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 14, 2019

How Great Voices Make Strategic Use Of Space

  How boring would space be without the defining stars, marks and holes? Same goes for the voice!

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Available also on iTunes , Google PlayTuneIn Radio, Android apps

Continuous, uninterrupted, un-marked sound is just... noise. The holes... what's not there... and the separating marks can define and give meaning to what is there. Oh yes... great singing and speaking make great use of space!

In his classic book 'The Prophet', Kahlil Gibran writes "Let there be spaces in your togetherness, and let the winds of the heavens dance between you". Wisdom tends to cross categories; this wise relationship advice has several parallel applications to music. Let's explore them starting with...


Run-on sentences soon lose meaning. For instance, the Star-Spangled Banner notoriously begins with a run-on sentence:

Oh say can you see by the dawn's early light what so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight o'er the ramparts we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming? 
OK so it's a run-on question, not a statement, but you get the idea. To give meaning to these lyrics, we need to separate the lines.

Three ways we can separate run-ons are with commas, consonants, and breaths.


Think of commas as 'insinuated spaces'. These are places where you accent or 're-pull' the start of a word to separate run-on sentences into thought-chunks, or phrases. For best results, I recommend that you pull the word open instead of push it out to articulate this accent. If written out, you would see commas at these points. Such spots don't always correspond to where you need to take a breath... you might have plenty of breath to continue without a pause. But unless you somehow accent the spot to insinuate the beginning of a new phrase, all the lyrics just blend together into a numbing jumble of nonsense.


I'm Not Getting Married Today. Note how the different singers in the video make use of vocal commas (or not). Even within this insane word count, the comma effect gives meaning to the delivery as the thoughts are freshly delivered.


Several of my students are familiar with my correction 'give me your 's's and 't's! How important are they?

Consonants turn vowels into words. 
Yep. Without articulating consonants clearly enough, words become just... sounds. For both singers AND speakers, you literally lose the power of your message if it depends on the listener understanding the words.


Try singing any song - you can even sing 'happy birthday' - by under-articulating the consonants, and then by forming consonants crisply like you're singing to the deaf. Which is the more compelling performance? Which sounds like a real message, which just an internal thought?


Another strategy to separate a run-on sentence is to, of course, take a breath!  But don't just take breaths when you feel you're running out, with no attention to thought completion. Separate your phrases strategically... with the purpose of delivering a message that impacts the heart being spoken to.


In this hilarious performance by Kristin Chenoweth on the Ellen show, see how she separates sentence fragments with strategic breaths. Because I advocate a sense of powering your voice from your pelvic floor, I consider this song a wisdom tune!


If you play an instrument, it can be difficult to master both playing and singing simultaneously. To either learn a new song or do an old one better, try separate practice!


Barely sing while you focus your concentration on playing your guitar, keyboard or other instrument. Practice short sections until you memorize them and playing the song becomes automatic for your hands.


Then focus your concentration on singing only. Don't play at all, or just barely play a chord or so, but do either put your hands on your instrument or put a stick such as a back-scratcher or wooden spoon between your palms to replicate the widening of your ribcage your instrument would normally cause. Now you can focus on experimenting with phrasing, vocal licks, melody variations. And you can perfect the techniques you need to ace the difficult sections in your song. Then seal in your lyric memorization by singing the whole thing.

Do Both

After you feel confident with your playing and singing, then put them together singing and playing simultaneously. Spacing your practice should make the coming together much better- in many ways!


As Beyonce' knows... you don't have to fill every space with a vocal lick! In her classic hit 'Halo', she sings the melody simply for most of the song, and includes her well-executed runs strategically to build the emotion. Spaces separate thoughts, both for singing and speaking. This gives the singer time to breathe and fully set up for the next phrase(s) and gives the listener the opportunity to digest what has just been said or sung. This is one reason more people prefer the singing of Whitney Houston over Maria Carey. Lady Gaga made use of this, too in her highly praised 2016 performance of the Star-Spangled Banner. Some genres of music expect more vocal licks and runs, for sure, but even those pop & r&b songs deliver more emotional response with some space.
The runs may impress, but the spaces express.
Another way to use strategic space is to... WAIT... for the next line. In speech, we call it using a pregnant (with meaning) pause. Try laying back behind the beat just enough, delay the onset of the word (especially useful in jazz singing); you can even leave a word out to make the line feel just right. Empty or elongated space can communicate like nothing else, and then well-placed vocal licks truly embellish the message.


Vocal Rest

There are important times and reasons to stop sounding your voice.


