Celebrating David Bowie – The Regency Ballroom

David Bowie Tribute Libby LavellaNo doubt, you’re a fan. No doubt. Me too. Therefore, I am proud to announce I will be a part of this live performance on March 22nd in San Francisco at The Regency Ballroom. I will be throwing down with many talented individuals to celebrate one of the greatest recording artists of our time, David Bowie.

Celebrating David Bowie – A tribute. Information is here and tickets can be purchased here and the proceeds go here

Hope to see you there.

Paul Zollo Likes The Amber

The Amber Libby Lavella Paul Zollo Paul Zollo

Paul Zollo is a writer for whom I have a lot of respect. His wonderful book “Songwriters on Songwriting” is a mainstay in my studio and I have purchased several editions (mostly because I keep loaning it to students and never get it back!) and I refer to it more than any other music book…truly. Paul Zollo was the editor of SongTalk magazine for many years, and went on to become Managing Editor of Performing Songwriter magazine. He’s also contributed to many magazines, including VarietyBillboardRolling StoneMusician and more. In September 2004 Zollo was named Senior Editor of American Songwriter magazine. So you can imagine why I pulled over while on the freeway, to respond to an email from Ryland Shelton, (my band mate in The Amber) telling me that Paul Zollo had reviewed our EP! First of all American Songwriter, mad respect; second of all, he gets “us”…I mean, really, really gets us and for that I am eternally grateful.
You can of course read the article here here (at the bottom of the page) but I’ll offer you my favourite parts here:

“…when three singers are gifted at harmony, and come together with distinctive voices to combine them into a miracle whole, the effect is magical and delicious. At the heart of The Amber is that magic…”

“The Amber sounds like a legendary and charming folk trio from the days before the world went electric that somehow we never heard, yet not in a dated way.”

“It’s a spirit of unity and hope, with a timeless charm so needed in modern times. During these dizzying days of chaos and ongoing strife and violence, hearing human voices in such perfect harmony reminds us that people cannot only get along, they can excel to great heights. This is timeless music, songs of great hope and beauty.”

I can’t read this review without getting emotional. It’s moments like this that make all of the work truly “worth it”. Thank you Paul Zollo. Thank you.


Raz Kennedy – Cathrine Sadolin – CVT

static1.squarespaceI’m very excited to be attending Bay Area master vocal coach, Raz Kennedy‘s two-day singing intensive featuring Complete Vocal Technique’s founder, Cathrine Sadolin. Cathrine comes all the way from Copenhagen Denmark! I’ve been hearing nothing but good things about Ms. Sadolin and after extensive research wondered how I could get in a room with her to learn more…and well, here it is! The workshop details are here : CVT WORKSHOP and I highly encourage you to go if you’re interested in staying ahead of the advancements in good vocal technique. See you there! 

The Amber Is Making Waves! 

Sinners and saints! Whether it’s been months or just moments, it’s been too long since I’ve seen you and this month, I aim to change that. With the help of my little band, The Amber…also known as your faithful servants of Californian harmony roots music, I bring you good news and full cheer.

On the West Coast July 2015, we’ll be playing the following shows:Join us in Los Angeles (for the first time since January!)
at The Hotel Cafe
Sunday, July 19, 10pm
get tickets HERE

Join us in San Francisco as I’m very excited to return to The Hotel Utah
Wednesday, July 22, 8pm (opening for Red Wanting Blue)
get tickets HERE

Of course, our EP is still available on your favorite digital download platform (including on iTunes HERE). We received some lovely and unprecedented press from Hits Magazine which you can read here. And any minute now, chances are you’ll hear us on or in between segments of your favorite shows… we’ve signed a licensing agreement with Blue Buddha Entertainment!

