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!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Twin Sins of Powering The Voice: Too Little, Too Much


Through all my years of singing, speaking and coaching others, I've come to appreciate a basic vocal fact:
Vocal cords love to be buzzed... but they hate to be blown. (- yours truly)
This is why the breath we send to and through them MUST be balanced... both supported and controlled. It's a complicated process because the act of singing is an active phenomenon. Breath is moving (supporting the voice), but the ribcage housing the lungs needs to stay wide to keep the diaphragm stretched enough to control the precise volume of air getting through (controlling the voice). When we get it right, we aren't aware of any feeling in the vocal cords at all, even when they generate big sound waves.

I just read an interesting article by Ohio State University professor of voice Scott McCoy. The article is titled "The Energy Crisis". The gist is that singers are being encouraged to be too cautious with their vocal power, in order to protect the apparatus. I always enjoy his brilliant writing on vocal issues. But I'd like to take this opportunity to offer a balance check.

Yes, I do know there are vocal coaches who encourage vocalists to 'relax completely... let go of all tension... just allow the voice the freedom to float out, etc.' The problem with this is that, as Scott so aptly noted, there must be tension somewhere to power the voice or there is too little for effective singing or speaking. To quote him in the article:
It takes a lot of energy to sing well, both physically and mentally. The body must be engaged muscularly and with sufficient effort to generate the pulmonary pressures required to sustain phonation. -Scott McCoy, NATS Journal of Singing Vol 71 No. 5.
Absolutely. I teach that this tension needs to happen...
  • physically at the pelvic floor, like riding a horse downhill, and 
  • mentally from the desire to communicate a message to someone.
However, I find that the more common problem in the passionate contemporary voices I work with is the opposite: Too MUCH power. If that tension is allowed to creep up to inappropriate places... high abs, chest, shoulders, neck, jaw, upper cheeks... the sound quality and the health of the voice is negatively affected. That's why so many great professional singers in my city are ending up in trouble at Vanderbilt Voice Clinic!

As is true in so many things, the secret to powering a great voice is ... Balance. The greatest, wisest voices make it a magic trick: They look and sound so powerful it seems they are holding NOTHING back, but their voice feels even better after the performance- vocal cords are energized gaining even more stamina but are never trashed. This is the 'pull' technique of Power, Path and Performance training.

What about you? Are you powering your voice too little, too much or just right? Hit me up if you need some help.

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  • At July 2, 2015 at 2:45 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Hi Judy. Recently i've been working on dynamics and being able to sing softly which has always been difficult for me. It seems like my voice will always waver/cut out and sometimes even my tone will go throaty if i attempt to sing softly. Any tips? How much support should i be using?

  • At July 2, 2015 at 4:24 PM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Your control and support BOTH are needed for soft singing. I'd say you need more control for sure. Try this... read this post http://blog.judyrodman.com/2013/04/using-hands-for-singing-and-speaking.html


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