Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog: April 2012

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, April 28, 2012

Vocal Warmups... How Long Should They Be?

Is your voice ready? Timing can be everything!
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Warming up the voice before any performance, including any significant or long vocal rehearsal, is a very wise habit to get into. In the same way you shouldn't do strenuous physical activity before doing muscle warmups and stretches, your vocal cords also need to be prepared, made flexible and coordinated for strong use with vocal exercises. The backstage or guest dressing room area of any event should have lots of strange vocal sounds wafting through the air from singers or speakers about to go on stage!

Let's talk about how long you should make these weird noises to be warmed up!

First a word of caution:

Vocal exercises should NEVER cause vocal pain or strain. It's OK if your voice feels stretched, warm, even a bit of 'helium effect' when you practice longer than usual, but it should NEVER feel strained. Vocal exercises (also known as vocalises) sung too hard, too fast, too low or high in your range or performed with incorrect vocal technique can turn a vocal warmup into a vocal tighten up, sabotaging your performance and can even cause vocal strain or damage! So can exercises that are too advanced for your current vocal ability. When it comes to the voice, any pain is no gain! If you don't know HOW to do a vocal exercise, don't do it, just lightly sing a song to warmup instead. But good exercises performed with good technique can do miracles to increase the ability and health of the voice.

So ... How long should vocal warmups be? 

Short answer: Until you're warmed up - therefore, it depends! Here are some guidelines I find helpful:

    1. If you've not been singing for a few days and performance is upcoming... 
Warm up for 20-30 minutes, gradually stretching your range, re-acquiring that feeling of pulling instead of pushing your voice, using your pelvic floor power to expand instead of tighten your chest and throat. I like to start with what we call 'semi-occluded vocal exercises' using a coffee straw, lip or tongue trills or the raspberry, then do some head voice, middle voice blending, full range legato and staccato scales and then end with sirens.

    2. If you've been singing full voice almost every day... 
A 10 minute vocal warm up may do just fine to get you limbered up for full voice singing. The most important thing is that you re-remember how to pull instead of push your voice, and that you actually do the exercises... it will make a difference and will protect your voice from strain.

    3. If you've had swollen vocal cords from laryngitis or misuse...

Start with some easy vocal exercises in the middle of your range, then continue to vocalize until either you start feeling physically tired (which can keep you from supporting your voice well), vocally stressed (from still-irritated tissue) or you indeed feel warmed up. You may need to warm up very gradually to pump interstitial fluid out of your vocal cords, for an average of 20 or 30 minutes or even longer.

How do you tell? If you're doing vocal exercises correctly and your voice is not still too injured to sing, your voice should start feeling better, not worse! When it hurts AT ALL to make a vocal sound, stop.

But if your voice is not hurting, just unsteady, pitchy or phlegmy, then keep going. When you can hit all the notes in your range with no discomfort and your passagio (vocal register change) area is smoothed out, you are warmed up and can confidently apply full voice.

Important: Unless your voice does feel warmed up, don't sing full voice. Consider cancelling your performance, or if you do perform, sing carefully at less than full volume.  If you're practicing,  stop till the next day, then warmup and try singing again. If it still feels stressful to use your voice, you might try vocal rest for a few days and try again. If your voice still feels strained or unhappy, go to a good vocal coach who can assess your technique, and/or to a voice specialist ENT for a medical evaluation of your vocal apparatus.

    4. If you are on a break between sets on your gig or vocal recording sessions...

Most people don't realize that when you sing or speak for a significant period of time and then stop for a break, even if you're using good technique your vocal cords can swell a bit. Rest your voice (especially limit talking), drink some water, eat a protein snack or meal and then re-warmup for 5 or 10 minutes to pump any vocal cord swelling back down before resuming your performance.

Important: At the end of your practice or performance, warm down your voice as well.

This is just like a warm-up but is shorter and for contemporary vocal style is more focused on easy head voice vocalizations, staccato scales and sighs to pump out interstitial fluid and relax your cords. Your voice will thank you the next day!

    5. If you aren't performing soon, or are between shows or tours...

On a day you don't have to perform, you don't have to worry about tiring yourself out, so go for it! It can be helpful to devote even more time, 45 minutes to an hour or more, to good vocal exercising. You can challenge (but not strain) your voice a little farther to increase your vocal ability in different areas, work on wider range and better mix, or increase your muscle memory for correct technique - or all of the above! Then, singing well is set on automatic for your next performance!

FYI... I have incredibly effective vocal warmups included in both my training courses, Power, Path and Performance, and Singing In The Studio. To increase and protect your vocal ability, do check them out.

