Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog

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, September 15, 2018

How Dissonance Moves Music, Voice and Life Forward

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..wait, that's not right!...

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Available also on iTunes , Google PlayTuneIn Radio, Android apps

Dissonance. Sounds bad, right? Like when we sing a harmony note that's not in the chord, or press an elbow into the piano, or play two scales exactly a half step apart at the same time. It just sounds wrong! But used well, dissonance also has the power to move us! Bear with me, this is a vocal lesson - you'll understand as we go.

First... What is dissonance?

Two definitions, according to an online dictionary:
  1. A lack of harmony between musical notes
  2. A tension or clash resulting from the combination of two disharmonious or unsuitable elements. 
Dissonance can be present from the micro to the macro - from intracellular activity of stress and illness to societal disfunction and war. It can be both disturbing and powerful when present in music, alarming and strategic when present in the voice. Let me tell you the story that got me thinking about this.

A Dissonant Symphony

My husband John, son Peter and I went to hear our truly outstanding Nashville Symphony on this season's opening night at the Schermerhorn. John was formerly a percussionist in the Memphis Symphony and Peter thought it was high time we three attended together, to see an orchestra at work and see what his father used to do. We thought we were going to hear Brahms. But before that  gorgous concerto, we were treated to a a mind-blowing work by contemporary composer John Corigliano - his Symphony No.1. Hear the He has won 4 Grammys, a Pulizer Prize and an Oscar Award, and serves on the composition faculty at Julliard. Corgliano and our 6-time Grammy winning conductor Giancarlo Guerrero met the audience in a conference room for 'Conversations' where they introduced themselves and told the stories behind the music the orchestra was about to play.

John Corgliano's symphony was about rage, remembrance, sadness and finally, closure for the lives of the victims of AIDS, including three of his musician friends who had died of it back in the 80's when it was first diagnosed. To really 'go there', Mr. Coriglano used some unique staging and instrumental choices... for instance, the very busy percussion section was in front of the brass. The horns were split at both sides of the stage instead of together; there were two timpani; and for one section, the violins used mandolin picks instead of bows! Dementia is one of the ways AIDS tortures its victims. Periodically, a piano located off stage where we couldn't see it could be faintly heard as a pianist played an old tune in such a way to depict memories that would fade, reappear, then fade again - all while the orchestra continued to play.

Throughout the work, there were sounds of sudden percussion bursts, chords dissolving like melting wax, and oh my there was DISSONANCE! From time to time it seemed like some sections would play in one key and some in another... and there was purposeful unsynching of rhythm. Overall the effect was so incredibly emotional. The composer and conductor had warned us there would be an orchestral 'primal scream'... and they did not disappoint! You could feel the rage, sadness and insanity. We would have loved to have seen the score! Finally as the music simplified, you felt it come together like waves of the ocean in eternal release.

After the well-earned extended standing ovation, I mentioned to my son Peter how very much I loved hearing the dissonance in that work, how refreshing it was to my ears. He said something I'll never forget... he read in a book called 'Sapiens' that
... dissonance moves you forward.
I was instantly struck by that phrase. Googling it, I read many sites which talked about cognitive dissonance, and the need to resolve it for happiness and mental/psychological health.

Isn't dissonance what we fear? Is it not cousin to chaos; doesn't it conjure up the frustrating moments of 'this-does-not-compute'? Yes, but the very discomfort and tension of dissonance makes you want to resolve it! If you let it, it can move you forward.

Dissonance in music

  • The musical genres that most influence my own songs and style include singer/songwriter (ala James Taylor/Carol King), r&b, bluegrass, traditional country, rock and classical art songs. I know, I'm a musical mutt! However, I have always loved the ear-cleansing dissonant music of Bela Bartok such as his 'Suite For Piano'. (No, I can't play that now!) It feels like fresh cold water on my musical imagination and frees me to be more creative in any genre... it even inspires creativity in my teaching! 
  • The most interesting atonal music requires great skill, and has a math logic to it! Like great expressionist painting, at first sight (or listen) great atonal music can seem to be completely chaotic with no order. However, as per former classical radio host Bob Weir's explanation, totally random dissonance is not as interesting as structured dissonance. 12-tone music is explored in this delightful though hyper-speeding video by the artist known as Viheart
  • Dissonant chords or melodic/harmony pairings that move or resolve to harmonious chords and harmony choices create emotional strength. Think the 1/2 step saw-like movement of the 5ths in the theme for the movie Jaws. There's a funny story (I'm sure it's not true) about how Beethoven's mom used to play a 5⁷ chord to wake her sleeping son, who couldn't stand it until he got up, went to the piano and played the 1 chord (tonic) resolution! Listen to this video of only dissonant music and tell me you it doesn't move your imagination towards a nice triad at the end... 