  • to allow an over-used (even with good technique you can't go from 1 to 90 by suddenly singing much longer than you've been) or abused voice to recover. 
NOTE: Doctors don't generally suggest voice rest for as long as they used to. Now, like physical therapy, it's considered best to get the voice working again as soon as possible. Consult with your physician/laryngologist about the best length of time to go on complete voice rest, and about when it's safe to begin vocal exercise again to get your voice back.
  • to gain new fire, energy, and life for your over-performed or over-rehearsed songs.
  • to silently practice vocal technique and become more aware of body/mind/voice connections. I have a whole vocal exercise routine in my 6-disc course in "Power, Path & Performance" that is silent, mental practice.
  • to listen to the beauty, inspiration, and wisdom of other voices and songs (though if you have laryngitis, don't do that. Your larynx moves to what it hears, and sometimes your larynx needs to be still.)


To learn something vocally new, we need to listen without making a sound. It's a mistake to try and sing along immediately, thinking you are supposed to 'get it' that quickly. A great way to learn style, a new lick, anything out of our comfort zone is to immerse our ears in it. Then while listening deeply, silently move your mouth, face, soft palate, jaw and yes, vocal apparatus to imitate what you're hearing. I call this miming exercises. When you actively imagine making a sound, your ear can focus in much more detail to what it's listening to.

The Silent Inhale

Lastly, breathe in silently! You will take in a much better quality inhale, and you won't dry out your vocal cords like you do with a noisy inhale.


I'm traveling to Crossville, Tennessee with my husband as I write this. I'm getting away for an extended weekend to allow my senses to come alive and my body/mind/spirit to be refreshed. It is so important to disconnect periodically even from the things we love. Like relationships,  when we reconnect there will be a freshness, a presence, a renewed gratitude for everything we get to do together.

So go ahead: Make commas, take breaths, separate from your instrument, listen and embrace silence, and periodically take a real break! Be inspired by the vocal brilliance of Pentatonix singing 'The Sound Of Silence'...

OK I'm back from vacation now... finishing the podcast editing of this post. Let me know what you think... please consider leaving me a comment here and/or a review on iTunes or wherever you listen to the audio. That is the best way you can support me and this free vocal training I create for you. Thank you 😎 !

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Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Interview with Alexander Technique Practitioner Peter Jacobson

Peter Jacobson and Judy Rodman
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Frederick Matthias Alexander was a Shakespearian actor born in Australia in 1869 who developed chronic laryngitis and lost his voice. When doctors couldn't help him, he dedicated a few years to experimentation and discovery - and got his voice back. His tremendously effective healing work is now used for a plethora of body dysfunctions and pain, and is known as the Alexander Technique. I am very happy to present this interview with Peter Jacobson, an expert Alexander Technique practitioner and teacher. So grab a cup of herbal tea and listen and/or watch as we discuss the Alexander Technique and the voice!

Topics we covered include:

  • What Alexander Technique is.
  • Peter's three-part formula for artistry... desire + coordination + technique.
  • How desire and intention change outcome in both Peter's and my work with students.
  • The elusive 'quick fix' for laryngitis or other vocal issues; instant help and life-long improvement with experimentation, curiosity and deeper learning.
  • How Alexander fixed his voice.
  • Judy's story of vocal recovery.
  • Conquering guarding stance and fear with freedom of choice.
  • Coordination = cooperating with our design.
  • Curiosity: Getting slow and being observant.
  • Using tools of anatomy (the truth about the design) and imagery (mind pictures to direct anatomy) for vocal training. 
  • Why Alexander Technique prefers to use thinking vs feeling.
  • The importance of freely moving joints for the voice.
  • Changing conception by changing perception, such as using the balance pad, Bosu ball or trampoline.
  • Hands: touch communication. How teachers can use hands to help the student hold on to a new idea a little longer.
  • Why the happy voice needs happy feet! (Who knew?)
  • How we can help the voice heal itself by harnassing our innate intelligence
  • The kindness in our design, the kindness we need to show ourselves.

About Peter Jacobson:

Peter is the Founder and Executive Director of Total Vocal Freedom, the world’s largest online Alexander Technique learning community. He is a singer, multi-instrumentalist, composer, arranger, conductor, music educator and an AmSAT-certified (American Society of the Alexander Technique) teacher of the Alexander Technique. He discovered the Alexander Technique over 13 years ago after suffering from back pain and tendinitis while pursuing his music studies. Jacobson has earned advanced degrees in Conducting from the University of Illinois, the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University and is a Certified Transformative Coach (Michael’s Neill Supercoach Academy Europe – Class of 2019).

