Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog: December 2016

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!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

12 Vocal Resolutions To Rock the New Year

Your voice deserves a whole new start!
NOTE: The audio player should appear below, if not, please click on the title of this post and go online to hear. 
Available also on iTunes , Google PlayTuneIn Radio, Android apps

Tiz the season to be thinkin' about resolutions... commitments to changes you want to make in the new year. I know a lot of folks are down on the idea of resolutions, saying they don't work. In my experience, it's all in the way you resolve yourself! Consider the word 'resolute'. If you are resolute, then you absolutely intend and expect to do something... you don't just muse about attempting it someday! Among the many things you might want to make new year resolutions about, please include your voice! Here are my 12 suggestions:

1. Resolve to assess the state of your voice. 

All change starts with awareness. On a previous post, I suggested that you figure out your next most important thing for your voice, and start working on that. You can do this many ways... record and assess your voice yourself, ask friends with ears you trust what they hear in your performance, ask yourself how your voice feels when you sing (and right afterwards), attend a workshop or other event where you can showcase your voice and get an informed opinion, or in vocal lessons. If you think you might have vocal damage, go to an ENT fellowship trained specializing in voice. However you do it... get a baseline of the current condition of your voice. And while you're at it, assess the state of your overall health because your body IS your instrument!

2. Resolve to do something about your weakest vocal area.

Becoming aware is only the first step. Now you have to do something about what you've discovered. If your pitch sucks, do pitch practice. If your feel for rhythm is lacking, take drum or dance lessons. If your voice gets tired or strained, find out the fixes for the causes of your vocal cord abuse. If you have breath, tight throat or communication issues, find out what to practice, and then... get on a practice schedule!

3. Resolve to warm up and warm down your voice

OK can I tell you how nuts it is to perform on a cold voice? Try running an engine without oil. That's how nuts. Make a decision to warm up correctly, even if it's for 5 or 10 minutes, and that goes for in-between sets, too! Then do cool down exercises (light, shorter versions of warm ups) after long performances. Just as with muscle effort in athletics, your vocal apparatus needs the cool down to recover more quickly from strenuous use.

4. Resolve to address your speaking voice.

Frequently when a trashed voice comes in to train with me, I find that one of the core causes of the strain is from talking! You use the same little cords to speak that you sing with. Let that sink in. If talking tires you, change your technique. Yes, it will take concentration at first to correct life-long habits, but every speaking voice I've worked with will tell you it's worth it. Here's a video I did with tips on saving your speaking voice.

5. Resolve to get out of your comfort zone.

Your voice needs fresh fire to stay alive, present and growing. Even if you never do the song in public, learn something with lower or higher range (don't push, just pull strongly to challenge your voice without strain), learn a cover song in another genre, or write a song with a new co-writer!

6. Resolve to improve something you already do well.

No matter where you are in the vocal ability continuum, you can improve. Ask yourself deeply: what would you like to be able to do that you can't do now? Could you be less numb and more authentic when you sing or speak? Could your pitch accuracy be even better? Want even more control for vocal licks, volume, tone, whatever? Do you want to sing as well in the studio as you do live, or vice versa? Want to try another musical genre? Oh yes, you can.

7. Resolve to study some masters of your genre.

You may even be a master of your genre, but that doesn't mean you can't learn from other voices. Immerse yourself to study the vocal nuances of some singer or speaker you highly respect. Stick your headphones on and listen deeply. Practice to add what you hear and like to your own artistic vocabulary.

8. Resolve to set goals for your vocal performances.

What would you like to do with your voice? Where would you like to sing in 2017? Would you like to record something? Would you like to give a speech at some event? Would you like to sing to a loved one or at someone's wedding? Do better at songwriter rounds? Would you like to pursue a serious vocal career? or be more successful at growing the one you have? Write it down. You won't necessarily know the final outcome of your efforts, but your focused intentions can create attitudes which cause actions that lead to results... and sometimes create surprises you never would have imagined!

