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Month: November 2015

Vocal Warm-ups – the Lip Trill

If you are a vocal performer, your voice is your greatest asset. It can be a fragile instrument. You have to take care of it. One important aspect of this is a solid vocal warm-up regimen. A good warm-up starts well in advance of your performance. A good place to start is in your morning shower. You probably already sing in there, so why not throw in some focused exercises?

Before we get into specific exercises, let’s start with a great vocal health technique – the lip trill.

With the lip trill technique, you’ll be exhaling air through your lips, causing them to flap against each other. This can be difficult for some folks to master. Just make sure your cheeks aren’t flapping too – only your lips.

  1. purse your lips like you are stretching them outward to kiss someone.
  2. Slowly start relaxing them until the point where you can flap them with your finger.
  3. Now try getting them to continue flapping by exhaling air through them – it takes a good bit of air (that’s the point).
  4. Once you’ve got them going, start humming – that’s it! That’s a lip trill.
  5. Now that you have the feel for it, try skipping straight to the humming part.

[edit – I’ve recorded a video showing how to do a lip trill]

The thinking behind doing vocal exercises with a lip trill is that, in order to keep the lip trill going, you will be moving enough air to be singing with proper support. We don’t want these exercises to be hurting your voice. The lip trill is a safeguard.

Pretty much anything you try humming with a lip trill will be beneficial. When I have a challenging part in a song, whether it’s very high or very complicated, humming with a lip trill first ALWAYS makes it easier to sing the next time through.

Good luck and keep singing!

-Josh

Having success with the lip trill technique? Questions about it? Drop a comment below.

Happy Thanksgiving

Wishing everybody a wonderful Thanksgiving. I’ll be back on the website soon. Francie and I are moving into a new house, and it’s been quite a bit of work getting situated. Have a great holiday, and if you’re heading to the stores in the morning, try not to trample anyone!

-Josh

Podcasts

I have turned into quite the podcast junkie as of late. Whenever I’m in my car, it’s always the podcasts instead of the radio. I’ll use this post to keep you guys up to date with what I am listening to.

My current podcast app is Player.fm – the GUI has nice big buttons corresponding to each podcast I subscribe to. I stream my programs, but the app also has automatic downloading as an option.


Current Podcast List (titles link to the corresponding RSS feed)

The Slate Political Gabfest – Featuring the insight of Emily Bazelon (New York Times Magazine), John Dickerson (Face the Nation), and David Plotz (Atlas Obscura), this is a roundtable discussion of three big topics from the week’s news. While slightly left-of-center, it is absolutely cerebral to the core, eschewing party spin for a deeper understanding of the news.

$100 MBA – Hosted by Omar Zenhom, this is a quick (usually less than 10 minute) daily podcast that focuses on one narrow aspect of entrepreneurship each episode. I wouldn’t call it a gold mine, but it gets me in a good business mindset on my drive to the office in the morning.

EOFire – Hosted by John Lee Dumas, this is another daily business podcast, but in this one, JLD interviews an entrepreneur. The value of the episode is highly dependant on the guest. With 1100+ episodes, you can imagine how some may be flops.

The Tim Ferriss Show – Hosted by (you guessed it) Tim Ferriss (The Four-Hour Workweek), this is a long-form podcast, usually lasting around two hours, in which Tim interviews a pretty fascinating person. Some of the episodes get a little out there, and with such an eclectic group of interviewees, some episodes just aren’t as appealing to me as others. At the end of each episode, Tim always asks an assortment of “quick-fire” questions that usually elicit pretty useful stuff – I have gotten quite a few great book recommendations from it.

NPR Hourly News Summary – Updated every hour, this is a five minute review of the top headlines currently making news.


Honorable Mentions (I just don’t have enough time to listen to everything I would like to)

WTF Podcast with Marc Maron (weekly) – amazing interviews with really deep conversations.

The Gist with Mike Pesca (daily) – worth it just for his “Spiel” at the end of the show, where Mike rants about whatever random thing that has got his goat that day.


What podcasts do you enjoy? Let me know in the comments.

-Josh

Vocal Techniques

I know many of you reading this are musicians. Having been a professional singer myself for fifteen years, I thought this would be a good forum for sharing some tips and tricks for healthy singing. I will be putting all of these posts in a new category called “Vocal Techniques,” and they can all be accessed by clicking on that label.

