All Things Vocal Blog & Podcast by Judy Rodman: August 2007

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. Download All Things Vocal podcast on your fav app!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Vocal importance of Spinal position and movement

The position and movement of the spine makes an enormous difference in the breath support and breath control issues of a vocalist, as well as resulting tone, pitch, range and degree of vocal strain.
  • The position of the spine:
  1. If a habit of slouching or being a guarded postural stance (chest closed in) is changed to a flexible, tall, open stance -- improvement in vocal ability is instant.
  2. You can try singing while standing at the wall with your head and heel flush against the wall to ensure you are not slouching.
  • The movement of the spine:

The LOWER (lumbar) spine should be stable and rather straight... avoiding the "swayback" shape is very important. There is a curve, but the spine here should feel like a very sturdy "base of operations". You will find it important to keep a slight bend in the knees to keep the back from bending in the swayback shape.

The diaphragm also has a "root" of fibers that attach to the lumbar spine. Stretching the lumbar spine out helps stabilize the diaphragm's movements. Looks like Elvis might have known more than he realized!

  1. Movement to the "dance of the groove"-- even slight movement -- helps to keep the knees from locking and the lumbar spine from swaying back too much.
  2. Performance coach Diane Kimbro uses some creative imagery to help with this: She suggests that you think of your hips as a bucket. Simply don't "spill the water" at the front! You'll find yourself tipping your pelvis back a bit and your lumbar spine feeling much better.
  3. Another thing you can try is to stand in such a way that you can't be pushed over. To stabilize yourself, you'll find yourself assuming a stable lower spine.

The UPPER spine should be much more flexible than the lumbar area. Think of a tree -- the trunk is somewhat straight and less flexible, the branches are bending with the wind.

  1. There is a point in your upper spine right below your shoulder blades that where you should bend in such a way as to open the chest. Try putting your hand in the "uncle" position, then pressing forward so the chest opens. You'll find yourself inhaling automatically.
  2. Students of Power, Path & Performance will recognize this point (I poke you there, don't I?). It is where you can affect the diaphragm by giving it more space when the ribcage is opened, enabling a good inhale AND a controlled exhale.

Watch other great vocalists with control and beautiful tone... you'll see these points in their posture and in the movement of their spine. Try it... you'll like it!


Sunday, August 19, 2007

Should singers lift weights?

Lifting weights can be helpful or hurtful to the voice; it all depends on how and when you do it.

How weight lifting can help? If done right:
  • Physical stamina-- just like any other physical workout, it builds strength and endurance, increases blood flow and in general is good for physical health - always good for your voice!
  • Mental and emotional well-being-- it releases endorphin and lifts the spirits- makes you feel good, clears the head and increases positive attitude.
  • Breath capacity-- it causes deeper breathing, increasing lung capacity and releasing toxins with the exhale. It also increased abdominal muscle tone, which is necessary for breath support.
  • Physical appearance-- it increases muscle tone and definition, which can make you feel good and also add a little more viability for a commercial music career.
How can weight lifting hurt? If done incorrectly:
  • It can over-strengthen small muscles in the vocal apparatus, causing a lack of flexibility in the larynx... NOT GOOD for singing!
  • It can cause fatigue, compromising breath support and control.
  • It can tighten the throat, neck and shoulders-- all of which must be free and flexible for singing and speaking.
  • Tightening the glottis while holding the breath can actually damage the vocal aparatus!
I train with weights myself... both machine and free weights from 5 to 12 pounds, depending on the exercise and how fit I am at the time.
Here are some guidelines I find useful to protect the voice when lifting weights:
  • Limit the amount of weight you lift! If you push yourself to the limit, you can't help but strain your voice
  • DON'T HOLD YOUR BREATH!!... Holding your breath is what tightens the glottis and can lead to damage. Instead, exhale as you lift.
  • Move your head a bit side-to-side while lifting so as to limit "freezing" the muscles of neck and shoulders.
  • Stretch out your muscles before and especially after you lift
  • Don't lift weights right before singing... give your throat, neck and shoulders time to relax. The site I mention below suggests you wait at least 12 hours after lifting before you sing.
  • Find a personal trainer who trains SINGERS and knows how to protect them.
Final word... do be careful. If you strain any of the muscles in the throat, neck and/or shoulders, it WILL hurt your voice, I promise you. But I wouldn't worry about a little weight training, correctly applied. I have personally benefited from it, and I have had many vocal students who are athletes that regularly lift weights. When they heed my advice not to use their upper body strength against their voices, they experience no adverse affects on their voices from wise weight training.
I invite your comments!


Thursday, August 16, 2007

Voice lessons... How many should you take?

So you decide to take voice lessons . How many should you take?

The short answer: as many as it takes to get you where you want to be.

