Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog: November 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.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Creating and Singing Harmony

Claire and Merideth of Flyte Three with me... 
working out their great harmonies

Many singers want to know about how to sing harmony. I got another question about it this week, and thought I'd share my answer with you, my dear blog readers.

Harmonizing is a bit tricky because there are many ways to harmonize the same phrase. You can simply sing an exact parallel distance above or below the melody (say thirds, fifths or sixths) or you can sing different intervals to different notes. Or you can do like Emmylou Harris and create a contrasting melody to be the harmony part. And of course you can create more than one part for three or four (or more) -part harmony. 

You also have to take into account the musical genre in which you're singing. There are certain harmony choices that sound more true to specific genres; you must immerse yourself in that music and study it to chose parts wisely. For instance, blues uses lots of flat 7ths, bluegrass does NOT. Jazz incorporates major 7ths, 4 sharps, etc in chord choices and these are taken into account in harmonies. Western is instantly recognizable with 4 part barbershop-like tight harmonies, even using 2s and 9s in chords. For rock music, sometimes your harmony choice can be so wrong, disregarding the underlying chord changes in the track, that it's just right! Celtic music prefers 5ths and I really like to leave 3rd's out for some traditional mountain-country music and old hymns. As to multiple parts, there are some brilliantly complex arrangements in many pop as well as black gospel music that frequently change from unison to 4 parts but are so masterfully arranged they sound like a sonic tapestry with no seams. And nowadays there are a whole lot less oohs and aahs in background vocals than there used to be, so if you use them you need to take care that it doesn't make the song sound 'dated'... unless you're going for retro. And then there's the fact that for every rule created for harmony, there is usually a hit song that broke that rule. Whew!

That's why creating good background vocal arrangements (harmony), takes experience. Most pro singers who do a lot of session (recording) work or live background vocals have been harmonizing since they were children. Many times they have also worked for veteran producers who ask for certain harmony, and thus learn various strategies for arrangements. That doesn't mean you can't learn to sing parts; I've successfully trained many singers to do so. What I do for artists wanting to sing their own live or recorded parts is to first create a cool harmony the singer likes that fits the genre of the song. Then I sing and/or play it on piano and record it so the singer can practice and memorize it. If it's a group I'm dealing with, I'll do this for each part so the singers can individually learn their harmony before putting it all together. 

What I find is that with time and experience memorizing harmony, singers start being able to create their own harmony lines.

The gadget called 'Hearfones' can help, especially with groups. You can really zone into your own part while singing together and gradually take the hearfones away.  

How about you? Have you found other ways to successfully sing harmony? God help us all if we ever stop learning:)

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Saturday, November 9, 2013

9 Tips for Better Voice-Over and Teleseminar Speaking

When doing voice-over work or hosting teleseminars, you generally don't have the person you need to be speaking to in front of your face. But you have to imagine interacting with them, or your speaking voice will sound dull, bored, thin and/or fake - definitely not the kind of voice that invites listening. Here are some tips to make your next recorded script or phone presentation much more effective, and much less vocally fatiguing:

  1. First: don't bore the listener with too much extrapolation and meandering... you can freestyle it somewhat but it is indeed best to work from a script. 
  2. Mentally set the stage. Really picture a specific person to whom you will talk. This will help you not sound numb or artificially passionate in your delivery.
  3. Now mentally picture the person's face reacting so that you know you got through. Ask yourself what kind of vocal sound - tone, inflection, pace, volume, articulation - you need to use to get that response. Use that! 
  4. Watch your speed of delivery. Don't neglect the natural pauses and moment of silence needed by the listener to digest what you say. Give yourself permission to breathe.
  5. To keep an open throat and ribcage for good resonance and breath, do not slump or stiffen your spine. Park your head over your tailbone.
  6. USE YOUR EYES and HANDS when you're speaking, as you would if the object of your message was in your gaze. This can make a HUGE difference. Try an experiment... quote some passage with dead eyes and still hands, then speak it again with active eyes, brows and hands. You'll be a believer.
  7. Don't fake it. Use tone colors that are authentic to the meaning of the words coming out of your face! 
  8. Use good breath technique... 'Pull' your speaking voice as well as you do your singing voice to balance breath support and control. Power your voice from your pelvic floor.
  9. If you are responsible for the final recording, edit your file with software such as Audacity to get superfluous er, eh, sputter, false starts out.
  10. Picture your audience naked. No, actually DON'T, that doesn't help at all (who starts these things? :)
Since writing this post, I've done another... this time an interview with world-renown VO talent Linda Bruno. There is a podcast audio file included. Click on the link to view, or copy/paste this url into your browser: 