  • Sometimes, as in the above piece, the music never resolves. It can suggest moving forward, and let that happen in your imagination, your intention, or the next song. It's a good factor to take inconsideration when creating set lists for your gigs, or song sequencing for your recording projects.
  • Strong lyric writing in any genre often paints a problem situation and then moves the listener to resolve it. One of my rock students and I discussed dissonance of the lyrics of Pierce The Veil's 'Low On Gas and You Need A Jacket'. They are full of rage, many lines make no sense at face value. She said these kind of lyrics move you to stop accepting things the way they are. After listening to the Sara Bareilles song She Used To Be Mine about the dissonance between who you've become and what you wanted to be, it seems to me you would firmly resolve to find your authentic way again. In Jennifer Nettles song Stay, the truly dissonant situation of being involved with someone in relationship with another makes the lyrics lead to the phrase 'I don't have to live this way', and powers the will to let go and move forward.
  • Great producers can use dissonance to help new talent create their unique artistic definition. Instead of just recording the songs the singer is familiar with, the producer will take the budding artist through a period of exploration, pushing the person's envelop vocally, lyrically and musically. Wildly going to outer edges of the person's musical boundaries creates a dissonance that will eventually resolve into a unique meld of music that best expresses the artist's heart, vocal talent and life experience, and best focuses the career direction of the artist.
  • You look at the landscape of the music business and see how things are not working the way they used to... profit is not created the same way and music makers are struggling to find streams of income that they can live on. It's so unfair that creators are stolen from every day in every way. The dissonance must lead to creative solutions as the music industry continues to morph its successful business models. You can get stuck and give up, or show up to learn what is different, what is working, and how to creatively structure your own music business model which won't break your bank. 

Dissonance in Voice

  • Because dissonance creates the desire for movement, it can be of great use in vocal training. I always say 'the voice wants access to movement'. When I get my students creating free jaw, eye and soft palate movements it frees the voice to move in more nuanced, human ways. This releases tension in the areas that has kept the student's voice stuck. Also, controlled dissonance can be great for hearing and singing with pitch precision. One of my more advanced pitch exercises is to have a student sing exactly 1/2 step sharp or flat to a melody or scale I play for them. It's quite the challenge even to the expert ear!
  • In fact, vocal problems create dissonance. You need to be confidently delivering messages, but your throat hurts when you sing or speak, you develop pitch problems or range limitations, or your speaking engagements are wearing you out. Enough vocal dissonance will move you forward to learn new technique and resolve your issues for your vocal health and career.
  • You are singing a song with great vocal technique, but it's boring. It's a strange dissonance that is asking for MORE dissonance to be able to move you and your listeners. This kind of dissonance asks you to consider some things that may be outside your comfort zone. You can try a moment of 'dropping technique', dropping your breath support, letting your throat channel tighten, using gravel or other stylistic tactic. Then re-apply your technique and resolve the grit into open vocal tone and control for an emotional delivery that can really takes the audience for a thrill ride. I heard Bruce Hornsby do just that recently. One of my students (John Mailander) is in his band, so I went to see them in Nashville. He came out singing like a bird after a short section where he was scratch-talk-singing, like he had vocal trouble. Turns out he was just using dissonance to move the heart of the listener forward!

Dissonance in life

  • Your physical body can be affected by dissonance, too. You eat something that your gut does not recognize or wish to tolerate. Your body resolves the issue with some sudden elimination, and you then can either keep your diet the same, or resolve not to eat that again!
  • Relationships can be dissonant. You have a fight with a friend or loved one. Everything inside you wishes to resolve the conflict until peace and relationship is restored. 
  • Cognitive dissonance can create spiritual and ethical issues. You claim a certain faith or political orientation, but you don't live your day to day life according to the values your faith or politics espouse. Your cognitive dissonance will make you feel numb, fake, fearful of being exposed and unable to be true to yourself or to others. You can never fully experience personal happiness, contentment and peace ... nor the ability to trust others, until your faith and your actions are in harmony with each other. You can stay stuck or move forward.
  • History is chock full of dissonance, its consequences, and its resolutions. I can only imagine the degree of dissonance in society that lead up to ratification of the Women't Right to Vote and the Civil Rights Act. South Africa's Nelson Mandela chose to take the dissonance of apartheid and move to the resolution of reconciliation.
Dissonance can move us forward. The alternative is getting stuck in chaos. 

One soul's dissonance is another soul's awakening. The deeper reason I wanted to dive into dissonance is that I feel there is a frightening degree of it in the world right now, and it is tempting to buy into a frozen hopelessness. It's a fine line we walk between sticking our heads in the sand and becoming overwhelmed. I invite you to use the energy of dissonance to make our music, to sound our voices in song and speech, to join the heart of God to change the world for the better as we are moved to do so.

Last example

On my podcast you will hear an ending of one of the sections of a composition written by my husband, John. I hope his last chord makes you smile as it does me.

Your homework assignment, should you accept it:

  • Listen to some dissonant music. Whether or not you 'like' it, ask yourself how it affects you. Does it disturb, energize or otherwise move you?
  • Google the term 'cognitive dissonance' and explore that concept.
  • List where in your music, voice or life you are experiencing dissonance. How can it move you forward? 
There is so much more to be said on the subject of dissonance. I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

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Thursday, August 2, 2018

Interview With Rick Barker - Part 2

Rick Barker

NOTE: The audio player should appear below, if not, please click on the title of this post and go online to hear. 
Available also on iTunes , Google PlayTuneIn Radio, Android apps

Here is part 2 of my interview with music marketing guru Rick Barker. If you haven't heard it yet, listen to part 1 of our interview first.

