Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog: September 2013

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!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Three Ways to Increase Your Vocal Range Safely and Practically - revised

... how low/high can you go?

NOTE: The audio player should appear below, if not, please click on the title of this post and go online to hear. 
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There are many vital reasons for singers to work on increasing vocal range. One is of course that you can sing wider range songs without straining and damaging your poor vocal cords! Another is that healthy vocal training for more range can help your vocal apparatus gain strength, stamina and flexibility. This improves your vocal ability in general, giving you richer resonance, more tonal options, better control of pitch and volume as well as more accuracy to execute vocal licks and style idiosyncrasies. If you do training for vocal range extension correctly, you can increase the ability of your voice to mix registers, creating a bigger, better middle voice which is where most contemporary singing occurs.  So increasing your range is about more than bragging rights!

Defining Vocal Range

Here are three ways to think about vocal range:

1. The distance between the lowest note you can sing in chest voice and the highest note you can sing in head voice or falsetto.
2. The distance between the lowest and highest notes you can sing without going all the way over to head voice.
3. The distance between the lowest and highest notes you can sing in both registers, blended so well you can cross registers without breaking or sounding extremely different, or straining, from bottom to top. This is your practical performance vocal range.

To define your vocal range, ask yourself these questions:
  • How many octaves can you sing between your lowest chest voice and your highest head voice notes?  

This is the definition of total vocal range that covers all your vocal registers. Expanding your total range is good exercise for your voice for many reasons, but understand you will be singing scales lower and much higher than will be practically be required for singing songs.
  • How high can you sing in 'full voice'? 

This definition of vocal range is very practical and applicable to contemporary singing requiring strong chest register sound. But it is vital to expand your full voice range without it becoming strained 'throat voice', typically evidenced by over-defined neck muscles when pushing/reaching for high notes. This is the bad way to 'belt'.
  • How well can you connect your vocal registers so it seems you have one smooth register without a discernible break (unless it's a little intentional yodel)? 

Expanding your vocal range by this definition is a very worthy and practical goal for jazz singing as well as many other contemporary and classical genres. This can give you a range that is quite wide but truly strain-free. For examples, listen to Mat Kearney, early Joni Mitchell, Philip Bailey of Earth Wind and Fire, Andrea Bocelli, Sara Bareilles, and of course, the inimitable Aretha Franklin. Smooth register transition is a worthy goal for any voice.

Training for more vocal range

There are different vocal exercises and training techniques for each of the above three goals. To maximize and protect your voice, my suggestion is to train for all three!

1. To increase your total vocal range through all registers:
  •  At the low end... I don't recommend creating vocal fry for the low end of your range; it's not a practical sound and if used habitually it can create vocal damage. Just sing as low as you can create tone with pitch. 
  • Try stretching your torso out instead of collapsing your chest to sound lower notes. 
  • For higher notes, practice carefully to lift your head voice range... don't push high notes up, intend them and let them float up. You might want to read other posts I wrote on what to do and what not to do for better high notes.
  • Challenge yourself by supporting your highest head voice range solidly from the pelvic floor, but never push or strain your voice to go up another step. Just pull it up there, intending it, supporting it and controlling it by lifting above and behind yourself.
2. To raise the range you can sing in full voice:
  • This is also known as 'mixed' or 'middle' voice, gradually changing the mix of chest and head register  involvement as you goes higher but not quite crossing into pure head voice. To do this, you must balance the strength in the two sets of muscles  (TA and CT) that work your vocal cords so they can coordinate their efforts efficiently. You must also allow your vocal cord vibration to access all resonation zones. In other words, allow the note to place itself where it resonates the most freely. To gain this continually adjusting balance, here are some tips:
    1. First, increase the amount of exercise you do with the vocal register you use the least (usually you'll need to work more in head voice for contemporary voice singers, chest voice for classical singers).
    2. Then learn to do some full voice vocal exercises (almost but not quite crossing into pure head voice) with absolutely correct form. I designed humming exercises with a loose jaw for this purpose, which I call 'middle voice circle stretches'. I have my student slur up on an 'm' sound, then slur down, creating a circular hum that is an octave apart at top and bottom.  Then I use an 'n' and 'ng', going up by half steps about 7 or 8 times until the singer must go over to pure head voice to avoid strain. You'll hear me demonstrate on my podcast version of this post.
    3. As you go higher in full voice, back off your air pressure so you don't have to go into head voice to avoid strain. Elongate and allow morphing (modification) of vowels for ease. Check my earlier blogpost for more tips on hitting full voice high notes.
  • If you are training correctly, you'll notice it gets easier and easier to sing higher in full voice than ever before. But note: this should NOT be a pushed, strained or tight sound, just rich and bright! Even metal rockers and r&b divas can learn to expand full voice ranges with no vocal strain.
3. To create more practical range with smooth vocal register transition:
  • Do lots of big range vocal exercises that cross your vocal registers; learn to blend and hide breaks at the transition areas and allow a mix to develop between registers. Hint: You do this by lifting up and back - pulling instead of pushing - as you cross your registers.
  • Lip and tongue trills, raspberries and sirens, also known as semi-occluded vocal tract (SOVT) exercises, that go across your whole range are just some of the great vocal exercises that can get you moving across and blending your registers smoothly. Again... pull up and back as you 
  • Try to make the top of your chest voice sound just like the bottom of your head voice. To do this (it may sound weird), pull your head voice notes through your mouth zone, pull your chest voice through your mask zone. Mix up where the bottom and top go!
  • Learn the "pull" method of sounding your voice, which will balance you breath support/control and give you just the right amount of breath to go across your registers without breaking. It will also open your throat and allow your notes to go where they resonate the best.