What about you... 

How do you prepare your voice for performance? Please share in the comments!

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Sunday, April 8, 2012

Voices with Breathing Problems? Check These Areas


Breath is the power source for the voice. Not having enough breath or not having control of breath for singing or speaking can cause all kinds of vocal problems, including:
  1. running out of breath (can't finish phrases well)
  2. not having enough volume (weak, quiet voice)
  3. strained or fatigued voice (from overblowing cords and/or tightening throat)
  4. lack of vocal control  (causing problems with pitch, rhythm, tone, vocal licks, volume intensity, and more)
  5. numbness of performance (from too much worry/focus on breath)
For breathing problems it's best to get to the cause(s) to find the breathing technique(s) that cure your issues. If you have organic lung damage, allergies or other medical condition, by all means see a doctor. But check this list out and you may be surprised at how much better your breath can get, pretty much immediately:
  • Check your upper spine...  
Is it too curved, collapsing your ribcage? Sit or stand taller which should straighten the curve out... but don't stiffen, stay flexible in your spine.
  • Check your hands and arms...
Have they become 'rib anchors'? Try using your hands to communicate... they will help keep your ribcage open, which is the prime fix for breath issues.
  • Check your head
Is it balanced over your tailbone? Try moving it back until it is balanced over tailbone or heel instead of the balls of your feet.
  • Check your knees 
Are they locked? Unlock them so you can have use of your legs for power.
  • Check your belly
Is it tight? Let go there... the belly should be able to naturally move open and then tighten low is such a way the the bottom of the ribcage stays wide.
  • Check your energy
Everything that goes into energy will affect your breathing (sleep, nutrition, physical exersize, etc.)
  •  Check your breathing techniques
Especially when it comes to balancing breath support and breath control, vocal training can really improve your breathing for speaking and singing. Hit me up for a lesson in office, by phone or Skype, or buy my Power, Path and Performance vocal training course and conquer your breath problems once and for all.

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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Vocal Careers: How To Find Success

Do you want a vocal career? Do you want a bigger or more prosperous music business? There is no substitute for planning for success.

Too many people are depressed or defeated in their music careers because they don't do what it takes to be successful at it. They worry, try, hope, whine, give up or stay in a perpetual state of failing but they don't do the following:
  1. Research what it takes to be successful in the chosen vocal career.
  2. Assess what vocal and music business assets they have going at this point in time.
  3. Get to work on acquiring those assets they are missing.
I strongly advise long term and short term planning:
  • Create a 5 year plan, where do you want to be and what do you want to have accomplished by then? 
  • Work back... what do you have to in year 1, 2, 3, 4 to reach your goals in year 5?
  • Work back further... what do you have to do in each month to work towards your 1 year goal?
  • Work back further still... what do you need to do for the next 4 weeks? for the next week? for the next 7 days? Today???
  • Create a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly agenda. Know that it will be a plan on rollerskates; revise as necessary but keep moving towards your goals.
I used to council people in women's prisons and juvenile detention centers, in a trained volunteer program called "Better Decisions". The funny thing is, I learned as much as my subjects did about getting to better places in life. We use 5 steps to get there:
  1. Assess the situation ( where you are right now)
  2. Know what you want (where you want to be)
  3. Brainstorm the possibilities (and get other sources to help you do this)
  4. Evaluate and decide (choose your strategies and tactics according to your life values)
  5. ACT! (without this step, the others are useless) You may need to do something, face something about yourself, learn something, network with someone, make some calls, try some experiments. Schedule these into your daily, weekly, monthly, yearly plans.
So how do you know you've become 'successful'? This must be an ongoing term defined by you. Factors in your personal picture of success can include some of the following...
  1. You are happy doing your art. You are personally satisfied.
  2. You can afford your investment in your music, and don't consistently go over-budget.
  3. Your music income is at least what your music expenses are (breaking even).
  4. Your audience gives you the response you need to tell they are deeply impacted by your music
  5. You win some kind of award or talent show you've entered. 
  6. You have a hit on the radio, the internet, other media.
  7. You can quit your day job because you're making enough to live on.
If you create a plan for reaching the moon you may not hit the moon, but you may hit a star. Get help; read books and blogs, find a music biz coach, check out the information Indie Connect, Rick Barker and PCG Nashville can offer, meet and network with other people who have successful vocal careers. Here's a video interview I did with PCG founder Bernard Porter.

Get pen and paper ... stay on roller skates but do put legs to your dreams and callings.

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