Some music marketing strategies we got into in part 2:

  • When an artist is ready for a good manager and booking agent... why you need to be making enough money to make it win-win to get quality people on your team.
  • Educating yourself to get to that point.
  • How to protect yourself from bitterness and self-pity which stops your progress.
  • The strategy of re-thinking major labels and using them as joint ventures.
  • The singles game.
  • Building your own buzz.
  • How to create fan engagement on social media (great tactics)
  • Why Rick says it's crazy to spend a ton of indie money on Billboard radio station promotion.
  • We chat about Spotify, Soundcloud.
  • How to earn people's attention instead of turn them off on social networks.
  • Rick's book and courses that help artists create successful careers.
For more information and to download his free book, go to www.RickBarker.com . Please tell him I sent ya!

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Thursday, July 26, 2018

Interview With Music Biz Mastermind Rick Barker - Part 1

Rick Barker

NOTE: The audio player should appear below, if not, please click on the title of this post and go online to hear. 
 Available also on iTunes , Google PlayTuneIn Radio, Android apps

  
Rick Barker teaches artists how to be artists. These days, that involves not only making great music but also getting great at doing business. He has a truly incredible string of successes in the industry, including former manager of Taylor Swift, Social Media Mentor to finalists on American Idol (he now manages Season 15 Idol winner Trent Harmon), he's been private consultant for Big Machine Record Label Group and Live Nation.

Scott Borchetta, who ironically was my former record promoter under Bruce Shindler for MTM Records, hired Rick Barker as his first record promoter for Big Machine. Later, when Rick founded his own marketing and consulting firm, his first client was Sony Music Nashville. His marketing tactics have been featured in Billboard Magazine among others. He is the author of the e-book '$150,000 Music Degree', the course 'Social Media For Music' and the mastermind behind 'Music Industry Blueprint'. As you can see on his website at www.RickBarker.com, he is also extremely generous with his free resources, and hosts his own podcast.

We've worked with the same people from time to time. and have become friends these recent years.. His personal story of living and growing as a human being commands a ton of respect on all levels.. I trust him, and what's more, dear voices, you can take his advice to the bank. Our chat contains too much info for one episode, so I split it into two. Listen to the All Things Vocal Podcast episode audio link above (or on whatever app you listen to podcasts) for part 1 of our interview.

Some of the things we covered:

  • How Taylor Swift got him interested in her artist career; Rick's work with Big Machine.
  • Artist development includes communication skills.
  • Rick's view of the importance of vocal health and vocal training for successful careers.
  • The mindshift necessary... from hobbyist to serious artist.
  • Rick's strategy of interaction for music business success... how musicians, songwriters, vocalists, social media masters can engage and help each other.
  • The mistake of not registering your music. There is now $1.6 billion of unclaimed music royalties.
  • Steps to take for studying and developing multiple streams of monetary transactions.
  • Smart places to prioritize and invest your money in your career.
  • The importance of processing mechanical and sync licenses.
  • What major labels are looking for, what they are good and bad at doing. 360 deals.
  • How money flows to artists and labels. How to create a win-win.
  • TV talent shows and specific strategic steps you can take to make them work for you.
  • The importance of songwriting... 
  • We discussed pop artist icon Mat Kearney and new country artist Preston James
  • The importance of patience and not rushing the process.
....and much more.

Find Rick at www.RickBarker.com. You'll see his social networking links there as well.
Find part 2 of our interview here .

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Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Top 10 Vocal Issues a Vocal Coach Should Fix


'I can fix ya...' 
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Available also on iTunes , Google PlayTuneIn Radio, Android apps
We put so much responsibility on those two little bands of tissue in the middle of our necks! When they don't do what we need them to do, we can either try to beat (push) them into submission or ... get some expert help! So... what can a vocal coach really do?

Well... A vocal coach worth their salt can of course help a student develop into their full vocal potential. But they can also help a speaker or singer conquer pesky vocal issues that come from bad habits, stressful career situations and harmful vocal mis-information. There are many things that can limit your voice, most are quickly fixable. Here's a list of vocal issues that you should expect to conquer when you work with a good vocal coach:

1. Vocal Strain

This cuts to the core of vocal ability. Vocal strain has cut many a star singer or speaker's career short due to the irritation and eventual damage that comes from repeatedly straining the voice. The first thing a good vocal coach should do is assess what is causing the strain. Then a corrective technique should be taught to counter whatever faulty habit, belief or fear - or combination thereof - is found. Almost always, breath control must be increased. Often, the throat is tight, too. If the student still feels vocal strain even when applying the technique change, the coach should suggest that an ENT (fellowship trained if possible) be consulted. In extreme cases vocal rest may be necessary, but only for a limited time. New vocal technique needs to be practiced into muscle memory as soon as possible to get the vocal apparatus stronger, more flexible and more coordinated in its many fine adjustments.

CAUTION... please know that a good vocal exercise correctly performed will NEVER strain your voice! If it does... it's either a bad exercise or you are doing it wrong... so don't do it!!

