Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog: November 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.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

My Voice's Gratitude List

It's really a LOT longer ... 
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As Thanksgiving approaches this year, I am reminded of a thousand blessings that keep me in a state of gratitude. In keeping with All Things Vocal, here's a sampling of what's on my voice's gratitude list:

  • Knowing that vocal damage can completely heal 

I know this from personal experience, and as vocal coach that experience has helped me help others. But now we have a fresh example, as Adele rockets back to the studio and stage with her biggest success yet the album '25' with breakout single "Hello". She reports in a recent interview that she - after healing from vocal hemorrhage and polyp, requiring actual vocal surgery - can now sing higher and lower than ever before!

  • Not having grown up with auto tune

I had to learn how to be precise from sheer technique... and now it helps me teach others vocal control.

  • Conversations with other curious vocal coaches

I have had fantastic conversations, in person and online with coaches including Jeffrey Allen, Jeannie Deva, Jamie Vendera, Robert Lunte, Lisa Popeil, Joana Cazden, Richard Fink IV and many others. We may not see things the same way, but the conversations have all made me a better and more confident teacher. Pete Mickelson and Ray Miller talked me into trying my first pair of 'HearFones'. Mr. Allen granted me permission to use his hook shaped voice path in my teaching, and Ms Cazden suggested improvements to my vocal health document. I love sharing information as a member of NATS, or National Association of Teachers of Singing, and the Modern Vocalist World. I'm truly grateful when a teacher or other voice expert comments on a subject I cover in this blog.

  • Great voices and music creators

Without the inspiration of incredibly talented singers, writers and musicians, my voice would be just a collection of various noises. My singing and speaking are influenced by decades of other voices, from multiple genres and eras of music. 

  • My vocal coach, Gerald Arthur 

When I moved to Nashville, I found that Gerald was the coach for the top studio session singers I worked with. I got in to see him, and he fit me into one of his 8:30am 1/2 hour spots, which helped get singers ready for 10am sessions. The first thing he told me was to stop 'guarding'. Many of you have received that instruction from me; well that's where it came from. Gerald not only helped me get my damaged voice back and then some, he also taught me how to teach. He showed me that the voice is a deep part of the psyche, and that a vocal coach often becomes part counselor or life coach. I can't imagine teaching someone without loving and caring about them. Gerald gave me that blueprint.

  • The gift of insight and intuition.

I'm just not that smart. But I know that if we are open, useful wisdom is somehow channeled to all of us us from the ultimate source of all wisdom. I'm so grateful to God for taking all I've done in my career, adding other illumination and creating in me the ability to teaching voice. I had no idea how fulfilling it would be for me to help nurture other voices. Now it blows my mind.

  • Every vocal student I've ever had 

...especially the ones with toughest, peskiest problems. Your patience and your dedication to your training has led to breakthroughs and of course, to solutions for the next student who comes in with that issue. I love you for trusting me with your precious voices!

  •  My husband John 

John makes people feel welcome in our house, enjoying a chat as they wait in the living room for me to finish up with a lesson. He also helps me to remember to power down at the end of the day, and gives me a great reason to:)  Also, John chose to join with me to create and perform our new album "Here We Are". There aren't enough words for what that album means to us both!

  • Listeners

My poor mother STILL listens to me when I tell her my dreams. My sweet brother, husband and son STILL listens to me sing. Thank goodness people not only have voices, but also ears! I'm so grateful for everyone who has ever come to one of my shows or presentation. I love listening to you, too, especially as your voices bloom freely open. If no one is there, how can a gift be given?

  • Friendship, trust and support

My first vocal training office was in my brother's house, the second in the basement of my friend, singer Jennifer O'Brien. They welcomed my vocal students into their homes. I began creating my first Power, Path & Performance course at the request of producer/friend Dick McVey, who suggested I create and record some vocal exercises for people. Now PCG artist development company founder and friend Bernard Porter has commissioned a video course that will be published by his company. People like this have driven me to do things I'd never have otherwise done. The support of my close community of family and friends is priceless to all parts of me... including my voice. 