Find Peter at
Find Peter's special offer for All Things Vocal at

Want to watch?

Here's the video of our interview...

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Saturday, June 1, 2019

Why It Can Be So Freaking Hard to Change Vocal Habits

Let's erase your 'IM-' OK?

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Habits are incredibly important. Habit puts action on 'automatic' so the brain doesn't have to consciously take the steps to complete the action in manual mode. Because of that, it's harder to unlearn something than it is to learn it from scratch. And because of that, voices that have experience can have more trouble learning new vocal technique than absolute beginners.

If you have one of these voices... with lots of stage or studio experience but afraid of/ having trouble with learning something new, there are two things I want you to know:
  • You're not dumb! 
When I walk you through the reasons re-training is hard, you'll realize it's not your IQ holding you back. You'll laugh at yourself and stop beating yourself up.
  • You're not hopeless! 
You - yes, EVEN YOU absolutely CAN learn new vocal techniques! I have successfully taught many stage and studio veterans techniques that solved frustrating issues and limitations, some with physician-diagnosed damage to vocal cords, some frozen with doubt that they could ever get better.

It's true... old habits are hard to break! But knowing why helps us break them and trade them for better new ones!

OK so let's talk about the two biggest reasons - physical and psychological - that re-training the voice can be so freaking hard. (Knowledge is power!)

1. Physical: You've paved some myelin sheath highways (bet you didn't know that)

We often speak of muscle memory... but muscles really don't have memory. It's your nervous system that remembers, aided by the creation of myelin sheath highways. My sister Pam Hubbard was the first person to introduce me to myelin, as we were talking about how nerves work some years ago. I've since researched it more, and I hope you find the following as fascinating as I do:

Myelin is a white, fatty substance that serves as insulation for your nerves. According to Courtney Sperlazza, MPH,
[a covering or sheath of myelin] insulates the neuron, protects the axon and directs the nerve's impulse to where it's supposed to go.
We want to keep this sheath healthy. It's good to know that the same things that support healthy myelin also support your vocal health. You can read more from Sperlazza's article about 12 ways to support your myelin.

According to an article by Jason Shen, when we repeat something (practice) a few times,
...we trigger a pattern of electrical signals through our neurons. Over time, that triggers the glial cell duo to myelinate those axons, increasing the speed and strength of the signal. Like going from dial-up to broadband.
So in other words, we put the action on automatic, creating a habit. That's good if that habit is the most efficient way to get the results we want. If there's a better way, that's bad, because we have to replace our old highways to build new ones!

Building new myelin sheath highways is a two-step process: first, we have to go on manual again, firing our neuron impulses in an unfamiliar, non-automated way. (Raise a glass to slow, deliberate practice that feels weird!) Then we have to tear down the old highways which tempt us with familiarity. We do that simply by not going down those highways! According to an article at febfast,
... due to the brain's plasticity (based on the principle of 'if you don't use it, you lose it'), when you change a behaviour that builds a new neuronal pathway; eventually the old pathway gets pruned back due to disuse.
(Now raise a glass to distrusting what feels normal until the new highway turns the new way to your new normal!)

The takeaway here is this: To physically change how you habitually sing you so don't have to think about it in performance, practice as perfectly as you can. Make sure you know WHAT to practice, and HOW to practice effectively. 

Here's a great TED-ed video on how to practice effectively...

2. Psychological: You are scared and frozen!

You may fear...
  • that if you change your vocal technique, your changed voice will lose it's uniqueness and won't work for your career. Nope! Your voice should just do what you want it to, easier, healthier and get a better response. 
  • you aren't coordinated/smart/focused enough so you can't do it. Nope! Your fear may be freezing you and sabotaging your progress. You need to find a learning situation you can trust, be willing to suck for a while and let go of beating your voice up. When you let go, your voice will be able to relax, explore and find its way so much faster!
Again, here is where understanding goes a long way in busting blocks to progress. ESPECIALLY if you use your voice for a vocal career, you are going to be resistant to change. But I have tons of experience with veteran voices and career music makers that prove you can do it.