And last, but not least… our newest single is hot off the press and will be arriving this month…And our fans will get to hear it first! That’s coming soon, and it’ll be worth the wait.
Thank you for your continued support!
Mucho love-o,
Libby Lavella
along with Florence Hartigan and Ryland Shelton
(like us on Facebook!)
The Amber Libby Lavella EP Poster

The Amber – EP Release

Thank you for your visitsLibbyLavellaTheAmberAlbumCover to this blog and your interest in my music. I’m happy to say that within the whirlwind of 2014 my group, The Amber, finally finished and released an E.P. to a sold out show in Los Angeles. Thank you to those who attended, bought CD’s and to those who have since purchased the music online. Your support truly means the world to us. This project has been a dream of mine for many years and I’m thrilled to see it take flight. If you would care to know more about this project or listen to the music you can do so on our website – THE AMBER. If you’d like to buy the EP you can do so on iTUNES. I hope to see you at a show soon. Much love and happy holidays.

Libby Lavella xx

Conversations on Voice: Head Voice.

libby lavella the voice-inside-your-headIn my studio, I spend a lot of time talking about head voice. Many new singers are reticent to use it due to the fact that it sounds and feels drastically different to their regular voice. I am sympathetic to this dilemma because I was just the same. I spent years singing in bars in Sydney, belting out songs and hitting a wall with my voice. I always assumed that when I had hit the strained part of my voice that that was as far as it would go. I frequented two of the best singing teachers in the city, and still didn’t “get it” (which was not their fault btw). I disliked the way my head voice sounded so I pretty much refused to use it. Luckily, I found my way.

To discuss this subject, I’ve consulted with rock star LA vocal coach Lis Lewis and respected voice therapist Joanna Cazden once again, to have a conversation based on our individual work with singers, to hopefully dispel a few myths about the head voice:

LIBBY: I often work with students who are reticent to explore their head voice, even if they have an existing range. I think for novice students, the sweet, light classical head voice, sounds so drastically different from the blended, belt sound that most of them seek. I remember feeling that way when as a teenager I first started taking lessons. Now I find that it is often the reason why singers hike the larynx, push chest too far, and strain their voices. I have to convince students that working on this part of their range is going to lead to something. Often, they say to me, “it just doesn’t sound like my voice, it’s not me, it’s weak…I’ll never use it”. Then there are the rare cases when new singers can’t even access it…that’s always a challenge.

JOANNA: The precise interactions between muscle groups that work from chest to head are still emerging. Definitely head voice involves a lighter contact between the cords, and a very different resonance spectrum. If person is frustrated & trying very hard, that will get in the way of finding head voice, relaxation is necessary. An ENT exam is always a good idea if there is loss of head voice, as it is a signal that something is unhealthy.  On the other hand, some singers have such a smooth transition/blend that it’s hard to tell when they get to “pure” head voice, its just not distinct.

libby lavella lis lewis nasri majik.jpg Lis with Nasri

LIS: Every student who comes into my studio for voice lessons works on chest voice, head voice and mix voice, men and women both. Most pop singers would love to only sing in chest voice but that limits their range too much. When you get to the top of chest it can feel like you’re hitting the ceiling. They listen to their favorite artists and think that they are singing only in chest except for an occasional jump up into a small sweet head voice. I have to convince them that they’re wrong, that almost all successful artists who have to use their voices everyday know that they can’t just push their chest voice up to cover all that range.

Because new singers don’t use their head voices very much it doesn’t have a lot of strength. It also doesn’t have the fullness or richness of chest voice. (and BTW it never will.) It can be very strong, vibrant and exciting but it will never be chest voice.

Most singers know, even beginning singers, that if they push their lower voice up, they will feel like they’re straining, and their voice will get tired quickly. What they need instead of full chest is a blend of the two voices, which will allow them to go higher than chest voice alone until there is nothing but head voice. Adding some head voice into your chest voice allows it to stretch. Adding some chest voice into head gives it more body. A blend doesn’t sound completely like chest voice but it doesn’t sound completely like head either. It’s a combination sound and it’s what you hear on recordings of most contemporary singers.

In order to blend or mix, your head voice needs to be strong because your chest voice won’t share the work with a voice that’s weak. It will try to do all the work itself. So an essential step to building a strong mix is to first have a strong head voice.