2. Limited Vocal Range

Most singers can sing higher and lower than they think... they just don't know how to get their voice into the best frequency resonance placement zones for extremes of their range. A coach should again watch the student sing and assess the reason(s) for the range limitation(s). For popular genres, training for higher notes almost always involves developing a better 'mix' of registers in the middle voice - specifically getting head voice register 'helping' chest voice lighten up as it goes up, so the singer can sing higher in full voice without straining, then seamlessly transition to head voice.  Low notes can also be instantly more reachable and rich with corrective techniques that let the larynx settle but don't lower the larynx too much which causes dark hootiness down there. And as a bonus... extending the low range can also release freedom in the higher range, too - but only if good technique is used.

3. Weak Voice

The voice can be strengthened in many ways. It's a huge and completely unnecessary mistake to try to get a stronger voice by pushing it in a way that leads to vocal strain! A good vocal coach will help you increase your vocal volume by teaching you to power your breath with a feeling of compression centered in the pelvic floor, by opening the throat so laryngeal vibration has access to all resonation zones, and by clarifying communicative focus. You can create a very powerful response to even soft verses with hushed intensity if you know how!

4. Numb or Emotionally Disconnected Performance

Even a technically great performance is quite useless unless it is in the service of communicating a message. A good vocal coach will not just teach technique, they will teach the singer or speaker how to choose the 'point of the spear', using the voice to deliver a message so compelling it gets a response. Once again, the core cause(s) of performance numbness or disconnection must be assessed. Correcting mental focus... learning to think in such a way that the voice knows it's job... can breathe life instantly into a deadened voice - no matter how distracting or fear-provoking the performance situation is! A good coach should show you how to go there.

5. Chronic laryngitis from vocal abuse

Laryngitis, for any serious voice, is not to be ignored. If the cause is viral or bacterial upper respiratory infection or other organic disease or condition, the cause should be assessed and treated by a physician. If, on the other hand, any degree of laryngitis is from over-blowing vocal cords, tightening the throat channel, tongue base and/or muscles in the neck, articulating from the wrong place in your mouth, or any other terrible vocal habit, a good vocal lesson can change your life. You should, by the end of the lesson, find immediate improvement in the feeling and sound of your voice. Then you need to learn how to create new habits of your corrected techniques. You may need more than one lesson to be sure you're practicing correctly, to create consistent new muscle memory for speaking and singing.

6. Unwanted Voice Cracks

Never yodel unless you mean to! Yodeling can be great fun... one of my students, Taylor Ware, won America's Got Talent with yodeling which she taught herself. Later, however, she came to me to help her mix her voice and NOT yodel for other kinds of singing she wanted to do. If you perform yodeling songs or use a crack or cry strategically here and there for stylized emotional effect when you sing, that's one thing. But unwanted voice breaks, surprise note cracks, big differences in the sound of upper chest and lower head voice, and straining when you sing full voice in your upper chest register are another. They are all evidence of a lack of mix in your middle voice. Good vocal coaching will help you change this by teaching you to approach your middle voice range with better breath control, and with subtle movements that allows different pitches to find their 'sweet spots' in your resonation zones, instead of being made to go where they don't want to go. (Trust me, they will complain!)

7. Lack of Vocal Control

You must be able to control your voice to allow the fine movements necessary for precision pitch, even rhythm, smooth vocal licks and volume levels that are not extreme even when dynamics change and notes in the extremes of your range are sung. Control of your voice also enables you to make more nuanced choices in vocal tone colors, articulation, scoops and other stylistic choices. These nuances enable you to communicate more powerfully. because they are more 'human' sounding. A good vocal coach will help improve all of these things - mainly by improving the balance between your breath support/control. When you get breath right, your vocal apparatus is able to operate with much more efficiency and effectiveness.

8. Pitch Inaccuracy

Being able to sing in tune is, as mentioned above, heavily dependent on good breath technique. It is also of course dependent on the ability of your ears, brain and vocal cords to coordinate in the act of aiming at pitch. A good coach will give you exercises for pitch practice to educate and coordinate your neural pathways from ear to brain to vocal apparatus. Be assured, I've witnessed it - even people who believe or have been told they are 'tone deaf' can almost always learn to aim at pitch if they are willing to work at it.

Because you will need to practice your aim on your own a lot, a good coach needs to make sure you know how to do the suggested routines. This can involve showing you notes on the real or virtual piano or guitar to use in your practice, and if you can't tell if you're on the note or not, brainstorming who you know with a good ear that would be willing to assess your aim between lessons. For those who hear it but can't hit it, your coach should be very specific about HOW you practice corrective techniques to free your voice to move more precisely.

9. Style Concerns

I think of genres of music as languages. Many things are involved in differentiating these languages, including where the rhythm falls in relation to the pocket, articulation clarity, typical vocal licks or the lack thereof, types and usages of vibrato, scoops and slurs or the lack thereof,  throat configurations creating vocal tone choices. If you sing a type of song with the wrong style language, it will not translate the message very well to the listeners of that genre. If you want to improve your ability to sing in a particular style, make sure the vocal coach you are considering is familiar with and teaches that style. A good teacher will be able to help you transition from one style of singing to another... and back again for songs you want to sing in your former genre. Don't be afraid to learn different languages. Just make sure you're using the right one for the right song!