A few success stories:

  • Ronny Hinson, a veteran gospel singer/hit songwriter, was having vocal trouble at his performances. His wife Lisa, my student, talked him into some vocal lessons with me. had pushed his voice into a polyp that was so large it was diagnosed by his laryngologist at a renown voice clinic as inoperable. They literally told him he needed to get another line of work! When his wife (my student) talked him into trying some vocal lessons with me, he approached vocal training with skepticism, dread, and yes, fear. But as foreign as it felt, he did the vocal exercises I suggested. He and his wife Lisa prayed about it, they both felt he that contrary to his laryngologist's advice, he should keep on performing. So he did, but he used the new training, reinforced by his wife's silent signals to him to pull if he pushed his voice in performance. Within two years, his changed habits took so much pressure off his cords that they healed! His polyp had not just shrunk... it was no longer visible on the new laryngoscope photo taken at the same clinic! Ronny, his wife and I are all grateful to God because that absent polyp is nothing short of miraculous.
  • Jon Frattasio, a veteran singer/guitarist/performer who used to play over 300 days a year, developed a vocal scar from an endotracheal tube inserted during a serious illness. He could no longer sing, and his speaking voice was strained and full of uncontrollable raspiness. His brother talked him into trying a lesson with me, but he had serious doubts his voice could get better. The difference he felt after that first lesson gave him hope, and so he committed to the training. He continues to gain range, freedom from strain, control and richer tone as we work online each week. He recently performed with another professional musician he used to work with, and he was able to even sing some harmony in his head voice! He is carefully but confidently finding his voice again, and all his friends are talking about the improvement they hear in his speaking voice!
  • When Kacey Musgraves came in for her first lesson, it was because she wanted to go farther than where she was. She had a little vocal tightness going on, and therefore a slight limitation to what she wanted to do. She was so happy with the results of our vocal training, she came back in to tweak her control for her upcoming Country Crossroads performance with Katy Perry. She also had me work with her band on their bgvs for her 'Golden Hour' world tour. Just because you're good, doesn't mean you can't be even better!
  • A musician example: A very dear friend of mine, Larrie Londin, was a legendary drummer. Larrie played on hits for Motown, became the top session drummer in Nashville (I'm proud to say he played on some of my records, too), and also played live on major tours. When he was diagnosed with a terminal heart condition, this master musician decided to take lessons the last year of his life from a classical percussionist. What was he learning? He said - get this - how to hit the (drum)head! He wanted to get back to the very basics of how you ask the drum to sound. With that kind of professional humility, curiosity, and informed practice, we can set the voice free to learn deeper things, too. And dear friends, it's never too late to get better at what you love!

A couple more thoughts:

  • Bring joyful determination to careful practice (best with the help of an intuitive coach), and you can overcome fear and doubt to create physical habits that will take your voice where it's never been before. I know, I've been able to recover my own voice from significant damage.
I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.
  • You don't need to do it all alone. If you'd like some help for your singing or speaking voice, hit me up! I'd love to help you surprise the heck out of your voice!
My new book 'Singing In The Studio' just published and is available on Amazon here 

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Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Interview With Diane Kimbrough - Part 2

We make a great coaching team!

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NOTE: If you haven't listened to part 1 of this interview, you can do so at this link.

Welcome to part 2 of my interview with veteran live performance coach Diane Kimbrough! Here are some of the topics we discussed this time:
  • Why Diane's approach is to practice the arena level show instead of the coffee-house show, and how that can benefit the smaller venue performance, too.
  • Training artists to work with a camera.
  • How being present with venue size changes how you perform live.
  • The circumstances for which a veteran stage performer needs to come back in for some live performance coaching.
  • Some of the worst things you can do on stage.
  • Mapping out talking points on stage.
  • How Acro Yoga helps Diane with her live performance coaching. How it benefits both artists and teachers of artists to keep learning and trying things we've never done before.
  • Why and how artists should watch awards shows.
  • How the mistaken belief that the audience is feeling what you're feeling can diminish your performance.
  • How and why to articulate clearly and use punctuation in performance.
  • Why it's important for best performance to understand and take on the responsibility of your unique artistic position on stage.
  • How important it is for an artist to work with a team that supports each member, and communicates to resolve any seeming differences so the artist is never confused.

About Diane Kimbrough: 

As an actress, dancer, and choreographer, Diane’s career has taken her to Europe, South America, the Caribbean, and the Middle East where she has directed and choreographed live shows for companies including IBM, Kawasaki, NCR, Chevrolet, Texaco, and Suzuki. She herself has appeared on stage & television with an array of stars from Garth Brooks to the L.A. Dodgers.

Her work has appeared on every major television network. She has staged a wide array of events from ABC’s “Monday Night Football” promo to “The All-American Thanksgiving Day Parade” for CBS. Diane is a veteran of eight seasons of the CMAs (Country Music Association Awards), staging such knockout numbers as Alan Jackson’s “Chattahoochie”, Brad Paisley’s “Online” and Shania Twain’s “I’m Outta Here” and “Any Man of Mine”.