The longer answer: it depends:
  1. If you are looking for a vocal assessment as to how you are singing right now: One. At this assessment lesson (one or two hours is recommended), you should get a professional opinion as to how well you're singing right now, and what it might take to get your voice ready for where you want to go. You should also get help with your weakest area(s) AT THE FIRST LESSON... so no matter what, you will get real, and immediate, benefit for whatever money you spend on vocal training.
  2. If you have vocal problems such as straining, weakness, breathing issues and/or performance communication disconnect, you should take as many as you need to conquer those problems. At the first lesson, major problems the teacher notices should be spelled out for you.
  3. If you have limited funds, you should be honest with the teacher and seek options such as longer intervals between regular lessons (once every other week or even less), supplemented with vocal training on media (such as my Power, Path & Performance cds)
  4. If you are a long-distance student, I recommend scheduling an assessment lesson, getting the cds and coming back for a lesson whenever it is convenient for your travel schedule.
  5. If you have studied with me, you can also schedule phone lessons from time to time as necessary when you can't get in to my office.
  6. If you are a professional vocalist, my recommendation is to stay in touch with your voice teacher throughout your career. That doesn't necessarily mean weekly lessons, but it does mean touching base with a lesson or two in between your road tour; phone lessons or when you feel something going wrong; updating your warm-up vocalises from time to time. In my humble opinion, a professional vocalist being "watched over" by a competent vocal coach is non-negotiable...protective of your career, preventing subtle, limiting vocal dysfunction from setting in.
  7. If you, for any reason, want to increase your vocal ability, keep coming to lessons.

Most importantly, however many lessons you choose to take: KEEP PRACTICING the correct vocal training you have received!!! To paraphrase an old adage... use it correctly or lose it! If you practice correct technique, you will find your voice continuing to improve well into older age!

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Singing and Eating Disorders - Part Two

Jenni and me

This is the second of two posts on eating disorders and the voice. We'll continue where we left off with the story of Judy and her student, Jenni Schaefer...

Judy... Little by little, as Jenni got help, she got stronger. However, voice lessons became even harder. She developed a diaphragmatic spasm of some kind and a kind of fatalism took hold, making her expect the strange uncontrolled vibrato weirdness to happen at a certain place in her range. I sent her to Vanderbilt Voice Clinic. Only when they couldn't find anything organically wrong did Jenni start to believe she could beat this strange vocal problem. Soon after, I was able to coach her into the flexible rib stretch necessary to allow the issue to completely disappear.

Jenni... "Anorexia is characterized by intense perfectionism. While singing, I would concentrate more on being perfect than on getting a greater message across."

Jenni kept improving, but it was two-steps forward, one-step back. It was hard for her to picture singing to someone. She was stuck in self-consciousness. She began to experience feelings, but with the feelings came anger at being critiqued, which made her feel judged. At one point, I suggested she practice differently and she flew into a rage. I didn't see it coming. I didn't read the signs that said I was pushing too far, and the lesson ended in disaster.

Jenni... "All eating disorders are characterized by constant self-criticism. It is difficult to sing when a negative voice is constantly screaming in your ear."

The trust and friendship Jenni and I had developed made the misunderstanding short-lived. We got back to the business of vocal training and then another challenge set in. It was a long season of intense sadness. I was afraid for her; she would cry, literally for days, and then go numb. She pushed people away, saying she had no friends. For a while, she stopped singing and cancelled voice lessons.

Jenni... "Depression is often an underlying symptom of an eating disorder. When lost in despair and hopelessness, singing can seem too vulnerable because emotions might leak out. So Ed would often build yet another 'protective' wall."

Jenni and I began working together again, and this time every lesson seemed to break new ground. Her recovery was solid, her physical and emotional health much more stable. I watched her persevere with great courage through those monumental battles of recovery. And I watched her find her voice at last.

One of the last pieces in the puzzle was put in place by the brilliant performance coach Diane Kimbrough. Diane told Jenni to stop worrying about 'going there' every time she sang. She said this is way too much pressure for an artist to have to re-experience the emotional scene during every performance. Instead, Diane suggested, forget yourself and make THEM (the audience) feel something! It was a miracle.

Jenni stopped focusing inward and made the connection, through the song, to someone else. Her voice is now strong, controlled, confident and beautiful. She FEELS joy, frustration, anger, and love. All of this is giving her a voice with which to rock the world. She speaks and sings all over the country to entertain, teach and prove that recovery from an eating disorder is indeed possible. And oh, I so love to hear her laugh!

For those struggling with an eating disorder, we hope you read in our story that it's never too late to reach out for help, start healing- and start singing your heart out!

Jenni's contact info:
Jenni Schaefer - singer, songwriter, speaker, author of Life Without Ed: How One Woman Declared Independence from Her Eating Disorder and How You Can Too (McGraw-Hill) and her second book about being fully recovered "Goodbye Ed, Hello Me". Website:

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Friday, August 10, 2007

Singing and Eating Disorders - Part One

Jenni Schaefer and me

This is the first of two posts on eating disorders and the voice. You can now listen to the audio version of these posts on iTunes and Android.
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Eating disorders are now epidemic. Singers and others in the entertainment business with its requisite media exposure are, I believe, especially vulnerable to these debilitating secret illnesses.