9. Resolve to have and nourish a small circle of trusted friends.

An artistic temperament is often rather reclusive, shy or lone-wolf-ish. But even the most creative spirit needs community. Each of us need a small circle of positivity, wisdom, encouragement and mutual accountability. It can keep us safe in times of failure AND success, growing and creating, and making a difference out there. A prosperous journey only takes place fully in connection with others. If you don't have this inner circle... resolve to find one! If you do... call, message, go see them or kiss them good morning regularly this year!

10. Resolve to take better care of yourself physically, mentally and spiritually

Yep. All this has to do with your voice. Do take care of your vocal health (signup for my free vocal health report if you haven't yet). If you haven't yet... STOP SMOKING! Eat healthier (a whole new set of resolutions, eh?), commit to more physical exercise, back off sources of stress, connect spiritually in more regular devotional times. Your life, your voice and your messages will show it.

11. Resolve to sing fearlessly.

No matter how 'good' or 'bad' you think your voice is, your voice is valid and your messages matter. Sing. Speak. Use your voice fearlessly to make the world a better place!

12. Resolve to be a better listener.

Don't forget that your ears are as important as your vocal cords. Empowering other voices truly can change the world. Make a point to listen more closely to someone else. Right now ask yourself: who is the quietest voice that you know? Perhaps start there ... make time and lend them your ear like it means something to you. It will.

Need help?

If you want some professional help with your singing &/or speaking voice... contact me for in person or on-line vocal lessons, or invest in a PPP course to study on your own. 
Happy New Year!
Your comments, as always, are treasured 😊

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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Top 10 All Things Vocal Blogposts for 2016

2016's top 10 posts

OK the tally is in: Here are the most viewed blogposts of those I wrote in 2016. Enjoy a fresh read, or a first read, of any you missed. Consider it my gift to you! You can also listen to the accompanying audio podcast links:
and a bonus that I updated for 2016 from years past:
Enjoy! And if you REALLY like something, please share it!

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Saturday, December 3, 2016

10 Lessons from the Beautiful Voice of Sara Bareilles

My favorite Sara Bareilles album... 

NOTE: The audio player should appear below, if not, please click on the title of this post and go online to hear. 
 Available also on iTunes, Google Play and Android podcast apps 

The voice of Sara Bareilles is quite beautiful and powerfully emotive. And also... I could be wrong... but her technique is so good I don't think we'll hear about her having to cancel a tour from vocal abuse! I find her a very worthy voice to study.

I've admired Sara Bareilles from the first time I heard her sing her “King Of Anything” smash.  She writes award-winning songs  about life and love from a woman's point of view, heavily influenced by her skills as pianist. Her DVD/CD "Between the Lines: Sara Bareilles Live at the Fillmore" should in my opinion be in every singer's music collection. 

Born in Eureka California, Bareilles' participation in everything from high school choir to community theater and University of California acapella group prepared and conditioned her voice for much that she has done since. In researching her, I found she is claimed as student by several different vocal coaches, and appears to be a constant learner. Her breakout single was 'Love Song' from the LP 'Little Voices'. That song has been certified 3x platinum. She has had 5 Grammy nominations and has played for the Obama White House multiple times. She has branched out in other creative directions being a celebrity judge for NBC's 'The Sing-Off', doing some cameo acting roles on TV and writing a memoir "Sounds Like Me: My Life (So Far) in Song", which has become a NYT bestseller! Bareilles' musical career is still unfolding. She now has earned a Tony Award nomination for Best Musical Score for the Broadway play 'The Waitress', has put out an album of her singing those songs (Jason Mraz joins her on one). It will be interesting to see what kind of work this evolving artist puts out next!

Here are some lessons singers can learn from her voice: 

1. Well-developed head voice can be belt voice's (upper chest voice's) best friend.

One of Sara's most intriging vocal strategies is her brilliant use of head voice. She has developed strong head register, and uses it freely as part of her uniquely recognizable pop sound. A clear instance of the way she uses head voice is in the chorus of  'King Of Anything'. But she has also developed a strong chest mix, and makes playful sport out of mixing the two together. One of the hallmarks of popular genre singing is the so-called 'belt voice', a term that I've come to avoid because to get this sound, too many singers push chest voice up as far as they can. But healthy belting, which I prefer to call full voice singing, requires a strong head register influence in the upper chest voice, so the full voice can rise strain-free, instead of being forcefully pushed up. 

