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!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Top 10 Terrible Vocal Training Tips

In honor of David Letterman's last year on television, I thought I'd do my own Top Ten List. These terrible ideas are things I've personally heard said by singers, music professionals or others who don't know better! Ready?

10. Singers shouldn't do too many ab exercises.

Oh my gosh, this is nuts. Singers need core strength! I have yet to have a vocal student whose abs were so tight they couldn't expand their ribcage... and I've trained the voices of many a body-builder, dancer, athlete and other sports enthusiast. So go ahead... do those crunches! Then power your ribcage open by singing from your (well-toned) butt/pelvic floor, not your abs!

9. Keep your face still when you sing.

There's a simple way to disprove this. Try singing a song with your face perfectly still. Then sing with very active facial language... over-do it for this test. Which way sounds/feels better? Move your face or you'll limit your range, tighten your throat and numb your performance ... unless you want to sound like a robot!

8. Just relax your body and let your voice float out of you.

You know I actually could agree... to a certain point ...with this directive, which can be helpful when a student is especially tense. However, when you get right down to performance, something has got to power your voice. Powering from pelvic floor/butt allows all the flexibility you need above the waist. If you don't power from anywhere, you'll end up coming from your ribcage, which creates all kinds of problems and limitations. You need to be flexibly relaxed WITH FOCUS... like a boxer or badminton player at the ready before the action. Then like a ballet dancer, your voice can feel and sound almost effortless with that strong engine supporting from below.

7. Keep your hands and arms still.

AAAAHHH. One of my pet peeves. Your hands and arms are eventually attached to your spine and ribcage. They don't need to act like rib-anchors. Even if they hang down rather quietly (for certain choir and other situations), put life in their stillness and don't let them be dead weight. Why do you think people talk and sing with their hands and arms? It's not just for show.

6. If you can sing classical style, you can sing anything.

Actually... sometimes classical singers have a very hard time switching to contemporary singing. They are used to bringing head voice lower than sounds right in popular songs because of the hooty, dark, hollow element. Then many times they throw the baby out with the bath water and try to sing high chest voice with no mix, flattening the soft palate to prevent what they think is classical vowel shaping. They have to train to allow a new kind of mixed voice to be created, so the chest voice is influenced by the head voice. On the other hand, classical singing strengthens the head voice and that is very good for the contemporary voice. I love singing Italian Art songs as part of my warmup. But head voice vocalises can work just as well. What works best in my experience is starting with contemporary singing and then taking classical voice... unless you want to only sing classical music.

5. If you're too nasal, stop singing from your nose.

Nope. Think about it; when you have a stuffy nose from a cold you sound... NASAL! You need to actually open your nose and let your voice travel through it to transform excessive nasality into richly resonant, masky tone. Try saying a word with your nose closed, then try saying it with nose open.

4. Your Adam's (or Eve's) apple shouldn't move when you sing.

This is so, so wrong, and is a overthinking and misunderstanding of SLS, or speech level vocal training, a method some other vocal coaches use. The larynx, when operating freely, tilts in the neck. When it does, the point of the thyroid cartilage, which is the adams apple, will move. This doesn't mean the larynx is over-lifting- which will create a strangled sound. If you don't feel tight, then you can trust your Adam's apple to move as directed by the automatic nervous system.

3. Vocal training could change your style and kill your commercial success.

Only if you have the wrong voice teacher! Successful artists often hold superstitious fears about changing anything about the voice, afraid to mess with success. But when tightness threatens the health of their instrument, the right kind of vocal training can just free up and heal the voice without changing style at all. Even with subtle tone changes, the uniqueness and familiarity of the star's voice will still be there, better than ever. The fact is... when a singer's voice feels better, the fan LIKES it better, because tight voices tighten listeners! The other option is of course, to wait til you need vocal surgery (a serious career break, and ridiculously prevalent these days).