Managers and record labels, including Arista, Atlantic, Capitol, Columbia, Epic, Mercury, RCA and Sony as well as a host of indie labels, have hired Diane to coach their emerging artists as well as top-selling stars. Her clients include solo artists, vocal groups and bands of any genre. Diane’s philosophy… “Create an experience and you’ve created a fan.”

Find and contact her at her website http://dianekimbrough.com

About You:

How are your live performances going? What surprised you from this interview? What do you think you could do better next time you're on stage? What other questions do you have?

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Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Interview With Veteran Live Performance Coach Diane Kimbrough - Pt 1

Diane & me, double teaming at our clients' performances

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Available also on iTunes , Google PlayTuneIn Radio, Android apps

As a performer, you are not just a disembodied voice. The rest of you, along with where & how you move the rest of you, can help or sabotage your performance impact - even on your recordings where they can't see you. Today I'm interviewing my friend and frequent collaborator Diane Kimbrough for some master ninja stage tips, so click the audio link here and listen up to PART ONE! (Then go on to PART TWO !)

Some of the topics we discussed:
  • Diane's background & experience
  • Explanation of what live performance coaching is.
  • How Diane uses her dance and acting experience in her coaching.
  • Defining stage presence.
  • How Diane and I work synergistically to increase stage and vocal abilities.
  • The value of getting live performance coaching before recording final studio vocals.
  • How both of us work on focusing message delivery.
  • Why a veteran artist would need some updated performance coaching.
  • Diane's coaching strategy of videotaping performance and playing it back without sound.
  • A vital understanding Diane wants artists to get out of her coaching sessions: The song itself - the structure of the music and the lyrics - should largely dictate stage movement. How that goes with my vocal training.
  • How to figure out who your voice needs to represent in any song.
  • Diane and I discuss and solve our disparate ways of approaching and coaching authenticity. We discuss what is and is not 'real', how to use acting techniques to make the moment real for the audience even when it's not real for you.
  • Why you don't need to freak out at the thought of acting.
  • Case study about an artist we both successfully worked with who had a serious eating disorder and issues with 'feeling' emotion.
  • How critical voices and situations like bad-fitting heels affect confidence on stage. Knowledge brings power.
  • Case study about another of our artists who we helped go from serious insecurity to up & coming artist catching serious career fire.
  • Diane says it's best to have some stage experience before booking coaching sessions.
  • Ways Diane asks clients to practice what they learn from her. Written homework is assigned, along with continual videotaping and silent viewing to review how audiences see you.
  • The importance of separating singing and stage movement practice. Why you should put your guitar down and try singing without it.
  • How that same strategy - separate practice - is a wise way to practice vocal technique.
  • Diane and I bat around the concept of singing to the one heart. We use different words for the same thing... Diane calls it having a conversation on a melodic line.
PLEASE NOTE: There was so much we shared I decided to split the interview. This is Part 1. Click here for Part 2.

About Diane Kimbrough: 

As an actress, dancer, and choreographer, Diane’s career has taken her to Europe, South America, the Caribbean, and the Middle East where she has directed and choreographed live shows for companies including IBM, Kawasaki, NCR, Chevrolet, Texaco, and Suzuki. She herself has appeared on stage & television with an array of stars from Garth Brooks to the L.A. Dodgers.

Her work has appeared on every major television network. She has staged a wide array of events from ABC’s “Monday Night Football” promo to “The All-American Thanksgiving Day Parade” for CBS. Diane is a veteran of eight seasons of the CMAs (Country Music Association Awards), staging such knockout numbers as Alan Jackson’s “Chattahoochie”, Brad Paisley’s “Online” and Shania Twain’s “I’m Outta Here” and “Any Man of Mine”.

Managers and record labels, including Arista, Atlantic, Capitol, Columbia, Epic, Mercury, RCA and Sony as well as a host of indie labels, have hired Diane to coach their emerging artists as well as top-selling stars. Her clients include solo artists, vocal groups and bands of any genre. Diane’s philosophy… “Create an experience and you’ve created a fan.”

Find and contact her at her website http://dianekimbrough.com

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Saturday, March 30, 2019

How My Vocal Training Can Hurt You

Got your attention? Good! Listen up, grasshopper... careful what you think you know!
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Misunderstanding new vocal techniques, vocal exercises and corrections suggested by a vocal coach can at best do your voice no good, and at worst cause vocal harm! And yes, this goes for my vocal training, too. No matter who you take lessons from, here's the bottom line: Any change you make to the way you use your voice should cause your voice to feel and sound BETTER, not WORSE! To that end, here are some clarifications to make sure my training HELPS you!