  • Pineapple juice

I had no idea when I poured a little can of pineapple juice into that 13 oz glass of water that it would go on to be my best recommendation for dry or irritated throats! I rarely leave home to sing without it. Oh... and coffee. Without my morning Folgers, my voice would still be staring at the alphabet rather than stringing it together into sentences:)

  • The transpose button

Thank you, thank you thank you, whoever invented the transpose button on my keyboard! That way my students and I can sing in the key of B, but I can play it in Bb or C!

  • YOU

I am very grateful for you, dear reader and supporter of 'All Things Vocal'. You are the reason I do this. If you have a suggestion for this blog or podcast to make it of more value to you please let me know.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving... 
thanks for letting me be a part of your vocal village - xo Judy

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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Vowel Shapes and Lengths for Contemporary Singing

Unlike rocks, contemporary vowels need to be elastic... to morph!

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Many things define and separate musical genre styles. For instance, the type and frequency of vocal embellishments (licks), rhythm choices such as letting lines lag behind the beat or singing right with the beat, using a chest-heavy mixed voice for notes another genre would more likely place in head register. Today's topic is one of the most important genre definers ...the shape and length of the vowels.

If you have ever been a member of a good formal choir, you'll probably have been directed to hold your vowels open - right up to the beginning of the next word, separated very briefly by the consonants. You'd also have probably been told to pronounce your vowels in consistently 'tall' shapes. When singing with groups, it's important for all members to make the same exact articulation choices like this. You'll also find classical and some musical theater singers using these long lengths and tall shapes.

I have found that many singers with choir experience and/or classical training forget to transition vowel shapes and sustain lengths when singing solos in contemporary or  popular music genre styles. Popular and formal genre vowels contrast significantly and detract and sound unnatural if confused with each other. It helps to think of them as different languages to trigger the appropriate vowel shape and length.

Of course if you literally do speak another language than the song is written in, you may need to learn to form unfamiliar vowel shapes. I have a student in Italy who is learning to pronounce the word 'emotion' as ee-moh-ch'n'  instead of 'ee-moh-shoun' in order to sing the Dire Straits song 'Walk Of Life' in English.

Morphing Vowel Shape

More formally known as 'vowel modification' I like to think of this vocal shape-shifting as vowel 'morphing'. This is, to me, one of the vital goals of vocal exercises... to get your your mouth and throat channel flexible! No matter what genre you sing in... your voice wants access to movement!

Why? When your articulation is frozen, the jaw and soft palate more or less the same for all vowels...
  • it doesn't sound very conversational or communicative. Popular styles call for more natural shape-shifting such as lazier forming of diphthongs.
  • certain vowels, especially ees and oos, can get very tight when not allowed to open and morph a bit more vertically.
  • your upper and lower range is harder to reach. 
  • you can strain your voice trying to keep vowel shapes the same on pitches where that shape doesn't fit  - much like the square peg round hole situation!
How? Morphing vowels involves
  • active eye language 
  • active jaw movement
  • a feeling of pulling articulation open and free

Shortening Vowel Length

Popular singing, also known as contemporary commercial music (CCM) singing, requires more conversationally intuitive choices for lengths of time you hold, or sustain, vowels.

Why?

Holding vowels out too long in phrases can sound like you're using the wrong language for the genre. In many cases, it's helpful to just articulate it and be done with it. Sometimes you do hold a note out, but not EVERY TIME.

How do you choose how long to sustain a note?
  • Dedicate a lot of time to focused listening and miming with the masters of the genre you want to sing. 
  • Get a coach, director, producer, musician or other informed ear to listen to you and give you honest feedback: Are you holding vowels too long or cutting them too short? Does it sound too formal? Does it sound natural, emotional and just right?
  • Record yourself singing, listen back and ask yourself the same questions.
  • There are no hard and fast rules, there is just a sense that the vowel length sounds and feels right. It's an art, not a science.
Remember that no matter what you sing, you should never have to strain your voice to accommodate a style.  A little morphing of vowel shape is a great tension reliever for choir and even classical singing. Contemporary voice just needs a greater freedom and communicative variety of morphing and lengthening vowels.

You might also want to read my post "5 differences between contemporary and classical singing" as well as watch this video vocal lesson:


If you'd like more help with vowels or any other vocal issue, contact me for a lesson in office or by Skype, or get a course in Power Path and Performance vocal training, available at my website.

Your comments, and any review you could leave at iTunes for my podcast, are most welcome!

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