All Things Vocal Blog & Podcast by Judy Rodman: February 2019

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, February 20, 2019

Trading Lessons With Mark Thress - Contemporary vs Classical Voice

Turning vocal insight over with Mark - always pure joy!
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, TuneIn Radio, Android apps

As I listened to my new friend introduce himself and his work over coffee one morning, an insistent thought running through my head broke through to became a question. Would Mark Thress be interested in trading an hour vocal lesson of his classical training for an hour of my contemporary vocal training? Just once, you know, for fun? 

It was about a year ago that we had that first lesson exchange. Now we trade lessons for 2 hours almost every week, and we both learn something new all the time. My head register gained a step of vocal range I've never had in my life and my middle voice feels all the better for it. Mark is vocally nailing John Legend songs now and tells me he even notices more richness and control in his classical voice. Our respective students have also gained from our collaboration as we trade our singing and vocal training secrets and insights with each other. We decided to share some of the fruits of our vocal exploration to the village at All Things Vocal!

This blog post will contain 2 videos... one of our interview and one with our vocal lesson exchange.

Some topics we covered: 

  • How we met and our intention behind trading lessons.
  • Similarities and differences between the genres of classical and contemporary singing.
  • How all art is about effectively and authentically communicating a message to the one heart.
  • Subtle technical differences in formal and contemporary genres in performance focus, creating volume, using self-compression, facial expressions, vowel lengths, vibrato, the need for mic technique or to fill the hall acoustically, conveying emotion without pushing.
  • How “less is more” in contemporary music, while continuity in sound is important in classical music.
  • How cross training can benefit both contemporary and classical voice.
  • What issues students typically have when trying to cross these genres and perform them authentically.
  • Using tools such as a trampoline or bosu ball to loosen the body and increase access to breath and tone, as well as a coffee straw or balloon for warming up.
  • How 'pulling' helps both contemporary and classical singing.
  • How both coaches have improved each other's voices.

The Interview 

The Lesson Trade 

About Mark:

Mark Thress, MM, MA, is an accomplished operatic and studio vocalist with a demonstrated higher education teaching history, and his work in vocal research has helped carve a unique path of innovation and vocal science in the Singing Health Specialization.

As an opera singer, Mark is experienced with both the Operatic and Operetta Repertoire. Roles he has performed include: Rodolfo, La boheme, Prunier, La rondine, Tamino, Die Zauberflöte, Nemorino, L’elisir d’amore, il Messaggero, Aida, as well as Ralph, H.M.S. Pinafore, Frederic, The Pirates of Penzance, and Nanki Poo, The Mikado. He currently performs with the Nashville Opera. Mark was awarded First Place in the inaugural NATS National Competition held in Boston, MA. He won an Honorable Full Scholarship to the Cornish-American Song Institute, where he performed Art Song recitals and toured England. Mark is the featured soloist on the album 'Whispering of Fields Unsown', by Andrew Boysen, Jr., and 'If My People Pray', arranged by Phillip Keveren.

Mark has an extensive background in vocal health, voice science and research. Under the tutelage of Dr. Scott McCoy, he worked as research assistant in the Helen Swank Research and Teaching Lab. He worked as assistant in the Head and Neck department of the Eye and Ear Institute in Columbus, OH. He helped lead therapy sessions and customize vocal exercises for patients in the Speech Pathology Clinic of the Martha Morehouse Outpatient Care facility. He is slated to travel to Hangzhou, China to develop and implement an elite vocal research lab for the purpose of diagnosing vocal pathology in classical singers.

Mark currently teaches at Belmont and Lipscomb University, and is the owner and founder of Vocal 360 Global—an artist coaching and mentorship program. His clients have performed Internationally, as well as on National Tours, Broadway, and several have received recording contracts. It is my honor and pleasure to work with him, pick his brain and call him friend!

Find and Contact Mark on...
  • Facebook (Mark Thress Music)
  • Instagram (@MarkThress)
  • Website  (

What about YOU?

What do you think about contemporary and classical vocal training? Have you had an experience with cross training? What helped or didn't help you? I'd love to hear from you... Your comments and reviews are the oil that keeps this blog running!

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Tuesday, February 5, 2019

How To Sing a Love Song

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

Love is a universal subject for messages of music... And oh my goodness what a loaded subject! I want to start by giving you a sample of messages about love, along with some songs that carry them:

Four questions to ask:

The voice exists to deliver messages, and is successful if the message sung gets the desired response from the heart being sung to. So to sing a successful love song, you have to know
  1. what your message really is,
  2. to whom you're communicating,
  3. what response you want from that targeted heart,
  4. and what that response would look like in the body/facial language of that person. That's the brass ring... the ultimate goal you should be reaching for.
From the answers to those 4 questions you can choose the tone, volume, phrasing and vocal embellishments that you need to get that specific response.

Not feeling it? 

No matter, the only thing that matters is that the heart you're singing to feels it. Because it's not about you, there is no need to get nervous. No current relationship? Oh I beg to differ. We can sing love songs to our pets, our parents or grandparents, our friends, to the one heart of our audiences, to GOD, really to anything we love. And sometimes we need to sing love songs to ourselves. Patty Griffin wrote her love song, "Heavenly Day," to her dog. The point is, our choice of whom to sing to, should change the way we sing. Focus on that heart.

Mistakes to avoid:

  • Mixing your messages. Unless you're going for coy or confused... which actually become the central message, 'I'm being coy' or 'I'm so confused'.
  • Delivering your messages to the wrong place (anywhere the lyrics are not addressed to).
  • Failing to fully intend and commit to your delivery.  
  • Singing a song that's out of your wheelhouse of experience. This is why I don't like young kids singing mature adult relationship songs. They may nail the high note, but not the emotional response.
  • Over-emoting. Sometimes the power is in what you don't do. Leave room for your audience's imagination. Don't lose the realness of your delivery by trying too hard. As Star Wars' character Yoda says, 'Do or do not - there is no try'.

How to create nuance:

To really sing (or write, or play) a love song in a way that effectively captures the intended heart, you have to be able to perform in multiple nuances of human language. Vocal nuances require changeable external facial/body movement, fine control of breath, and morphing of the throat channel to create differing tone colors.

Here's an exercise for you:

Let's take a phrase and make it mean different things: "This is how you make me feel". Choose or create a little melody and sing it...
  • while frowning. 
  • while smiling.
  • with very wide open eyes, then squinting.
  • with a tight jaw, then while making chewing circles with your jaw.
  • while over-articulating the words, then while slurring or mumbling the words.
  • with a very flat, frozen soft palate, then with a yawny lifted palate.
  • while standing with your arms on your hips like supergirl/superman.
  • then while crossing your arms over your chest.
  • while standing stiffly frozen, then while swaying, moving your arms/hands or lightly dancing. 
Ask yourself... what does any of these changes do to the sound of your voice? Do you see how you can deliver different messages with the same words?

Now try this: Sing the same phrase 'This is how you make me feel" to get the following messages across. Let your message intention choose the changes you experimented in the previous exercise.  You are...
  • angry (you want an meek response, maybe shrinking body language)
  • happy (you want a corresponding happy response)
  • confused (you want a response of clarification or reassurance)
  • sad (you want an empathetic response)
  • infatuated (you want an 'I'm interested, too' response)
  • ecstatic (you want a mutually joyful response)
  • aroused (you want a mutual warm response)
  • safe (you want a deep breath response, a sign of acceptance and trust)

Ask yourself... what did you have to do, to change, to get those different messages and their respective responses?

OK so it's your turn: What's your favorite love song to sing? To hear sung to you? Hope this helps you deliver some love on Valentine's Day!

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