Pull, don't push, the voice

  • Explanation of the training:
Most people push too much air when singing and speaking. This causes unnecessary stress to the vocal apparatus, including dehydration of the mucus covering of the vocal cords. It also leads to a tightening of the throat channel, limiting resonance and range along with a host of vocal control issues. A parallel is atomic energy... just enough and the grid is powered, a little too much and you blow the place up!

To get breath support (breath sent to your vocal cords) and breath control (breath held back from your cords) balanced so the voice is confidently powered but not 'blown', I use the term 'pull' instead of 'push' for vocal power.
  • How to get it wrong:
If you interpret my suggestion as meaning pull chest voice up too high, you will definitely strain your voice. Pulling chest voice is typically interpreted as singing too high in unmixed lower register. It's an abusive way to 'belt' your voice, and leads to vocal strain and eventually, damage. Another misinterpretation of my suggestion to pull is to pull your mic away from your mouth. It doesn't take much for the mic to lose your voice's signal, and pulling very far will quickly get you on the bad side of your sound person trying to get your volume consistent!
  • How to get it right:
Instead of moving your microphone away from your mouth, just give it a little squeeze, slightly twisting your torso so you are a bit taller. This move can be almost imperceptible... like avoiding a space invader with bad breath. That works with most people!

Try this experiment: Put the palm of your hand in front of your mouth and say the word 'three'. I bet you felt a big puff of air on your palm. Now say the word again, but this time, try to limit the breath you puff into your hand. You just experienced the difference between pushing and pulling your voice! Like a boxer pulling her punch to avoid full contact with a sparring partner, you can control your air stream!

Now try the phrase 'three pretty felines', first pushing the 'th, 'p' and 'f', and then try pulling those consonants. You may realize that pulling not only controls excessive breath but also increases your vocal volume! This is because done correctly, pulling will open your ribcage, increasing your breath efficiency, AND will open your throat channel, giving your voice access to more resonation.

To get this pulling sensation into your muscle memory, you should create the sensation with every vocal exercise you do. Straighten the upper curve of your spine a little flexibly taller when you make a vocal sound, moving your head back over your heels instead of forward over balls of your feet. Other phrases that trigger this pulling action include 'power your voice like a magnet', and 'resonate like strong coffee, don't dilute your sound with excess air'.

Take a breath and don't use it

  • Explanation of the training:
I have developed certain little catch phrases to crystallize complicated vocal technique concepts into easy to remember corrections and habits. I use this phrase to trigger the most efficient use of breath. You do want enough of a breath to expand both your ribcage and your throat channel, increasing breath control and opening the throat path to resonation zones. But at the same time, it really doesn't take much breath to vibrate the vocal cords confidently and strain-free!
  • How to get it wrong:
Holding your breath is the wrong way to interpret this phrase. You actually need to support your voice with breath, in fact, your voice should always be riding on a thin and steady cushion of air. Holding the breath back too much can create tension in the throat, jaw and vocal apparatus, creating vocal weakness and inconsistency.
  • How to get it right:
Realize that 'don't use it' is just a hyperbolic figure of speech! I keep saying it because, especially for those who push too much breath, it works!
Alternative phrases I use that get breath pressure balanced: 'Back off pressure, add passion' Don't leak! And... Don't leave a breath mark on a glass window pane in front of your mouth.

Use your face

  • Explanation of the training:
The richest and most communicative voice requires active facial language. A zombie, frozen or poker face will sound mechanical, bored or disengaged - not the sound that gets the typical response you want for your message!
  • How to get it wrong:
If you've been singing or speaking with a blank face, just learning to move your face may seem weird and even tiring at first. But like most things, you have to find the balance. Using active facial language correctly shouldn't create facial fatigue or tension... in fact, it should help release tension! Don't over-stretch your tongue or jaw. Definitely avoid holding a squint in your upper cheek area, which can cause your soft palate to freeze.
  • How to get it right:
Here's where the synergy of Power, Path and Performance can help. When performing as singer or speaker, really focus your mind on the heart you're communicating to. Now imagine that person is at least partially or selectively deaf. Use active facial language that would enable the person to 'read your lips' and know both what you're saying and what it means.