How much range is enough? 

The answer can depend on genre-specific norms. The better question is... what should your USABLE vocal range be?

Here is the way I like to answer... As big as is necessary to singing what you wish to sing without strain. Your lowest notes can be confident and rich, not hooty or muddy, and the top of your range will never have to hurt! (What a concept!)

Need help? Book a lesson or buy a course in Power, Path and Performance vocal training. Then practice your vocal exercises!

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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Busy Voices: Quick Tabata Exercise for Physical Stamina

Tabata timer stays readily accessable bookmarked in my internet favorites

Your voice needs not only vocal strength and stamina, it needs the rest of your body to be in shape, too. But we are SO BUSY... it's so easy to neglect or put off physical exercise due to time constraints. I've used the excuse a ton of well-intentioned mornings myself! But what if you could do a 4 minute workout that could rival your 30 min routine? Or a 23 minute routine that would top the fat-burning, cardiovascular, muscular-skeletal, endorphine-creating results of a much longer hour or more exercise session?

CAUTION: My heart feels like it's beating out of my chest when I'm finished working this intently for just 4 min, 10sec! If you are possibly prone to heart attack, stroke, pregnant, etc... consult with your doctor before starting this or any other exercise.

That said, my guest poster today is my own amazing and trusted chiropractor:

Tabata Exercise Protocol 

by Dr. Dwaine Allison DC, Wellness Center of Franklin

Use Tabata timers for computer and smart phone apps to provide 20 sec/10 sec. cycles while you work out.  An entire Tabata workout might go like this:
1 to 3 minute warm up:
•    On a Rebounder,
•    or doing Jumping Jacks 

Then 8 sets of a whole body workout - something that uses as many muscle groups as possible, like
4 Different, Staggered Movements
Another method, still only 4 minutes would be to pick 4 different movements that use 4 different body areas, and stagger them; e.g. 

(after warmup)
•    Sets 1 & 3 Pushups,
•    Sets 2 & 4  Jack Knife Sit Ups
•    Sets 5 & 7 Squat and Jump w/arms to sky,
•    Sets 6 & 8 Using Dumb Bells, Lean & Row

Want To Do More Sets? 
with 3 minute warmup this takes 23 minute total:
•    8 sets of one particular exercise,  rest 60 sec,
•    then 8 sets of 3 other exercises – with a 60 sec rest between each of the sets of 8.

Other Exercises that can be used Tabata – style:

•    Lunges of all kinds
•    Situps of all kinds
•    Weight lifting (light weights always using good form, because they must be done at fast, high intensity pace)
•    Jumping Rope
•    Swimming
•    Stationary bicycle (just stop pedaling at the rests)

•    The 20/10 cycle is important, and also doing the max you can in each. 
•    It's a good idea to journal how many reps you were able to do on the last (8th set), and watch it improve with time.  Example, push ups- you might be able to do 20 or so on set one, but by the 8th it might be 6.  That 6 might improve to 10 or more with time.  That's an important indicator, plus you'll feel great.

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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Child Stars: Are We Mentoring Heroes or Narcissists?


It takes a village of parents, extended family, teachers, directors and counselors to grow a young artist into their full potential. I believe this 'village' should not only develop talent, but also mentor the child's maturation into a hero: a person who will make the world a better place. 