No one can approach their full vocal potential while chained to an eating disorder. Why? Because the voice will have problems in these areas:
  • Breathing (Power)
  • Tone (Path though an open throat)
  • Communication (Performance)
That's right --- with an eating disorder --- everything I teach in Power, Path & Performance vocal training ... everything necessary to the workings of your voice ... is compromised and plagued with problems; some very pesky to diagnose and correct.

From denial to her long-term recovery from anorexia/bulimia, I've been Jenni Schaefer's voice teacher and friend. Jenni recovered using a unique therapeutic approach that involved treating her eating disorder as a relationship, rather than an illness or condition. Jenni actually named her anorexia/bulimia, "Ed," an acronym for "eating disorder." She and I co-wrote the song "Life Without Ed" which is also the title of her McGraw-Hill book endorsed by Dr. Phil and many others.

Testimonials tell us her story is powerful, so here it is from both our points of reference:

Judy... What I noticed the first time I met Jenni was her strange numbness. She couldn't move out of the 'guarded stance:' slumped shoulders, head hung forward, eyebrows frozen, jaw clenched, spine and hips frozen, arms limp and legs locked. She was like a stick figure. Her voice was thin, colorless. She complained that her throat hurt when she sang. Her range was limited, and she had several 'breaks' in her voice. I tried to help her loosen up, but I could barely get her to lift her arms from her sides to allow ribcage expansion. She inhaled from the upper chest in short gasps.

Jenni... "With Ed, I was disconnected from my body... felt like a floating head. I was rigid and had difficulty moving. In therapy sessions, I was encouraged to ‘just move’ --- anything."

Judy... I also had a lot of trouble helping Jenni connect to her songs. When I asked her to visualize singing "Valentines Day" to someone she loved, she couldn't think of anyone! Finally she began to connect by imagining singing to children in a cancer ward where she had worked. An odd thing... She didn't want me to look at her when she sang.

Jenni... "I was disconnected from feelings. I lived in my head. A big purpose of my eating disorder was to starve and stuff feelings --- to keep me out of my emotions. So when I was supposed to connect with feelings in a song, it was not only completely foreign to me, it was also terrifying."

Judy... Jenni was easily deflated and crushed. I had to be very careful not to push her too far with exercises. She somehow needed to sing, but music didn't seem to move her. Because she didn't have the energy to keep her posture erect and flexible, she usually just stood still and lifeless. Or walked like a zombie.

Jenni... "I had no energy --- restricting, binging and purging requires a lot of energy (physical and emotional) and leaves little left for anything else."

Judy... Jenni couldn't understand why she didn't feel something. She would watch me express feelings she couldn't experience, and I think that was a big part of why she reached out for help. She asked me to pray for her. She thought since she didn't feel something, she couldn't pray herself.

Jenni... "Singing is spiritual. An eating disorder kills all spiritual connection. This was a huge hurdle."

To be continued...

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Sunday, August 5, 2007

Singing in extreme heat

Here in Nashville it was 100 degrees today.

I was withering in the heat under a tree on the sidelines, watching my son Peter race around the asphalt in his "Crit 3" bike race. It had to have been 115 on that road track (whew!)

Anyway, I began to think about how important it is for singers to take special care when singing in this heat. Number one is, of course, to be well hydrated.

According to the NYU Voice Center, even on a normal day a physically inactive person "uses about 2 liters of fluid a day just to compensate for production of urine, sweat, and humidification lost in the air you breath, when you talk and when you sing". They go on to say the paranasal sinuses use about a liter a day, and that you make about a liter of saliva a day. Wow. Makes me thirsty just to think about it!

Also, it's not enough just to take a bottle of water with you, especially in this heat. I find it important to drink enough water the day before your gig, sip during performance, and continue drinking after singing. It's amazing how much water evaporated from your vocal cords as breath flows between them during phonation.

Yes, pure water works best, but in extreme heat I find it important to have electrolytes replenished. You can do this with a high quality nutritional supplement or even something as simple and easily found as Gatoraide. You can also dilute water with a small amount of fruit juice. (3 parts water, 1 part juice counts as water, according to nutritionist Liz Flannigan). Take it easy on caffeine and alcohol, because they are dehydrating compounds. It's good to eat raw veggies like celery, which adds minerals and has an alkalizing effect on the body.

True Story:
I passed out at the mic in a Kansas auditorium one fourth of July with about 5,000 people in attendance. The air condition had gone out and it was hot anyway, but I also had a touch of the stomach flu. I was singing "Until I Met You" and just fell into my band's arms. My bass player had the opportunity to give the one liner he'd always dreamed about: "Is there a doctor in the house?". After a trip to the emergency room to rule out drugs (hehehe, they always think that, don't they?) my husband John (the drummer) was instructed to pour about 4 quarts of Gatoraide down me during the night while the bus drove us to our next gig. I was able to say "On with the show"!

Do you have a story about singing in the heat you could share?

Oh, and by the way... my son won the overall for the weekend bike races!! YEAH!!!