Press fingertips together

  • Explanation of the training:
Simply put fingertips together about mid-chest level and lightly press them into each other to straighten the upper spine, opening the ribcage and the throat. This is something I teach all my students to do in exercises, as well as in the studio (where I call it studio hands). The wider diaphragm instantly increases breath control, and the open throat increases access to resonance and therefore, this technique increases vocal ability. It also instantly decreases vocal strain.
  • How to get it wrong:
When people try this for the first time, a common mistake is to press fingertips together too hard, creating shoulder and neck tension and paradoxically tightening the ribcage. You can also press too lightly, which does nothing.
  • How to get it right:
The first time you try it, do it while you're standing with your back to a wall.  Don't allow your head to move forward when you press your fingertips. If you have a wider chest area or bulky shoulders, you can try pressing the longest two fingers together, or put a back-scratcher between your palms and lightly press in. Don't use your pectoral muscles, just forearms to hands. Also, don't be stiff about it, just loosen up and experiment as you vocalize. As with everything... if it doesn't help, don't do it. You can always contact me if you want me for a lesson to personalize this for you.

Articulate clearly

  • Explanation of the training:
No matter what genre of music you do, you need to be understood to get a response to your message, right? Even slurred genres require articulation so that the audience for that genre can understand the lyrics. And of course, if you're a speaker, mumbling will not communicate. Synonyms for articulation include pronunciation and enunciation. In verb form we say articulate, pronounce, or enunciate clearly.
  • How to get it wrong:
Over-articulate for the genre you're singing in and you'll be heard as inauthentic (fake), overacting (fake) and/or yelling (LIKE TYPING IN ALL CAPS!).
  • How to get it right:
Again with the 'B' word: Articulating appropriately requires balance. It also requires nuance... a fine-tuning of the way your audience likes to hear lyrics or words. If you're unsure, get help from a coach familiar with your song's genre or language. Polish singer Jona Ardyn's producer Laura Lorraine Culbertson hired me as vocal producer for Jona's English project to among other things, help her sound more authentic, like changing De-CALF to DE-calf :)

Straighten your spine

  • Explanation of the training:
This is an easy one... straighten both upper and lower curves of your spine.
  • How to get it wrong:
Don't go overboard and assume stiff military posture. Freeze your spine and your voice will complain! Another mistake is to think well, you've got a bit of scoliosis so you can't ever do this.
  • How to get it right:
Stand or sit flexibly tall. If this is tiring for you, do some core physical exercise and strengthen your back muscles with exercises like free weight rowing. Not only will your voice thank you, your whole body will benefit from deeper breathing and core strength. And if you do have scoliosis... I've trained plenty of voices with that spinal condition and it really doesn't take much to make a big vocal difference. Just stretch a little taller and balance your weight on both heels instead of just one.

You can sing as long as you want without strain

  • Explanation of the training:
It is my firm belief that if you consistently use great vocal technique, even though long performances can tire your physical body they don't have to tire your voice!
  • How to get it wrong:
If you try to go from 0 to 100 and play 'survivor of the vocal chord', you will be misunderstanding my suggestion.
  • How to get it right:
Just like any athlete, if you haven't been singing much, or there have been long stretches between your performances, you have to re-develop your muscular stamina. To avoid vocal strain, it's critically important to sing full voice for a week or two... at least 4 days... with great vocal technique before a long performance.

Apply the inner smile

  • Explanation of the training:
Creating flexible lift in the soft palate is important to your voice, which wants access to movement in that area.
  • How to get it wrong:
Squinting is how most people over-do this suggestion. Tension in the upper cheekbones will ironically cause tension in the soft palate, and lead to all kinds of vocal mischief.
  • How to get it right:
Think Mona Lisa smile, or 'I know what you did last summer'. You know..

Warnings for other vocal training (aka things I don't say)

  • Keep larynx at speech level
There are methods out there which try to counter the over-dropped larynx of classical singing. My warning is not to try to freeze the position of the larynx. Even for popular genres of music and definitely for speaking, the larynx needs freedom of movement at the direction of the automatic nervous system. I like what vocal coach Lisa Popeil suggests: the larynx should be allowed to raise, lower and tilt in the neck. As long as you aren't really aware of it without putting your fingers on your Adam's/Eve's apple! Your voice shouldn't feel strain!
  • Just relax and sing
There is a definite need for training that relaxes counterproductive tension in the mind/body/voice. However, to sing or speak confidently and get a powerful response, something's got to give! I would rather say 'relax everything that doesn't need to tense'! Power your voice from the pelvic floor, through active facial language. Then your big muscles may make you hungry from the effort, but your voice will practically float out to your thrilled audience!
  • Sing from your diaphragm
Don't do it!