JOANNA: Head voice & chest voice BOTH develop most of their resonance in the first inch above vocal folds, the small “cavity” before throat opens into mouth ― which we don’t feel very well, but which we do constantly manipulate when shaping sound. It is absolutely correct that we EXPERIENCE resonance elsewhere ― head, chest, nose, spine ― but this is like seeing a movie projected on the “walls “ of those cavities, where the small throat cavity (“laryngeal vestibule” or “ary-epiglottic region”) is the actual projector.

libby lavella laryngeal_cavity Laryngeal Anatomy

Some say that the “the head is a smaller cavity”, but this is not a true mechanical explanation for why the head voice seems smaller. Head voice uses lighter contact between the cords, less of a fight between strongly – closed – cords and breath pressure ―so amplitude of vibration is smaller. And it has a simpler harmonic spectrum = fewer overtones = less overall energy (aggregate dB). Focusing the resonance (teeth, forehead, etc.) compensates somewhat. This is why the experience of resonance is a legitimate training modality.

To give examples: Aretha is a singer who sings with a seamless blend whereas Sarah McLaughlin is an example of someone who sounds like she hasn’t fully developed her blend, so there is an abrupt jump back & forth between two registers which has became part of her signature style.

Libby Lavella Aretha Franklin Aretha

I think people are also afraid to develop head voice because it might sound too classical, too “trained” therefore less “authentic.” Best to learn the rules before you break ‘em, you know, find out what’s fully authentic for you…THEN choose.

libby lavella Kelli o'hara Kelli O’Hara

Kelli O’Hara (Broadway) sang on PBS 4th of July show, and showed off a knockout blend. To me this was absolutely splendid technique & balance-of-registers.

LIBBY: I think you nailed it Joanna, in terms of the technicalities versus the feeling. Sometimes if I get too technical with a new student, they’re not ready to hear it. I have to remember where they’re at, so like Lis, I keep it simple and relate it to feeling more than all the specifics and technicalities. I have to start with what they actually “can” feel before I move on to what I want them to feel.

But, I think it’s important to note that air moves faster as one goes higher in their range…which also adds to the fight you’re describing between breath pressure and chord contact.

I like your example of Kelli, but I don’t completely agree that this tapped into a true blend of chest and head, I hear this as mostly head voice leaning, with a very developed transition. This along with your other Aretha versus Sarah McLaughlin examples raise something for me that I have been working on a lot. I feel that the terms head voice and chest voice minimize what is actually going on, as it is far more complex to my ear.

Libby Lavella Sarah Sarah

For example, I think that Sarah has a blend, but it’s further back…more back nasal, but to my ear it moves out of a classical head voice sound into something else. When I hear this tone, I imagine the soft palette (or the Uvula) is flat against the pharynx (otherwise known as Uvular sounds). Whereas Aretha, has that more forward to mid palette blend that sounds more “chesty” and more realized and at times more frontal nasal (alveolar/palatal sounds). I see hers as more “pointed” and Sarah’s as more muffled…more closed. (See the below diagram for a visual of these placements.)

Libby Lavella voice placements

I usually work both of these placements in an isolated way with students who are ready, in addition to the pure head voice. I call it a triangle (or the “holy trinity” for comic relief); head front nasal (alveolar), head back nasal (uvular), head (velar) and chest, and that within these three placements, there is a middle ground, a “bermuda triangle” that each singer finds within their own capabilities (again, comic relief, but also because this sensation when found can be felt all over, but focused on the palate…it’s specific to each singers physical geography). This is more advanced but when we get there, I talk a lot about the tonal choices available here (in the mid range, transition or blend range) and describe that in many ways, the choices they make define their sound and their style. I demonstrate the differences too.