10. Lack of Warmup

Not warming up before any significant vocal performance is like a serious athlete not warming up before the game. Crazy. There are different ways to warm up your voice, and the benefits of doing so include both sounding better and protecting your instrument. A good vocal coach will teach you not only vocal exercises but more importantly, how to DO them properly!! Please know this: At no time should a properly executed vocal exercise cause you vocal strain! If it does, don't do it... it's either a bad exercise or you you're not doing it right. You should also be encouraged to cool down your voice, too.

BONUS (aahhh... I couldn't stop at 10!):

11. Mysterious vocal issues

There are many other vocal limitations that vocal training with a good coach can address and conquer. But most are offshoots of breath, open throat or performance focus mistakes. But some can come from other physical or neurological issues.

  • Strange 'h' breaks in your singing? It can be caused by a lack of breath control or a hidden condition of acid reflux. 
  • Articulation sluggishness? It can come from the habit of forming syllables with a tight jaw and tongue or a stroke. 
  • Inability to sustain tone evenly? It's almost always a breath balance issue, but can come from fear-caused tightness in the chest and diaphragm. 
  • A strange catch, uncontrolled or irregular vibrato in your voice combined with shortened vocal range? It could be a combination of breath and tight throat conditions or a neurological isssue - anything from Muscle Tension Dysphonia to Spasmodic Dysphonia or a partially or fully paralyzed vocal cord. 
  • Breath doesn't last long enough for phrases? Could be a bad phrasing strategy, bad strategy limiting inhales or COPD or other lung disorder. 
  • Chronic breathiness? It can be a false assumption about necessary air flow, swollen vocal cords from abuse or cancer.

The main thing to know is that a mysterious vocal issue is NOT OK. The cause(s) MUST be discovered. Any mystery a good vocal coach can't make better immediately should be investigated by a doctor... a fellowship trained ENT if possible. Then, with good advice, you can know the best plan of attack for the issue.

Your team of expert help should include an intuitive vocal coach. It may also need to include a doctor, chiropractor, masseuse, nutritionist and/or psychologist! Don't put up with vocal issues. Get the help you need for your precious voice. You only get one!

Help me help you:

My desire is that this blog and podcast is truly helpful even if you can't afford to ever study with me. To help me help you, consider sharing the post with someone else that could benefit, or leave a review where you listen to the podcast.

To go farther, check out my vocal training products and lessons. Thanks for being part of the All Things Vocal village!

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Tuesday, June 5, 2018

How To Get More Feeling In Your Singing

Express yourself!
NOTE: The audio player should appear below, if not, please click on the title of this post and go online to hear. 


Available also on iTunes , Google PlayTuneIn Radio, Android apps
Singing without feeling is like coloring without crayons. Your performance is similarly invisible. The response, if any, to your performance could best be described as
...meh.
Now, the first step to changing anything is to become aware... of what you're doing, what you want to change, and how to change it. So first lets...

Assess the level of emotional authenticity in your voice


You want feeling in your sound. Is it there? You can listen to playback of a recording, or ask someone whose opinion you value. Don't ask someone who doesn't like your style of music, or that wouldn't know or wouldn't want to hurt your feelings with the truth. Ask a listener that you think should like your type of song, someone who normally would respond to your music if you are delivering emotion. Or ask an expert you trust... a good musician, your studio producer or vocal coach. If you find your voice lacking in color don't worry. There are ways to help bring a numb, lifeless, flat, thin, more or less dead vocal to emotionally authentic life!

Here are 13 suggestions to sing with more feeling:


1. Don't strain for vocal range.
It's hard to abandon yourself to the song you're singing if your high or low notes are straining or unreachable. It's hard to listen to you strain, too! Make sure the key is right for you. Consider changing the melody to eliminate highest or lowest notes. Learn how to sing whatever range you choose with efficient, healthy vocal technique. Even a small tweak to your technique can make a big difference to your strain level.

2. Use the right style for the material.
Singing with authentic feeling requires authentic style language. Some examples:
  • If you hold all the ends of your lines out as you would for choir or musical theater, it will sound inauthentic in more pop styles. 
  • If you scoop, slide and slur around as is normal for r&b, jazz or country on a pop or EDM song, you may turn off listeners in the crisper, more linear musical genre. 
  • To sound authentic within the style, don't sing bluegrass with vibrato. 
  • On the other hand, don't sing traditional country, jazz or r&b without bending something. 
3. Don't over-emote.
Over-emotionalizing your performance is just as bad as under-emotionalizing and will sound fake. And probably too loud! True story: I've seen whole front tables of audience clear out at the first break taken by an over-emoting singer. The unfortunate and rather clueless performer went on to sing even more loudly and emotionally, thinking that was what was missing. The second row of tables then began to clear. 

4. Don't sing a sad song happily.
Make sure you know what message you're delivering, and what emotion that should accompany it. Authenticity should link the lyrical message with any feeling you express.Think how silly it would sound to sing Pharrell Williams song 'Happy' with a mournful frown. Or Bonnie Raitt's song 'I Can't Make You Love Me' with a beauty pagent smile. Ewe. 

