resulting in the strangled feeling/sound. If a singer knows how, they can use a slight chewing circle to keep these vowels open in the back and consonants formed more forward in the mouth.

Also, some words don't butt up against other words well. Save the 'tongue tanglers' for vocal exercises! Dear songwriters: If the words don't feel good coming out of your (or your singer's) mouth on the melody, there's almost always singable ones you can substitute that are just as strong!

WHY DO WE SING TOO SLOW?

Sometimes, especially if the singer is the songwriter, during the creation of melody and lyric you write the song slower than you eventually need to sing it. And sometimes you are accommodating a musician or track, which is not necessarily moving at the speed your voice works best for that song.

WHY DO WE SING TOO FAST?

To keep up with the track/guitar/piano player - or the click track someone else set! OK so anyone see the ridiculousness of this? YES you want energy in this uptempo word art. BUT two clicks of difference in beats-per-minute (bpm) can spell the difference between 'wow' and 'ouch' !  And... different people have different inner tempo comfort levels. Just because one person sings a song at a particular tempo doesn't mean it's the best tempo for YOUR voice. 

HOW TO CHOOSE TEMPOS:

Experiment! Try singing a song at one tempo. Then change it... try it slowed down, then speeded up. Ask yourself: what tempo does it feel the easiest to articulate with energy? After you learn it well, try changing the tempo again. Get a qualified outside ear to give you a second opinion. 

If you record new tracks to this song, figure out a best guess at tempo in pre-production before the session. Then be prepared to change the tempo according to how the new track makes you want to sing. Sometimes the sheer energy of different instrumentation will create an energy in you that makes you want to sing faster. OR NOT: don't hesitate to ask that it be slowed down if you're having trouble with articulation, vocal licks or high notes.

STEADY AS SHE GOES

And one last VERY important tip: If you play guitar or piano and sing acoustically, PRACTICE WITH A STEADY BEAT via metronome, click track or instrumental track with drums! Far too often, I hear people playing at the tempo their fingers want to, speeding up through choruses and making it just about impossible to sing the lyrics clearly and passionately. And playing with a drummer? Forget about it. Take my advice: Choose the right tempo, and practice to a steady beat at that tempo.

Your thoughts are most welcome!

Labels: , , , , ,

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Twin Sins of Powering The Voice: Too Little, Too Much

Balance

Through all my years of singing, speaking and coaching others, I've come to appreciate a basic vocal fact:
Vocal cords love to be buzzed... but they hate to be blown. (- yours truly)
This is why the breath we send to and through them MUST be balanced... both supported and controlled. It's a complicated process because the act of singing is an active phenomenon. Breath is moving (supporting the voice), but the ribcage housing the lungs needs to stay wide to keep the diaphragm stretched enough to control the precise volume of air getting through (controlling the voice). When we get it right, we aren't aware of any feeling in the vocal cords at all, even when they generate big sound waves.

I just read an interesting article by Ohio State University professor of voice Scott McCoy. The article is titled "The Energy Crisis". The gist is that singers are being encouraged to be too cautious with their vocal power, in order to protect the apparatus. I always enjoy his brilliant writing on vocal issues. But I'd like to take this opportunity to offer a balance check.

Yes, I do know there are vocal coaches who encourage vocalists to 'relax completely... let go of all tension... just allow the voice the freedom to float out, etc.' The problem with this is that, as Scott so aptly noted, there must be tension somewhere to power the voice or there is too little for effective singing or speaking. To quote him in the article:
It takes a lot of energy to sing well, both physically and mentally. The body must be engaged muscularly and with sufficient effort to generate the pulmonary pressures required to sustain phonation. -Scott McCoy, NATS Journal of Singing Vol 71 No. 5.
Absolutely. I teach that this tension needs to happen...
  • physically at the pelvic floor, like riding a horse downhill, and 
  • mentally from the desire to communicate a message to someone.
However, I find that the more common problem in the passionate contemporary voices I work with is the opposite: Too MUCH power. If that tension is allowed to creep up to inappropriate places... high abs, chest, shoulders, neck, jaw, upper cheeks... the sound quality and the health of the voice is negatively affected. That's why so many great professional singers in my city are ending up in trouble at Vanderbilt Voice Clinic!

As is true in so many things, the secret to powering a great voice is ... Balance. The greatest, wisest voices make it a magic trick: They look and sound so powerful it seems they are holding NOTHING back, but their voice feels even better after the performance- vocal cords are energized gaining even more stamina but are never trashed. This is the 'pull' technique of Power, Path and Performance training.

What about you? Are you powering your voice too little, too much or just right? Hit me up if you need some help.

Labels: , , , ,