However, with all that said, I think the linguistics play into it too. If you’re singing an “oo” on a high note (i.e. soon) it’s easier to get it forward and/or lifted than a “u” (put)…or a diphthong “ay” (day)…even harder to move forward. I find that the ability to move these sounds out of their natural placement, depends on accent, language, muscle strength, and again, is unique to each person and sometimes these sounds can be moved or not. Aretha, more African-American English, somewhat southern accent that sits more in the mouth, probably makes it easier to create the style of blend with than a Canadian accent with more British heritage and accent, which, like me, sits further back. Sarah uses more breathy tones…Aretha more nasal…closed tones.

But you know what I’ve found also; men have a different experience with all of this than women. Is there some science to that Joanna? I believe that when their voices change their vocal chords get thicker, longer and vibrate at a lower frequency. Does this play a part in their adulthood?

JOANNA: To my best knowledge, yes, there are two different mechanisms IN MALE VOICES. One is a partial fixation/adduction, so that only part of the cord length vibrates; the other uses the full length of the folds but with a slight gap & lighter contact. Women’s voices only do the second one. But, with that said, I don’t believe that all men can do both maneuvers.

libby lavella robert plant Robert Plant

LIBBY: WOW! I have often wondered why guys find it harder to work this area than women. A lot of male students, at some point, bring in either a Steve Perry, Sting or Robert Plant song and want to interpret their range and their tone. It usually takes longer for them than the average female student to get to this.

JOANNA: Well, if a guy is aggressive toward life & therefore aggressive toward his voice, he’ll just get mad when it doesn’t “perform” in absolutely every way he can imagine, doesn’t sound like his idols! Underneath there is insecurity about whether his own ‘true” sound is good enough. I happen to think that voice training somehow requires us to come to terms with the conflicts between mind (ideal) and body (reality)— there’s a vulnerability in the process, a need for compassion towards body-self, which is hard for everyone but maybe especially hard for young men. “Why can’t you teach me to sound like _______” is like asking, “Why can’t you teach me to win the Olympics?” BECAUSE, dude, you’ve got different genes. Deal with it.

LIBBY: Well, thankfully I’ve only had one or two get aggressive when realizing I don’t possess the proverbial “magic wand”. Growing up with brothers has not gone astray in this business. No, usually, the males I work with are wonderful and very sweet and willing to give the techniques a try….but it’s good to know the specifics. Thanks!

Anyway, going back to the placements, here are some female examples.

I was trying to think of a good example of that nasal head voice break and I landed on Miss Paula Cole. Here’s her Lilith Fair hit “Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?“.

Get to the second performance at around 1:52 and then at 5:40 “I am wearing my new dress tonight” you can hear that she goes (I did not just say that…she goes, she goes, she just goes!), ehm, she moves from a one voice to another…it’s not a belt, it’s not a true blend but it’s kind of a back sound. I think it would be head voice if she backed off the volume and I’m sure most technicians would refer to this as head voice.

Libby Lavella Tina Arena Tina Arena

Compare that placement with a song using close to the same range, (and staying firmly in 1990′s town) featuring my fellow country woman, and a proven workhorse of a singer, Tina Arena, “Heaven Help My Heart” at around 1:15…it’s bigger…more forward and yet open in the back. Her voice connects without any hint of a change.

LIS: This is strange. What I hear is that Cole is in head with a pretty clear shift to chest as she comes down the scale. I guess I don’t get the distinction you’re making about the back sound. The Tina Arena chorus sounds like a blend to me especially the top notes. It sounds free and open and full but not completely chest. I often will work on the mix as if it’s two voices instead of one: chest blend and head blend. The first being chest with head in it (which is what I think Arena is doing) and the second being head with chest in it. It’s a temporary construct until the blend gets stronger. Then it goes back to being just a mix.

LIBBY: Lis, I think it’s partly semantics and I don’t think you’re wrong. I believe most technicians would make that distinction, but I personally believe (and feel when I sing) that there is more to this than just three cut and clean areas….but those sub areas fall within the areas of Head, Chest and Blend. I think that both Paula and Tina are singing in their head voice but placing it differently, manipulating it differently and yes, mixing it with chest in varying degrees.