To illustrate, let's take a look at 'Love Song'. Listen as Bareilles starts the song with lightweight chest voice, then uses head voice at the end of the verse on the words "...hard on me" at  :57. In the chorus, she switches to rich, conversational chest voice which she pulls through her mask for strongly communicative but strain-free resonance: 

2. Middle voice can be more interesting when varied and multi-colored.

Bareilles takes great artistic liberties to play with weight, depth and tone color choices in middle voice. This creates dramatic, dynamic patterns of vocal sound result in strong emotional response.
Listen as she takes the listener on an heart tugging journey by varying these vocal tone factors in 'Gravity':

3. Don't be afraid to play with vibrato and straight tone.

On her song Brave, Sara uses "shimmer" or light small wave vibrato in verses and bridge. She uses straight tone on the choruses. At 3:00, she does both... sustains the word 'brave' with straight tone, then changes into a shimmer of vibrato to end the line. She has developed the vocal control necessary to choose the exact length of time to hold straight tone, the exact width of vibrato she wants to create and the exact moment she wants to make a change:

4. If you write with piano, let your fingers and your voice collaborate.

As a piano-based songwriter myself, I know the brain-voice connection can run through the fingers when creating a melody. Sara Bareilles sings and plays piano as one integrated whole. Watch her in this version of 'Gravity': 

5. Watch where you place a piano mic stand.

Notice in her videos how the mic stand is placed so the boom can be in front and on top of the keyboard, not coming over the keys. This is necessary of course with an acoustic grand piano, but I find it's also the best way to play an electronic keyboard. If you do have the boom coming from the front over the keys, be sure it's close enough so you don't have to lean in, and tight enough so it doesn't fall on you. Wherever you put the mic stand, do it to avoid leaning your head forward, dropping your ribcage and losing your breath support.

6. If you have a great feel for rhythm, carefully consider scat singing in your performance.

Bareilles definitely owns a great inner sense of rhythm. She can embellish her vocals with runs and scats, but she also knows when NOT to do them. Learn the art of 'when' to scat... so just enough doesn't become too much. Check out her freedom of expression, vocal runs and variations on the melodic theme of 'Many The Miles' here:

7. Watch your pitch when out of your most usual position.

It's a good idea not to stay behind your instrument all the time, but when she leaves the piano about 4 minutes into this live version, Bareilles begins to go sharp. The excitement of the crowd and not having the piano to brace against can start a crunch factor in the ribs, and that is when counterproductive pushing begins. There could be a bad monitor situation, too, but still... it's a good idea to go over the sing-without-your-instrument option with your vocal coach to make sure your technique is good: 

8. It's ok to write the whole song yourself.

The rumor behind Bareilles song 'Love Song' about bucking her mean record label is not, she says, quite true. It came after she developed writer's block for a while, and had become very insecure, just turning in portions of songs. Her label tried to set her up with co-writers. After several unsatisfactory co-writing sessions she finally regained her attitude and confidence and wrote this smash hit by herself (oh, and her label loved it!) Sometimes it takes an intuitive collaborator to help you write your truth, especially if you are new to writing or stuck. But sometimes... sometimes... only you can do it. 

9. It's ok to have a name people have to spell check and hear pronounced.

"Bareilles" hasn't hurt her a bit - in fact, it adds to her uniqueness!

10. Everything you've ever done informs the music you make.

Sara Bareilles started out doing musical theater. In a significant career pivot, she successfully created her musical: "The Waitress". Each brave creative endeavor gives birth to the next. Who knows what great work she has to come?
What about you? Is there something in Bareilles' voice you'd like to aquire, too? Could you use a stronger, smoother mix? How do you use your vocal registers to define your way of singing? Check out PPP vocal training, and see how fast you can mix, improve and master all parts of your vocal range, without strain!  www.judyrodman.com

Note: This blogpost contains information from my article originally published by TC Helicon's VoiceCouncil Magazine.

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