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. Download All Things Vocal podcast on your fav app!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Why Studio Singing Is Hard For Guitar Players

Singing at a studio mic can be frustrating for guitar players. I will illustrate with a true story:

When I first moved to Nashville many years ago, I was singing backgrounds in a "simul-session". These sessions were where the musicians, background vocalists and lead singers recorded together at the same time. Like live TV- if you flubbed it was extremely obvious to everyone!

Anyway, this session was for none other than Johnny Cash. As we prepared to record, I remember that I watched a studio tech take the strings off his guitar and give it to him to hold while he was singing. His wise producer had noticed he sang better when attached to his guitar! At the time I wondered what that was all about; now I understand.

When a singer is accustomed to performing well with something in the hands (be it guitar, piano or just mic), there is a subtle balance adjustment in the body memorized by the muscles. When you take the instrument or mic out of the hands for studio singing, the singer usually drops hands to their sides. Big mistake, because the lifeless arms and hands usually become "rib anchors", crushing in the ribcage and interfering with breath control.

You don't want to mess with your breath control. All kinds of odd things start happening -- to sum it up, you just don't feel comfortable singing, and you can hear that in playback. Your pitch, tone, stamina and style "lics" suffer. You become nervous, lose confidence, assume a more guarded posture and everything gets worse.

It's important to get this terrible chain of events going the other way.  Learn to use your hands and arms in ways that mimic the playing of your instrument. I recommend putting your fingertips together to cause the ribcage to stay wide. If you need to put a dummy mic in your hand to synthesize the feeling, do it! Get help from a coach who can show you how to do these things BEFORE you go into the studio.

Singing for Johnny Cash was truly an honor. I'm glad I moved to Nashville early enough to get in on this and all the other great historic sessions. I learned so much from my mentors and teachers, and I'm happy to pass it on. My thanks to Hurshel Wiginton of the legendary background vocal group the Nashville Edition for hiring me.

Do you have any instances of having to sing without your usual gear? How did you do?

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  • At January 10, 2010 at 6:52 AM , Blogger Meg said...

    This is absolutely the case! I just finished vocals for my record and ended up doing the exact same thing for certain songs... instead of explaining to the producer that I like to slouch! Ha ha ha.

    Thanks for your guidance, I hope to see you again soon!

  • At January 10, 2010 at 12:40 PM , Blogger Bluesy said...

    Hope you had a nice Christmas, and a VERY happy new year! I remember going to see my girlfriend's band one night and my girlfriend telling me, "I don't know what I'm going to do with my hands, I forgot my tambourines." Your blog makes perfect sense.

  • At January 10, 2010 at 6:34 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

    McMegan and Bluesy... thx so much for the comments. Glad you can connect with this. Yes... even tambourines create muscle memory!

  • At January 11, 2010 at 12:41 PM , Blogger LA said...

    That is an awesome story--and very interesting. Thanks for sharing it.

  • At January 14, 2010 at 1:56 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

    Much obliged, Leigh Ann!

  • At January 31, 2010 at 1:45 AM , Anonymous Lani said...

    Due to a wrist injury I can't play my bass for a few weeks, but an opportunity came up to play a benefit for Haiti so we got a fill-in bass player and I sang. It was intimidating in rehearsal, but I just let loose and got into the music at the show and it was easier than times in the past. Thanks!

  • At February 10, 2010 at 12:49 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

    Lani... that's terrific... so glad you felt better about your performance!


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