I listened to a 2013 NPR program where "Matilda" star Mara Wilson talked about why child stars go crazy. The program aired a couple of months before former Disney star Miley Cyrus's shock value performance on the VMA's. Like Justin Bieber and the parade of child stars that fell before, Cyrus became more famous than ever and seems to be unaccountable to anyone or anything but her own desires, but does that mean she's on a satisfied/successful/prosperous journey? Is her musical artistry illuminating the darkness, moving it to the light, in some way making the world better? Those are the questions I want to raise here. What template defines a successful life as a human being... that of hero or narcissist? Because the answer will dictate what kind of mentoring the child should be getting.

No matter how gifted they are, children are not little adults... physically, mentally, emotionally. We who are their mentors need to educate ourselves in child development, and our own self-centered motivations need to be assessed. A self-driven child who loves participating in performance arts will indeed need support as they reach for their goals from loving adults who care, but I believe we must be vigilant at the line between supporting what the child can become and what we all know as 'stage-parenting'.  Control must also be part of the equation... but always control for the child's well-being, not for primarily parental or instrutor aspirations.  I know... ouch.

Issues and village actions:

  • The issue:
A child is by nature self-absorbed. It's not evil... it's natural... part of human child development.   
  • What the village can do: 
Young natural self-centeredness must be tempered by encouraging empathy with others. For instance, we can help mold a child's thought processes at talent contests. While doing their best to claim whatever prize, the child can be encouraged to care about and befriend other contestants, and to even redefine how to truly 'win' a contest.  If mentored in this way, the child always 'wins' and can learn how to be an everyday hero to someone else.
  • The issue:
As the child becomes the teen, there is a very natural tendency and need to rebel. Two big problems of the child star are that their 'acting out' is in public (and on Twitter, usually!), and that some in the village are making big bucks on the child or teen's careers.
  • What the village can do:
The young person sometimes needs the opposite of 'friendship' from the village... they need to be held accountable by loving adults who are willing to speak truth and apply tough-love - and if that doesn't work, get the child/teen professional counseling. If that distances the kid for a while, or even a few years, do it anyway for long-run success. I love the old scripture "Train up a child in the way they should go and when they are old they will not depart from it". 
  • The issue:
 Fame is a dangerous blessing, especially early. Without staying close to a small trustable circle of accountability to whom an artist will listen, there is danger that phenomenal success and fan worship status can lead them into adult narcissism, personal emptiness and artistic uselessness. Loretta Lynn once said 'you're really in trouble when you start believing your own press'.In this 'American Idol' culture, a talented young person is often lifted up to great heights, and then dropped like a sack of unwanted garbage, with no logical reason, and sometimes with perverse pleasure of watching the fall... and the train-wreck spectacle the young person becomes.
  • What the village can do:
Failure can teach a growing soul the most important things -often better than success can. But a young person needs to be taught how to gracefully and safely fail. We can be the safety net... with the message that a person's worth is not in what they 'do' but in who they 'are'. They need to know that when they 'act out', they will be held accountable with correction and discipline, but also that without a doubt they are unconditionally loved by their village. I would suggest that even with some bullying, failure and public derision, young Taylor Swift and her village turned her into a hero - and rare positive role model - for her demographics. May she stay safe from her own success.
  • The issue:
 Children are easy prey. They cannot be expected to have the skills to protect themselves financially, sexually, emotionally. Especially with 'perfectionist' children who want to please, there is terrible opportunity for exploitation of the young in the performance arts.
  • What the village can do:
We must watch over and train our charges. We must talk among ourselves, reporting any abuse we think we see, no matter what it might cost the child's career. A beautiful shot is one thing, but when a child's album cover approaches soft porn, why are we surprised at the kind of 'attention' it elicits?
  • The issue: 
Truly gifted and self-driven children NEED to be able to express themselves creatively. Overprotecting them can hurt their development and trying to discourage them from following their dreams (in a balanced, wise way) can cause depression to set in.
  • What the village can do:  
Listen and observe the child. What do they really need to be able to do to fully develop into the person they were born to be? Nurture their gifts; teach them how to persist and practice for something they've chosen to do or audition for (always watching your own motivations). Help them balance their responsibilities, study and aspirations with play time, daydream-time and laughter. Remember that even if they DO become doctors, lawyers or CEO's, they still need to create in the giftings they have to be fulfilled and happy in life. Music does all kinds of things for the mind and spirit. The arts are not 'extra' .. they are of primary importance to humanity.


Do you have a talented child? If you were you a child who performed publically.. what helped/hurt you? How do you think we can help mentor heros instead of narcissists? Hit 'comment' and give us your thoughts!

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