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Saturday, November 2, 2013

Gift Suggestions For Singers, Songwriters, Speakers 2013

what is it... what is it...  what is it?!

As winter songs begin to wind down ... Tis the season to giving! For the singers, and speakers and songwriters on your list... check out the following Christmas and holiday gift suggestions:

$25 and under

$25 - 50

  • A stand for music, mic or instrument
  • A box set of their favorite TV show (for down time on the tour bus)
  • Music book... vocal manuscripts, charts, lyrics
  • iPad stand holder
  • Tickets to a concert! There's nothing like seeing someone else's great live show to inspire!
  • Hearphones
  • Case of H2O Overdrive or Hydrate formula (great hydration solution for studio and stage singers)
  • Video course "Help, My Kid's a Musician!" (note: I am an affiliate of IC)
  • 1/2 hour vocal lesson with me, in office or via Skype
  • Thumb drive (all sizes avail, for backing up or traveling with music)

$50 - 200

  • Ukulele
  • Membership in NSAI
  • Membership in AFM (Musician's Union) or SAG/AFTRA (singer/actor union)
  • Masterwriter software (for songwriters)
  • New smartphone (for SO many reasons:)
  • A series with a personal trainer or gym membership  (singers need strong cores!)
  • Singing In The Studio multimedia course
  • Dance or acting lessons... Google classes and prices in your area, get recommendations.
  • Luggage or backpack
  • Live performance coaching
  • A microphone (from inexpensive Shure 58 to more expensive live or recording mics )
  • Mp3 player (other than iPod is cheaper)
  • A digital camera or camcorder
  • A turntable (LP vinyl player) 
  • Laptop - a Mac is always great for music and graphics programs
  • Headphones (all prices avail)
  • Full 6-CD Power, Path and Performance vocal training course
  • A gig bag for guitar, etc.
  • iPad (for SO many reasons, including gig charts/lyrics and recording)
  • One or two hours of vocal lessons with me in office or via Skype 
  • Portable CD player

$200 up (some WAYup)...

  • Zoom digital recorder
  • A smart phone data package
  • A new artist website
  • In-ear monitors
  • Stage clothes or jewelry
  • iPod and/or accessories 
  • Wireless mic system
  • A photo session
  • CD graphics design
  • Portable CD player
  • A demo recording project
  • A master recording project
  • A video
  • An instrument.. guitar, keyboard, mandolin, violin, etc
  • New road cases
  • A series of instrument lessons
  • PCG artist development program (note: I teach voice for PCG)
  • Home recording gear
  • PA system
Gifts of Your time/expertise - let your loved voice unwrap your promise to...
  • Do song charts for them.
  • Set up a Facebook or Twitter or Reverb Nation or Google+ page for them.
  • Edit their video -- (or use whatever skill set you have to help market or promote them).
  • Write a song for them (priceless).
  • Commit to a number of hours of computer work... updating databases, uploading videos and pictures, social network friending, etc.
  • Work the door for them at a gig.
  • If you have home recording gear, record a song demo or worktape on them.
  • Listen to their presentation/speech or new song and give feedback.
  • Give them a day of complete voice rest! Do the talking for them.
  • Babysit or dog sit while they go to a show (their own or someone else's).
  • Type/organize their lyrics/charts/set lists, etc. 

Also... don't overlook charity giving in your loved one's name, or make a memory spending some time together working a soup kitchen, caroling, volunteering for a food drive or meals on wheels!

Anybody else have suggestions? What would light up your singer/speaker's face? Please share!

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