Joanna, I’m curious about one thing that you might be able to clear up. With the bigger, blended, belt sound, are you able to tell me why it gets bigger? I’ve never been clear on that. I feel more projection, sure. I feel more pressure….definitely. I also feel that the jaw comes into play to create this sound…and the way the mouth is opened (as in less round and less open than a pure head voice)… I also feel the amount of air is important too. I would like more information on this because once people get it, the work then becomes about how to control it, and of course, dynamics. It gets tricky and it has always felt like there is more to it than just breath management. I know it has a lot to do with the vestibule and the cavity, but I think the tongue muscles (there are eight right?) play a role in the malleability of this region? (actually, on second thoughts, don’t answer that, let’s do another post on it…it’s too “strong” of a topic…ha ha…get it?)

JOANNA: In every vocal cycle the vocal cords alternate between opening and closing. Video-strobe exams have allowed everyone to see this as-if in slow-motion.

Each vocal cycle has a tiny portion when the cords are completely closed (touching.) This is called the “closed phase.”

Whenever the cords completely touch, air pressure below them builds up. When that pressure is more than the cords can resist―at any particular tension, pitch, squeeze, emotion of the moment―the cords are blown apart. Thanks to physics, they get sucked back together again, and it all repeats for the next cycle. This alternating opening/closing happens as many times per second as the pitch/frequency (440 for concert A, 250-ish for middle C, etc).

In chest voice, compared to head/falsetto/whatever, the closed phase is longer. The singer increases internal muscle tension in the cords, in relation to airflow, so that the cords resist the air just a little more. So air pressure underneath them builds up longer & stronger, and the cords are blown apart with greater force, moving with bigger speed/amplitude. They get sucked back together with more force also. Bigger changes in pressure in the airstream = Sound wave is louder.

In normal speech these things are balanced at a moderate level of muscle effort. In louder belting there is even more throat-force, even longer closed phase, & even bigger amplitude of vibration = even bigger sound.

LIBBY:  Yes, awesome…of course, but to fully bring the head voice back into the discussion, why does the head voice being stronger help with managing this pressure? Or doesn’t it?

LIS: The pathologist I worked with said that the vocal cords are shorter and thicker (and perhaps the vibration is also deeper) in chest voice. In head voice, the cords are longer and thinned out. That also explains why, when someone is sick, i.e. his or her vocal cords are thick or not coming together properly, the head voice is the first to go. They won’t thin out, or close so they don’t sound. Is that your thinking Joanna?

JOANNA: Yes that’s part of it. In any compromised state, head voice is the first to disappear. It seems to require the most healthy, “silky” cords. To be really precise, cords can be thick-healthy (smooth clean edges, well-developed vibrational-gel layer & genetically-robust, toned-trained muscle), or they can be thick-sick, such as swollen from illness or smoking, bruised from overuse, heavy with scar tissue, etc. With those latter problems you’re more likely to have an uneven edge, bits that don’t close perfectly. The heaviness (mass or weight of the cords) lowers pitch. The uneven edge is what makes sound “dirty.”

A laryngologist in Chicago, Robert Bastian, asks people to sing high & soft every day, to measure the health of the cords, calls this his  “swelling test“. It works because whenever there is a change in the cords — temporary cold, or overuse, or whatever—high & soft production disappears first.

I think that the key in head voice is PLACEMENT (resonance) as you have both discussed; there is good evidence that fully developed resonance changes the shape of vocal folds & area above them, (it looks like a shallow bowl or “satellite dish” with rounded sides instead of a flat plate with sides often squeezed together.) Resonance also creates an “optimal” distance between the folds, and this might help smooth the adjustment between belt (longer closed phase) and head (shorter closed phase).

The other basic thing people work on in head voice is managing breath differently ― using less force especially at the low end of head voice (blending range). Learning how to back off breath-pressure as the cords provide less resistance ― keeping a balance ― prepares for the even smoother shifting of pressures during blended tone production.

LIS: Thank you for both answers. This puts a finer point on things I already thought and have experienced in my teaching.