The first few posts in this category will be about various warm-up and cool-down exercises that I have found to be beneficial. The first one will be going up later this week.

A quick note – you don’t have to be a professional musician to benefit from the techniques I’ll be sharing with you. Public speakers will find many of these exercises quite helpful, as well. Plus, it is all about getting to know your own body a little better.

Keep singing!

-Josh

Spare Time

There is a certain resource that all of us have some of, we have no choice but to constantly spend it, and there are not really many ways of getting more of it. That thing of course is time. Time is our most precious resource, and so much of it is already committed elsewhere – be it work, our obligations, or asleep in bed. Think about how much of your time is actually yours to spend how you choose. Not as much as you might have hoped for, huh? So ask yourself – when you find yourself with extra time, are you spending it wisely?

There are a few categories of activity that I think of as worthwhile spare-time expenditure. These are self-healing, self-improvement, and altruism. Let’s take a look at the possibilities.

  1. Self-healing – You gotta take care of you. If you are sick or exhausted, this is a no-brainer, but it is also relevant when you’re feeling okay. Take a power nap. Meditate. Make some soup or tea. Attend to yourself! If you are not feeling your best, you cannot hope to be your best.
  2. Self-Improvement – When you find yourself with free time in your home, what is your default action? Is it finding the remote control? Could you be doing something that may be just as enjoyable, but also is feeding your mind, spirit, or body? Could you read a couple chapters and then check Facebook? How about a quick workout before queueing up the “Doctor Who” you’ve been meaning to catch up on? I’m not suggesting you give up those pure feel-good comforts of life – just keep in mind that every moment you put into bettering your self will make every moment after feel richer and more alive.
  3. Altruism – This is the number one in my book. I believe we have a responsibility to everyone who came before us and to everyone who is going to come after us to take this universe that we have inherited and give it a little shove toward the next group of folks coming along – paying it forward. This can be as grand or as modest a gesture as you want – it all feeds the soul. It can be as resource-intensive as a full-day investment in building homes for the homeless or feeding the hungry, but it can also be as easy as simply bringing something to Goodwill once a week. Anything you do will spark those special receptors in your psyche that light up whenever you give without the expectation of receiving. Take it from me – the ROI is without parallel. [sidenote – if there is an ROI, is it truly altruism? Probably not. Whatever.] Careful though – keep it up and you may just get addicted!

For me, the easiest actions are (in the same order as above): 1) a quick workout – either the “7-minute workout” or some yoga sun salutations and push-ups, 2) reading fiction for pleasure in the late afternoon (nonfiction is usually something buisinessy for work – not the same), and 3) running a couple things over to Goodwill (and it can be a part of your simplification ritual – more in a later post).

I hope this post doesn’t come across as too preachy. I simply think it’s a good idea to stop and think a little bit about how we spend our free time and if it is really how we want to be spending it.

Now go – I hope you didn’t waste too much of your spare time reading this! Me? I’m going to go catch up on my “Doctor Who” 😉

-Josh

How do you spend your free time? Comment below!

Small Talk II – What If You Can’t Leave

Yesterday I wrote about getting out of small talk situations by simply not allowing the conversation to reach that tipping point. Get out, and get out quick! But sometimes it’s a little stickier than that.

Sometimes you cannot just turn and leave. Let’s say you’re sharing a table at a dinner event. Stop with the small talk. Wouldn’t the evening be more enjoyable if you went straight for the BIG TALK instead? Instead of the “where are you from” story (which I have personally grown awfully tired of recounting), ask for the “what are you passionate about” story. I mean really passionate. What is the one thing that you could talk about for hours if you wanted to?

Maybe they’re hesitant. No matter – tell them your passion. Really dig into it. Let yourself get excited! Give them an energy to match and a sea of information. As you’re spouting all of your lore and weaving your tales of intrigue, chances are that something will strike a chord with them, and they’ll come back at you. Then – BOOM! You’re having a real conversation. One that you may even enjoy!

