All Things Vocal Blog & Podcast by Judy Rodman: December 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!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A tip for feeling correct breath support and control

I'm always looking for simplified ways to quickly help you experience correct vocal technique. Sometimes the mind understands but the body feels spastic!

The "feeling" of correct breath support and breath control can be elusive. You must at the same time apply the power of the breath AND control that power. If you are familiar with my teaching, you know that support must be applied from the pelvic floor, and that you enable control by keeping the bottom of your ribcage wide.

Here's a tip you can try:

Put your hand on your UPPER (not lower) chest- right below your neck. Place the back of your other hand on your tailbone. Now press your two hands in. You should experience your posture stretching tall, with the bottom of your ribcage widening and your low abs moving in towards your tailbone. Now, do it again as you sound a note. Do you feel the controlled breath power in that action?

This may help your muscles memorize the correct feeling of applying controlled breath to your voice. Then you can recreate the action without actually using your hands to press these areas. The object is to become aware of the sensation and be able to do it without thinking.

Let me know any feedback you have. Oh... and I apologize for posting so infrequently lately, but I'll give you a hint as to my excuse:

I'm moving the office again in January... this time my husband and I are buying a house in Nashville where I can have my office and not have to drive 45 minutes to get home! You're gonna love it, dear students... details to come...


Sunday, December 9, 2007

Performance body language- anything but stiff!

Body language is important for vocal communication. If you've taken lessons from me or have read many of my post on All Things Vocal, you know how I stress this. Here's the thing: different styles of music, different personalities of vocalists, and different venue settings require different degrees of OUTSIDE body movement. The important thing is to stay flexible, no matter what.

Examples of the wide range of effective body language would be in performances of Mick Jagger and Jennifer Nettles vs the more subtle movement you see in performances by Allison Krauss and Andrea Bocelli. A Rolling Stones concert would find Mick Jagger all over the stage, with wild facial, hand and leg movements. Nettles definitely communicates with external expression. Allison Krauss and Andrea Bocelli seem to quietly float - ALMOST motionlessly- in place as they sing.

In the case of Jagger and Nettles, the external movement adds to the internal flexibility of breath and throat areas. There is control and purpose to their movements, however. A rock singer can kill the voice by squeezing in the wrong places (throat, ribcage) while trying to be TOO externally physical. Any time you see the head pushing forward and the ribcage caving in, you'll also hear the strain and possibly find concerts cancelled due to voice problems.

In the case of Krauss and Bocelli, oh how effortlessly they seem to ply their craft- but they are also subtly moving. Notice the slight facial movements- especially the freedom of the mouth and the movement in the eyebrows. They also are subtly purposeful in the slight use of arms- even if it's just the hand holding the mic that is helping them keep their ribcages open. Notice they also have controlled power, enabling the incredible smoothness of their sustains (notes held out).

I watched Bocelli on PBS the other night and renewed my awe of his subtle use of body language. I believe he is possibly the greatest pure vocalist of all time. At least for me.

Also on PBS, I also watched the incredible boys choir group "Libera" and was very happy to notice that someone has allowed them to move their faces and, though they stand in place, subtly sway their bodies. They are not stiff! Oh, how I wish choir directors all over the world would take notice and let their choral members get of their body braces and float in place! (One of my soapbox issues, for sure).

My advice: Consider your personality, the venue you're in, the expectations for your music genre. Then choose to communicate with a body language flexibility which is comfortable to you that will both connect with your audience AND free your voice!

PS... if you want to get a great Christmas present for someone (or yourself!) I recommend Andrea Bocelli's cd "Sogno". Effortless resonance personified.

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Saturday, December 1, 2007

Performance is not a vocal exercise

OK, I'm going back to my novice training in golf (bless my poor husband) to bring out yet another golf/vocal parallel: There is an important difference between vocal exercises and performance. A singer must make this distinction clear to turn a performance into a heart-moving event.

Vocal exercises, like other athletic skills training, do two things:
  1. They nurture the vocal musculature, strengthening it, warming the instrument with increased blood flow and enabling greater flexibility.
  2. They create muscle memory.

With the flexible and strong instrument at your disposal, and with muscle memory causing an automatic connection to take place between your mind/body/vocal apparatus, you're then and only then ready for a great vocal performance.

Points to ponder:

  • Don't think about technique like you do when you are trying to learn a vocal exercise correctly. The time for that is BEFORE you perform.
  • Do your vocal training exercises regularly so it's just what you do naturally when you perform.
  • Learn how to connect with the audience through the song. That should trigger all the right reflexes, if you've trained your muscle memory correctly.
  • Don't worry about being perfect!! I've found that if you just commit to communication (after you've trained your instincts), you can do things in performance even better than in a mechanical vocal exercise.

Consider this: When you are doing vocal exercises, you have to be focused on yourself and on how you're working your voice. This is not, I repeat NOT communication. When you are performing, the truly effective performance moment happens when you are delivering a message. If you scatter your mental focus with too much thought, you'll miss the ball (sorry- golf again- ask me how I know >: )

Bottom line... you have to do both: Exercise and Perform. Just keep them separate in your mind. Voice teacher Jeffrey Allen says the Italians used to suggest taking your technique onstage with you in your little finger". Meaning... that's how much awareness they gave to training when actually performing. It's a paradox that you must also practice performing... make it a regular habit to sing to someone (even a cat or dog will do).

Trust your trained voice and it will reward you with performance magic!

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