5. Don't sing a song you can't relate to.
If you do sing a song about something you haven't experienced, figure out another scenario that you do know where that lyric would work. Many love songs have been written about dogs. Or couches. Whatever works! You could sing a song you don't understand as a vocal exercise, but please... not for performance.

6. Talk the lines out before singing them.
This is a very good way to figure out who you're talking to, where you are, and what you want them to feel.

7. Remember your prime directive: To make THE HEART YOU'RE SINGING TO feel your song!
To do this, ask yourself: Who am I communicating to? What do I want them to know? What would their response look like if I get them to feel what I'm singing? Because in the end, great communication skill is not about what YOU feel anyway - it's what you make the object of your lyric feel!

8. Go into character in the movie scene of of the song as the intro plays.
Use sensory imagination and good acting technique to really zone in... where is this scene you're in? What do you see, what can you smell, hear and taste in the air, what textures can you touch? Go there mentally before you sing the first line.

9. Avoid having someone in the front row or studio control room who distracts you.
If you possibly can, don't let anyone who would distract you within your sensory input area. Or get really good at ignoring them!

10. Emphasize the 'money words' in every line (MAJOR NINJA TECHNIQUE TIP!!!)
  • What words or syll-ables would you emphasize if you were talking the line
  • Re-pull those words or syllables to emphasize them when singing and you'll instantly have more feeling in your voice! Get a lyric sheet and mark the money words. Try singing with emphasis on those words. Record it with your phone if you can, to check out the results.
11. Finish the ends of your lines as if the last word is the most important.
When you don't finish the last of the line,  you leave an incomplete thought dangling! It's one of my pet peeves... it steals the point of the lyric right when you got me interested and I'm waiting for the payoff! You can drop your volume and articulate softly but still articulate the last word like you want it understood.

12. Move your body! 
Frozen body generally delivers frozen voice. To sing in full color, you need to sing from all of you. Loosen up! Dance with your guitar, sway on the piano bench or at the mic stand. Feel the drummer in your hips, express yourself with your hands and eyes.  

13. Be be brave.
As I often say,

...real singing is not for the squeamish. 
You must abandon yourself, your care for what people think, your fear of making odd facial gestures your voice may need, your reticence to share the message in the song fully. You can do all that after you leave the stage or vocal booth... but great courage is required for great performance. 

Side effects from singing with more feeling:

  • You have richer vocal resonance because your voice operates more fully.
  • You'll get great response not only from the heart your lyric is directed to (which is your prime directive), you'll have the 'gravy' of capturing the audience that's listening to you do it. 
  • You'll no doubt experience less vocal fatigue! Not bad side effects. 
  • However you'll also probably notice that you're hungry after you perform, because singing with feeling takes more mental, vocal AND physical energy!

For more help:

It's my intention that this post, like all others in my All Things Vocal blog and podcast, helps you in very real, actionable ways - for free. If you can and want to go farther... my 6 disc vocal training package has a great section on setting yourself up for emotionally compelling performance plus a ton of other lessons. 

Your thoughts- how do you think your voice is expressing itself? 

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Saturday, May 19, 2018

How to Succeed at Life, Love & Songwriting - Interview with Dallas Frazier


Dallas and me after our interview, photo by Sharon Frazier
NOTE: The audio player should appear below, if not, please click on the title of this post and go online to hear.

Available also on iTunes , Google PlayTuneIn Radio, Android apps
Long-lasting success in a music career is uncommon, elusive, and something many of us in the All Things Vocal village would love to have. So I asked Dallas Frazier, who has found deep satisfaction in both his personal and professional life, to talk about his journey with me. Listen to the audio podcast link to hear our interview with his amazing story and tips for navigating our crazy business. You'll understand how honored I am to call this generous, brilliant music maker my friend.

Among things we discussed:

  • His early start in Bakersfield, California, working with Ferlin Husky, signing as an artist with Capital Records at 14 years old, writing his own material. 
  • How he experienced working on TV with a well-rounded 'out of the box' band and learning to love more than one style of music.
  • Marrying Sharon, the love of his life, at 18 years old. They have been together ever since (she was right there on the couch as we talked)
  • How he wrote some of his iconic songs such as Ally Oop. It reached #1 on the charts 58 years ago, and is still played today. Dallas wrote it at the cotton gin where he was working at the time.
  • Making the move with Ferlin to Nashville, and his incredible hit-writing success there. Dallas talks about how he was hungry for success, literally and figurably, and how he and the circle he found dug in to have tons of hits by most of the country artists of the time including Charlie Louvin, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley (cut 5 Dallas songs), Percy Sledge, Connie Smith (cut 71 of Dallas's songs), George Jones, Charlie Pride, Brenda Lee, Charlie Rich. 
  • How Dallas got caught up with alcoholism. Then how he purposefully quit the business to get away from temptations to drink. A year off turned into a 30 year break from the business, and Dallas went to seminary and into Christian ministry as a pastor. He shares his paradigm shifts from alcoholism to over-doing legalism and perfection, and how he has now found balance and a new understanding of God. We discussed this common issue with musicians, and how important it is to know who you are without your music. 
  • He is now writing again. He believes he's writing even better than ever, and his having a lot of joy in the process of trying to write 'for the masters'. We discuss writing for the market as opposed to the heart, and the balance needed there.
  • We finished with Dallas offering some very important insider tips for those who want to become successful songwriters. And I got to thank our mutual friend Ginny Foley, who introduced us some years ago. My deepest gratitude to Ginny, and to Dallas for his friendship and support, as well as this interview for us all!