Read this blog post and learn how this teaching can collapse the ribcage, sabotage the diaphragm's control of breath and result in one of the most destructive vocal training concepts out there.

Last caution about my training:

OK and finally, my vocal training can hurt you if you don't actually practice it. So to all my students who do their exercises as perfectly as possible, warm-up adequately before performances and practice good vocal health actions in general... YOU don't have to be afraid. I will never hurt you! Promise:)

What about you... ever been hurt by vocal training? Your story can help protect others. Please share it in the comments.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Trading Lessons With Mark Thress - Contemporary vs Classical Voice

Turning vocal insight over with Mark - always pure joy!
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 Play, TuneIn Radio, Android apps

As I listened to my new friend introduce himself and his work over coffee one morning, an insistent thought running through my head broke through to became a question. Would Mark Thress be interested in trading an hour vocal lesson of his classical training for an hour of my contemporary vocal training? Just once, you know, for fun? 

It was about a year ago that we had that first lesson exchange. Now we trade lessons for 2 hours almost every week, and we both learn something new all the time. My head register gained a step of vocal range I've never had in my life and my middle voice feels all the better for it. Mark is vocally nailing John Legend songs now and tells me he even notices more richness and control in his classical voice. Our respective students have also gained from our collaboration as we trade our singing and vocal training secrets and insights with each other. We decided to share some of the fruits of our vocal exploration to the village at All Things Vocal!

This blog post will contain 2 videos... one of our interview and one with our vocal lesson exchange.

Some topics we covered: 

  • How we met and our intention behind trading lessons.
  • Similarities and differences between the genres of classical and contemporary singing.
  • How all art is about effectively and authentically communicating a message to the one heart.
  • Subtle technical differences in formal and contemporary genres in performance focus, creating volume, using self-compression, facial expressions, vowel lengths, vibrato, the need for mic technique or to fill the hall acoustically, conveying emotion without pushing.
  • How “less is more” in contemporary music, while continuity in sound is important in classical music.
  • How cross training can benefit both contemporary and classical voice.
  • What issues students typically have when trying to cross these genres and perform them authentically.
  • Using tools such as a trampoline or bosu ball to loosen the body and increase access to breath and tone, as well as a coffee straw or balloon for warming up.
  • How 'pulling' helps both contemporary and classical singing.
  • How both coaches have improved each other's voices.

The Interview 

The Lesson Trade 

About Mark:

Mark Thress, MM, MA, is an accomplished operatic and studio vocalist with a demonstrated higher education teaching history, and his work in vocal research has helped carve a unique path of innovation and vocal science in the Singing Health Specialization.

As an opera singer, Mark is experienced with both the Operatic and Operetta Repertoire. Roles he has performed include: Rodolfo, La boheme, Prunier, La rondine, Tamino, Die Zauberflöte, Nemorino, L’elisir d’amore, il Messaggero, Aida, as well as Ralph, H.M.S. Pinafore, Frederic, The Pirates of Penzance, and Nanki Poo, The Mikado. He currently performs with the Nashville Opera. Mark was awarded First Place in the inaugural NATS National Competition held in Boston, MA. He won an Honorable Full Scholarship to the Cornish-American Song Institute, where he performed Art Song recitals and toured England. Mark is the featured soloist on the album 'Whispering of Fields Unsown', by Andrew Boysen, Jr., and 'If My People Pray', arranged by Phillip Keveren.

Mark has an extensive background in vocal health, voice science and research. Under the tutelage of Dr. Scott McCoy, he worked as research assistant in the Helen Swank Research and Teaching Lab. He worked as assistant in the Head and Neck department of the Eye and Ear Institute in Columbus, OH. He helped lead therapy sessions and customize vocal exercises for patients in the Speech Pathology Clinic of the Martha Morehouse Outpatient Care facility. He is slated to travel to Hangzhou, China to develop and implement an elite vocal research lab for the purpose of diagnosing vocal pathology in classical singers.

Mark currently teaches at Belmont and Lipscomb University, and is the owner and founder of Vocal 360 Global—an artist coaching and mentorship program. His clients have performed Internationally, as well as on National Tours, Broadway, and several have received recording contracts. It is my honor and pleasure to work with him, pick his brain and call him friend!

Find and Contact Mark on...
  • Facebook (Mark Thress Music)
  • Instagram (@MarkThress)
  • Website  (www.MarkThress.com)

What about YOU?

What do you think about contemporary and classical vocal training? Have you had an experience with cross training? What helped or didn't help you? I'd love to hear from you... Your comments and reviews are the oil that keeps this blog running!

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