Libby: Nice. Thank you ladies. Now, to close, I’d like to share a few visual examples of what exactly is going on in that throat cavity, here are two different ENT exams of a trans nasal stroboscopy. The first is of a non-singer who moves from high to low, low to high and you can see the pharyngeal cavity closing in on her as she gets higher in range: STOBOSCOPY taken at FAUQUIER ENT.

The second is a montage of four highly trained classical singers singing HEAR US AND HAVE MERCY all together, posted by Jordan Glynn. You can see that the walls of the throat cavity stay in place while they are singing and that they have more control of the walls.

Developing one’s head voice is essential to expanding vocal range, honing pitch, enhancing resonance, relieving throat tension and strengthening muscles. It is hard to understand how the voice uses it to the fullest, but in time the voice will reap the benefits. There are still many questions unanswered, and I have no doubt that this may need to be a two-part or even three-part discussion…but hopefully for now we’ve answered some questions and possibly created some new ones. I know I have more questions…it’s never ending. See you next time!

© Libby Lavella, conversation with Lis Lewis, Joanna Cazden.

Conversations On Voice: Effortless?

The incomparable Nina Simone. The incomparable Nina Simone. A student came to my studio for a lesson about a month ago feeling a little down about the process. She had some questions after a week of practicing the new techniques I’d introduced her to the week before. She was a new student, and this was probably week four. After some discussion we got to the heart of it. This student was expecting her voice to “feel” a certain way and as a result of not feeling the way she expected she stopped her warm ups.

I asked her how she thought her voice was supposed to feel. Her response was “empowered, grounded and strong”. This raised the question as to whether she was comparing her voice now with her voice in the past, (as in how the techniques we are exploring feel different) or comparing her voice with other singers she admires. It was the latter.

I asked her how she believed those singers feel when they sing, what in her view is their experience? She responded…”effortless”. I smiled. Yes. Experience that years and years of singing along with many hours working on the voice brings, can lead the performer to a place that makes the process look effortless, but that doesn’t mean that it is. But, it can mean that the actual “effort” shifts.

Rock Star vocal coach Lis Lewis with her client Miguel Rock Star vocal coach Lis Lewis with her client MiguelThis particular topic does not rear its head too often, especially with beginners. I believe at the beginning of any new endeavor it can be hard to see what you’re doing clearly….forest for the trees and all that. In many cases, that can be better as there is an element of faith in the process. Either way, I enjoyed this discussion so thoroughly that I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I decided to consult with two vocal gurus; Lis Lewis and Joanna Cazden, both of whom I admire and trust implicitly. I figured they would have pondered the same question at some point and if not, it was definitely worth picking their brains about.

After describing the above to both of them, here’s what was shared:

Joanna Cazden at work Joanna Cazden at work Joanna Cazden: I am reminded of the 12-step program adage: “Don’t judge your inside by someone else’s outside.” There’s a notion of expecting instant changes from something that’s a lifelong process of discovery. “Empowered and grounded” are whole-body sensations; not every vocal exercise will go near that, as most emphasize “local” changes. Do you talk about vocal goals from the outset?

ME: Yes…in fact, talking about goals and expectations is a big part of every introductory lesson and subsequent. The reason why this struck me as interesting is that I think it’s a concept that is easy to see from the other side, but harder to see from the beginning. I was surprised that this student was already able to articulate the idea of this sensation. Most students either think it’s me (as in NO magic wand ;-) ), think it’s them (they’re not talented enough) or don’t think about it at all and just move forward with blind faith.
However, I am stuck on “empowered” as it can be psychological, physical, or any number of things that can be personal and/or universal. Oh the psychology!

LIS LEWIS: I don’t think I’ve worked with a single singer, no matter how talented or famous, who felt like their voice was Adele, making everything look effortless. Adele, making everything look effortless.effortless. They may love their voices, love the sound and the way it makes them feel to sing, but they always know the amount of work and maintenance involved. They know the work it takes to move through the various ranges, tones or emotions. Just like an athlete, they work on the skill set until it becomes intuitive. There’s a conscious part and an emotive intuitive part. There’s the part you have to pay attention (to make sure you don’t fall off the stage) and the part that you throw yourself into.