If no chords get struck, then you’ve still gotten to talk about that thing you love talking about. The score remains you: 1, small talk: 0

-Josh

What tips do you have for navigating the murky seas of chatter? Do you enjoy small talk? Have you mastered the art? Let everyone know in the comments!

Small Talk

I hate small talk. I can’t do it. I am not good at feigning interest in something I am really not interested in. If that’s selfish, then I guess I’m selfish. It does present me with a bit of a dilemma however. I am a local business owner. I have to interact with other people all the time. I was afraid that when attending networking events for instance, the small talk would crush me. Well, guess what. It didn’t. Want to know why?

I stopped making small talk.

Small talk as a phenomenon only happens when you should have already ended a conversation. We feel an obligation to adhere to some arbitrary minimum conversation length, and sometimes you run out of things to say before that time is up. Enter the small talk. It just seems to be a waste of everyone’s time.

When you meet someone at a networking event or just out in the world, talk to them, but with intention. Ask questions about what they do. Tell them what you do. Try to draw a connection between the two. Then, if you’ve got nothing, say how nice it was to meet, and pat ‘em on the back. Then you are out. They are looking to make a beneficial connection too, and if there is nothing there, they will appreciate your bowing out before that awkward lull. You know the one… … …

I can hear you right now. “Josh, that’s all well and good, but I’m at a wedding reception table with these people. I can’t just leave!” Well have I got news for you…

Tomorrow: “Small Talk II – What If You Can’t Leave”

-Josh

The Test Kitchen

I have a regular show at the Ivory Room Piano Bar in Madison, Wisconsin. It’s a solo show every Tuesday night. It’s a lot of fun, and there’s always a great crowd. I like thinking of the show at the Ivory Room as my “test kitchen” – a space where I am free to experiment. I try new bits, play new songs, goof off, and have fun. Here’s the thing to keep in mind when playing most nightclub shows – the crowd is there to have fun with you (as opposed to most corporate clients who want to be entertained by you or most wedding clients who want something high-energy to dance to).

The test kitchen is where I can make mistakes (plus, the audience usually loves the screwups!). I experiment with new tools to use at the big show, and I sharpen them. It’s my chance to get things perfect, polished, and performance-ready.

Where is your test kitchen? Musicians – is there a regular show where you can relax a bit and have fun? If not, maybe look into hosting an open mic somewhere or just regularly participate in one. The key to a test kitchen is a low-pressure environment where you can feel free to fail. Non-musicians – is there a forum (maybe a cocktail hour group or online community) where you can connect with empathetic peers to bounce new weird ideas about widgets or formulas (or whatever you people talk about!)?

The bottom line is if you have the opportunity to fail without consequences – take it! What we can learn from our failures outweighs what we can learn from our successes by a wide margin. The ROI is immense!

-Josh

Be Actively Passionate

One thing I have learned from being a business owner and performer is to be actively passionate about what I do. I love playing the piano in front of a crowd. I love the energy that crowd gives back to me. I even have a business doing what I love. But simply loving all of it is not enough. Sometimes headaches arise. Sometimes I have to deal with people whose energy wants to bring me down. That’s when I have to remind myself to be actively passionate – to let my passion boil through to the surface, swim in it, and show it. If I’m not excited about what I’m doing, how can I expect anyone else to be. Don’t be passionate. Do passionate. Let people see and feel what gets you going. Be an evangelist for your loves in life.

I know not everyone has a job they are passionate about, but find something in your life that wakes you up. Is it cooking? sports? The Walking Dead? Let people know what you are wild about. The world could do with a little more passion, so spread it around.

-Josh

What are you passionate about? Comment below!

Sweat the Small Stuff

You get to make hundreds of little decisions every day – no one is going to make them all the same as you. Every single one is a celebration of the uniqueness of you. So don’t stress. Don’t get bogged down in the decision-making. When little things go wrong (and they will), let it go. Learn from your mistakes and move on, but you have got to make yourself available to the little things because sometimes they go right. Take pride in small victories throughout the day and you will be happier for it. Look for joy in those little things in life. Celebrate them. If you spend all your time chasing the Big Picture, you are going to miss a lot of beauty in the world, so why not sweat the small stuff. Maybe “sweat” is the wrong word. Embrace the small stuff, because the small stuff is usually what makes life worth living.

-Josh