2. Some people are just born with a husky voice.

Buy this myth at your peril. A young student came to see me who had a raspy, husky voice that I knew wasn't normal. Her mom told me that she had been told by her drama coach that her daughter's voice was just naturally that way. When I couldn't help her NOT make the husky sound or get her into her head voice very far, I stopped the lesson and recommended she get scoped at Vanderbilt Voice Clinic. She had such a bad case of nodes they told her to immediately go on full voice rest and stop singing for months. I'm not sure she ever started back. Yes, you can sing with a rasp just like you can scream... with good technique that minimizes vocal strain for that sound. But if you talk or sing with a raspy or husky sound because you can't not, go to the doctor to rule out serious damage or illness!

And the number 1 terrible vocal training tip is: 

1. Sing from your diaphragm.

First of all, most people don't even know exactly where the diaphragm is. It's a thin, parachute-shaped muscle fiber with edges attached at the bottom of the ribcage. DON'T power your voice from the bottom of your ribcage! You'll sabotage your breath control! Your diaphragm needs to be stretched to control air, and wide ribs are the only way that happens. Power your voice from your pelvic floor. Just remember, sing your butt off so you don't sing your throat out!

Did I miss one? Do you have a favorite false fable you heard about the voice? Let us know! Leave your thoughts in the comments below the post.

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  • At July 10, 2015 at 9:11 AM , Anonymous Kevin Duke said...

    Excellent tips as usual.

  • At July 10, 2015 at 9:43 AM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Thank you, Kevin... glad you enjoyed the post!

  • At September 11, 2015 at 8:29 AM , Blogger Betty Johnson said...

    Do some people actually believe that you should work out your abs to be able to sing well? That doesn't make much sense and I'm glad that you disagree as well. There's nothing wrong with being toned. There are some interesting myths about singing out there. http://www.canadianvocalacademy.com

  • At September 11, 2015 at 11:05 AM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Actually, I do indeed advocate a strong core, which includes working out glutes, thighs back and abdominal wall muscles for singers and speakers. Without that muscle tone, breath tends to be supported from too high instead of from pelvic floor, and will interfere with breath control of wide ribs.. I see you're a vocal coach. If you'd like to discuss further, let me know. Thanks for your comment.

  • At October 2, 2015 at 7:55 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Hi i've had this vocal problem for as long as i can remember and it has always frustrated me. My vocal range is around an E2 to an G4, but where i have the most difficulty singing is right in the middle around E3 to F#3. Sometimes i can get a decent tone out but it's often inconsistent and shaky. My voice just feels like it loses stability around there and im often fearful of holding out notes in that range. Any idea on how i can smooth out this area of my voice? thank you!!

  • At October 3, 2015 at 6:53 AM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Anonymous... great question; this is a common place of adjustment of the mechanism of the voice. It's a matter of controlling your breath and keeping your throat open so the notes can find their favorite resonation spaces. If you sing by pulling up and back you can stretch the stability back into the area. Doing this, you widen your ribcage giving you more breath control for the fine adjustments necessary and you also open your throat right where it wants to guard and tighten up.If you need further help, try a lesson.

  • At August 3, 2016 at 6:45 AM , Anonymous Classically Trained Singer said...

    Classical techniques focus on lifting of the soft palate and maintaining an open throat as in a yawn. Classical Trained Singer have technique that existed for a very long time. In comparison, it is fairly recent that contemporary singers have begun enhancing themselves with voice training.

  • At February 16, 2019 at 6:00 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I know this is an old post, vbu I just have to ask. I'm a 20yrs old woman with pelvic floor problems. Does that mean I have to stop singing? I love singing and I'll be shattered if I have to stop.

  • At February 16, 2019 at 10:21 AM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    You can have pelvic floor problems and still support your voice from 'down there'. Try sensing your power coming from your heel (instead of the balls of your feet) and you may find just the right sensation to send controlled air to your vocal cords. And really, the question you should ask yourself is about your VOICE feels when you sing as you must. If there is no strain, no problem! Remember the goal of all vocal technique should be to enable you to elicit a response to your message from the heart of your listener, without straining your voice. No, don't stop singing!


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