Dallas Frazier bio highlights:

  • Among his legendary hits: Elvira, Ally Oop, There Goes My Everything, If My Heart Had Windows, All I Have To Offer You Is Me, Beneath Still Waters, Will You Visit Me On Sundays, Fourteen Carat Mind, What's Your Mama's Name, Mohair Sam, The Son of Hickory Hollow's Tramp and tons more.
  • Dallas had lots of songs in the pop charts, he also had some R&B success with songs such as 'Big Mable Murphy' cut by Diana Ross as well as Brook Benton. 
  • In 1994 Keith Richards and George Jones did a duet on Dallas' song 'Say It's Not You'. 
  • 'There Goes My Everything' won CMA's 'Song of the Year' in 1966.
  • 'Elvira' won BMI 'Country Song of the Year' in 1966.
  • Artists who cut Dallas Frazier 'tribute albums' (all songs written by Dallas) include George Jones and Connie Smith.
  • Dallas was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1976
  • Country Music Hall Of Fame honored Dallas by featuring him in their 'Poets & Prophets Salute'.
  • There is a documentary being produced by Brian Oxley, projected to be finished by summer of 2018. I'll update this post with airing details when it lands at a network!

Find Dallas at his website www.DallasFrazierMusic.com

If you need help singing your songs... contact me here. Got a thought about going for long term (instead of short term) success with music? Leave a comment. 

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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Danger of Meek Posture To The Voice

To save his voice, I want to poke this guy in the back.

NOTE: The audio player should appear below, if not, please click on the title of this post and go online to hear. 
Available also on iTunes , Google PlayTuneIn Radio, Android apps
Did you know your voice is vulnerable to your physical stance? Maybe it's time to assess the condition of your backbone when you're communicating. Let's talk!

Human communication is a very complicated & nuanced art, as opposed to the robotic, computer-generated voice. The messages we send are not just defined by the articulation of vowels and consonants, but also by the textures, timbers, shapes, clarity, melodic nature, rhythmic phrasing and volume level of our vocal sound. Our messages are also defined by the body language that accompanies our words, because how our hands, arms, legs, face and spine move significantly affects the sound and the interpretation of what we say and sing!

So we make all kinds of choices when we use our voices, just like actors do, to deliver a message that gets a specific response. When we choose, we take into consideration the nature of the heart to whom we are communicating. For instance, out of kindness and empathy, we may take the posture of weakness, literally slumping and condensing our physical profile so as not to offend or intimidate others. But after you learn what meek posture does to your voice, you may want to re-think your choice of caved-in body language.

Real stories

  • Tall Recording Artist

I was asked to work with a signed recording artist who was about to lose his label deal because of vocal problems. After spending time working with him in vocal lessons as well as attending some of his shows and watching him interact with fans and music industry people, I saw a huge part of his vocal issues. Every time he talked to someone he slumped, crunching in his chest and moving his head forward. When I asked him if interviews and schmoozing events left him vocally tired, he said yes as if asking 'isn't that normal?' I told him it may be normal but it's not necessary, and that we had to get busy and stop his speaking voice from sabotaging his singing voice!

So I poked him in the back, asked him to move his head over his heels and drop his chin. It seemed like he gained 2 inches in height! It was then that he realized he had been shrinking his body so as not to appear condescending or intimidating. And I told him what I've told so many others... that he needed to be all that he is, and that shrinking any part of himself will not help others... it will hurt his ability to bless them with his voice. He began singing better than ever, his producer and label noticed, and his deal was saved.

Tall people should sing and speak at full height, not like they have a premature dowager's hump!

  • Modest Female Singer

When the female gospel singer came into the lesson and I immediately identified her meek posture, the curved back and crunched chest. When she began to sing, the tight, uncontrolled sound I expected came out. By the end of that lesson she was standing at least 1/2 inch taller, breathing better and was overjoyed with her new-found vocal ease, range improvement and pitch control.

I have had many young, adult and elder ladies who try to hide the fullness of their chests in the name of modesty. This always makes me angry at society. It's like wearing an invisible burka to cover your shame. I say if anyone has a problem with you being all that you physically are, it's their problem, not yours! Lead with your heart. That means open your ribcage, and lift all that is on top of it! When you do this, you not only give yourself freedom to breathe and be and sing and speak well, you give this freedom and validation to others who see your example. They and I thank you.

  • Cool and Shy Teenagers

The 14 year old girl came in to her first vocal lesson with me to get ready for an audition. When she began to sing, she assumed the typical cool teen side slump, and the high note had to be pushed out as I would expect in that posture. When I asked her to stand flexibly tall and pull her head back a bit, pulling her voice with her lyrics, she was amazed at how easy those high notes became.

A 15 yr old boy came in with slumped chest like he was having to report to the principal. His voice consisted of pushed chest and weak head voice, separated by the typical adolescent male vocal crack with no mix area. When I straightened his spine out at the wall and had him come from pelvic floor instead of tight ribcage for power he was able to back off his volume, mix his middle voice and get in a clear and higher head voice. It eased his vocal strain so much he started laughing!