JC: Well said!

ME: I completely concur. I guess the question that I still see is what does “effortless” mean? I mean for me personally, there are things that I know I can do effortlessly that some of my students cannot, yet. It doesn’t mean those things don’t take effort, but the amount of effort I am conscious of is minimal by comparison, because either the effort has already been “put in” or I was always able to do it. However, if I watch Rachelle Ferrell sing I am utterly intimidated by what she can do with her voice. It is doubtful that her process was anything less than hours and hours and hours of practice, study and experimentation.
So, what I see, is that the “effort” shifts. Thoughts?

Rachelle Ferrell, a complete vocal freak of nature. Rachelle Ferrell, a complete vocal freak of nature. LIS: Holy crap! I just watched Rachell Ferrell live at the Apollo singing “Open Arms”. She’s incredible! Have you seen that video of Lalah Hathaway with Snarky Puppy, who at one point sings four notes at once? Anyway…effortless is what you personally are good at, that comes easily to you and then there is what you have to work at. Then there is the grand scheme of things where you’re in comparison to everyone else. I mean Sarah MacLachlan compared to Janis Joplin, is not really a competition…right?

ME: Absolutely…to all of those points. Sarah and Janis, no…that’s an A vs B question for sure. I guess at the beginner stage, playing to your strengths depends on what you’re bringing to the table to begin with, in addition to your own awareness of what those strengths (and weaknesses) are. There is definitely a talent factor, in varying degrees. Some people can naturally sing in tune for instance and some have to work on it. At the beginner stage, supposing that you have to learn almost everything from scratch but have an idea of pitch that is fairly accurate, everything feels like an effort, probably because it is. And by the way, that video of Rachelle is an early one, here’s one of Rachell with Lalah at Catalina. The sound is not good, but you get the idea. That’s funny that you mentioned Lalah…Rachelle and Lalah sing together all the time! Who knew! ;-)

JC: I would just add that there might be two levels of meaning to “effortless.” When discussing laryngeal mechanics and throat sensation, things should feel fairly effortless. This use of the term contrasts to singing or even talking that feels locally like effort, such as when there’s a medical problem and/or really bad technique, and throat muscles are working so hard they get tired and Thom York - effortless brilliance Thom York – effortless brillianceachy. “Effortless” here means that the cords are healthy and they meet smoothly; breath support and resonance placement and all the other technical factors are in place; and the singer says, “wow this suddenly got so much easier, I don’t feel my throat at all.” The vocal cords are riding on exactly the airflow they like, happily vibrating through wide ranges of pitch and intensity, and we don’t really feel them. That’s how it’s supposed to work, and how it’s supposed to sound.

ME: I tend to describe this in terms of the mechanism(s) being unconscious, as they are designed to feel. If you’re feeling too much tension, or abrasive friction, something *ain’t* right!

Lalah Hathaway, singing more than one note at a time, and making it look easy. Lalah Hathaway, singing more than one note at a time, and making it look easy.JC: Yes, at the same time though, the singer is working very hard everywhere else: in their mind, in their core (ribs/abs/diaphragm), in their mouth and upper throat, in their diction, in their entire body posture, in their emotional connection to the song and the audience, and in their spiritual courage. Plus of course, they are coordinating with band mates, remembering choreography, playing an instrument at the same time, hitting marks for a video, or perhaps (in the case of P!nk) hanging from a trapeze so all the vocal mechanics are upside-down in relation to gravity. At the highest levels of performance, some of this is done “by heart” (from muscle memory and repeated mental habit), but one would be crazy or naive to think that it feels “effortless.”

ME: P!nk is crazy (In a good way)! That’s an extreme example, an outlier I guess, but still a good one. However, I don’t think it’s crazy to think it feels effortless, and this brings me back to the initial question. As you say Joanna, the repetition and muscle P!NK hanging upside down in mid-air, singing the hell out of a song, and....a boob hanging out. P!NK = Bad Ass! P!NK hanging upside down in mid-air, singing the hell out of a song, and….a boob hanging out. P!NK = Bad Ass! memory can make it seem effortless and in some cases it feel that one to one person and not to another. For the sake of example, I can belt really easily with zero pain or throat tension. It still takes effort but working with students who are dying to be able to belt easily, it takes tremendous effort and stamina. I remember that feeling myself, many years ago…pushing, pushing, pushing. URGH!

JC: The core challenge, I believe, is to rehearse so diligently―working both hard and smart―that every conscious part of the mind + body + soul + communication does its job, freeing the semi-conscious vocal mechanism to do as little “work” as possible. Because the cords are so sensitive to all other areas of the body-mind, they will pick up the slack if they have to. Too little airflow or too much; too little stamina or too much anxiety, the cords reflexively adapt. We want to spare them that effort.

ME: I love that visual Joanna. It’s important to remember that. The body knows better than we do. Unconsciously. ☺ I’m going to add a link here to one of your articles that embellishes on this – Joanna Cazden The Instrument Inside Of You.

JC: Discipline is the key to freedom in most areas of life. Practicing all the other stuff is what allows the vocal cords to do the “spontaneous magic” that feels like no work at all.

Claudette Sutherland (center) in How To Succeed. Claudette Sutherland (center) in How To Succeed.ME: Absolutely. One of my favourite quotes from a friend, Claudette Sutherland, (who is a creative writing coach, but also a singer. She was the original “Smitty” in “How To Succeed In Business…” on Broadway) is “the work is more important than how you feel about it”, and that is sooooo true. Showing up, asking questions, but “doing” is paramount to how you may feel about it (of course this is all assuming you’re in good hands, with the right guidance).

So, there’s talent (what you bring to the table), finding the right guidance (look hard and question a lot!), practice (local isolated techniques and songs that tie everything together), awareness (analyzing what is happening, shifting etc) and knowing that there is a tremendous amount of unconscious work going on, stuff you will not be aware of….and if I can add one more thing (which I think I can…it’s my blog!)….LISTEN!!!!! Seriously. Record everything, listen back and keep files. You will hear your voice differently outside your person, especially after the practice. The best singers have a lot of experience listening back to themselves. Time consuming? You bet.

A wonderful discussion that I hope you found interesting. I think we’ll do this again. ;-)

Blast from my “Quantum Redshift” Past. (XPost-1)

20131020-112848.jpg I just received in the mail the “Curious George” DVD that I sang on called *Halloween Boo Fest*. It was produced by the wonderful Share Stallings and I intend to post more about it later once I have had a chance to watch it. I’m excited! It reminded me that many years ago I was hired to do a voice over spot for an XBox game called Quantum Redshift. In stepping back into the voice over world I was reminded of this prior credit and decided to do a little search. After I was recorded, I never heard hide nor hair of it again. Well…this morning I found it. Disclaimer alert. The director coaxed the broadest and most “Aussie” accent out of me as possible….it is funny to hear myself talk like that. Eh…..on ya’ mate! Anyway, happy Sunday and here it is on youtube: Quantum Redshift Kiri Foxton. I’ll post about the Curious George movie soon (which features Pat Monahan in addition to yours truly) and also my recent stint on X-Factor, (which will be XPost2). I am also working on some drafts about vocal technique. See you soon! 20131020-111032.jpg Oh BTW…here’s Kiri, blonde and all. So fun! ;-)

Locata – GPS World

Libby Lavella GPS Nunzio Gambale A while ago I wrote about my Uncle’s company Locata. Well, it’s on! They’re on the cover of GPS world and Nunz just gave a keynote presentation at the 2013 International Institute of Navigation Conference in Nashville. I realize this is REALLY off topic from my usual posts, but hey…I’m a proud niece!

Here is the VIDEO and here is the ARTICLE