Teenagers often take on either a 'cool' posture habit to impress and deal with peer pressure, or a crunched posture from shy self-consciousness normal for this age. That cool side slump is paramount to imitating scoliosis. Those who have a real condition of excessive curvature of the spine will agree with me... this is not posture one should try to imitate. Hips should be same level, not one dropped and one shoulder up. The ensuing ribcage contortion is a terrible posture habit that causes breath limitations as well as unnecessary vocal tension. Shy posture is also detrimental to breath support and control for both singing and talking.

  • Vocally Strained Elderly Singer

A man in his 80s came in wanting to sing better. He had been an amateur singer of popular standards all his life but was having trouble now and missed the joy of using his voice without strain. I was able to pinpoint the core of his limitations pretty quickly - it was his pronounced upper spinal curve. I put him at the wall with a cushion behind his head that was thick enough to encourage him to straighten up, without causing too much discomfort. I asked him to try and sense his power as coming from his pelvic floor instead of the middle of his chest. He was instantly able to sing with more range, control and ease. I then had him walk in the middle of the room and showed him how to use his mic to 'pull' himself tall with his lyrics when he sang.

When he began to practice this way he came in to subsequent lessons with more and more ability. A few years later his wife wrote me that he had died, but that from our lessons he had found his voice again and used it with great joy!

I have also taught people with significant COPD to sing much better by straightening out the upper spine. It doesn't take much breath to sing, if you take it and use it with good technique. Whatever their level of physical health, older people benefit greatly from flexibly tall body language, not only in their singing and speaking voices but also in all the benefits that come from being able to breathe more deeply.

  • Victims of Abuse

I have worked with male and female students of all ages who have been in some way abused or perceive that they are not valued. Emotional, physical or sexual abuse can cause habitual meek posture because it was literally developed as a way to survive. Healing includes not just psychological freedom but also physical unfurling.

Here's what happens when you slump

When you shrink your height, cave in your upper torso or otherwise drop the bottom of your ribs:
  • Your diaphragm, which is attached to the bottom of your ribcage, will loosen. This gives it too much slack, limiting its control of the breath.  Losing breath control means losing vocal control of all kinds.
  • Your head will inevitably move forward and your throat channel will tighten. A tight throat will sound and feel tight. 
  • The combination of limiting breath control and tightening your throat will cause your voice to be vulnerable to many issues. Vocal resonance will thin, pitch accuracy will suffer and vocal range will diminish on low and high ends. It can result in vocal strain and even damage from trying to push through to sing or speak adequately.

Tips to get yourself out of your slump

First of all, do a complete re-think of the concept of meekness. It is NOT the same as weakness. I would define meekness as the ultimate strength... because it comes from the confidence that doesn't have to defend itself. Communicating kindness is much more effective coming from gentle strength, not manipulative weakness. I know, that may sting:) 

Do a thought experiment... stand physically as if you are queen or king of the universe and you really are the only one who can fix everything. Now take a deep breath. Imagine your lungs as being 20 feet tall, wide and deep. Send out your presence to fill every crack and cranny in the room you're in. Now say...
'I am supposed to be all I am, and my voice is needed in the world'.
Try singing or speaking at the wall, head and heel against it (if you have thick shoulders you may put a towel behind your head). Now sing or speak, using your hands expressively, powering your voice from your pelvic floor while keeping your spine flexibly tall. Notice how open your ribcage is. Do you feel a difference in your throat? Ask someone who knows you well to listen and tell you if they notice a difference in the sound of your voice.

If the idea of humble strength is new to you, try noticing the results. Experiment by telling someone how wonderful they are, while standing very tall as you do it. You will communicate strong empathy, which actually means more to the person than a meek compliment.

When meek posture is the right choice

There is a time for everything... including meek posture.
  1. When you are communicating to a wounded, hurt or scared or excessively timid human or animal, your body language can add a needed non-intimidation element to help them trust you.
  2. When you have a spinal degenerative issue, such as scoliosis or kyphosis (true humpback condition). Even in these conditions, try to stand or sit as tall and flexibly as possible. Ask your doctor about doing targeted physical exercises and stretches to counteract the pronounced spinal curves and help you breathe better. 
  3. When you get cast in a rough sounding voice-over or movie roll like Billy Bob Thornton's character in 'Sling Blade'. Thornton's slumped posture, besides creating the allusion of spinal deformity, helped create the character's voice. I would make a safe bet Mr. Thornton needed a round of chiropractic afterwards! 
  4. And of course in truly unsafe situations, you may need to use guarded and closed body language, just as a threatened animal does. 
But if you must slump for these or other reasons, get back to exercising and stretching out as quickly as possible. Don't allow slumping to become habit. And remember, you don't have to slump to be gentle or humble. 

And finally, here is a great TED talk by Amy Cuddy on body language:


Bottom line

There are times to speak and sing, and times to listen and be silent. When it's your time at bat, stand or sit flexibly tall, as if your voice matters... because it does.

What are your thoughts? Do you know how you backbone is stacking up when you sing or speak?

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