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Month: December 2015

Happy Holidays

The final six weeks of the year are filled with holidays from Thanksgiving to New Years and everything in between. In our household alone, we spent Thanksgiving, Chanukah, and Christmas with our family, the Solstice with our neighbors, Festivus with our friends, and New Years Eve is always a big night for Piano Fondue. Whew! The point is, this is a season chock-full of gratitude, reflection, joy, love, peace, and giving. It is the time to think about what all of these things mean to you. Take the time to be quiet. Embrace the opportunity to be raucous. Spend time alone, and spend time with friends and family. Find a moment and make it special for you. Find another and make it special for someone else. Celebrate the big and the small.

But why stop there? These aren’t themes unique to this season. Remind yourself to value these ideals throughout the year. I’m going to open my calendar right now and make a note to read this post again later in the year – let’s say four months from today. [note to future self: Hi, buddy – looking good! Re-post this and put it in the calendar another four months out.]

Wishing you the best in 2016. Stay in touch.

-Josh

Learning New Songs on a Deadline

We play a lot of wedding receptions with Piano Fondue, and as a result, I often have to learn some new songs for first dances and the like. I’d like to share some tips and tricks I use for learning new songs quickly. This is for learning by ear – if you have the sheet music in front of you it’s kind of unnecessary. I usually just have a lyric sheet in front of me for this type of performance. [bonus tip – for memorizing lyrics, write them down a couple times]

  • First, don’t cram the day of. It’s very hard to keep a song solidly in your head from only one impression – even if it’s a few times through. Unless you are certain that you’ll have the chance to listen to the song immediately before performing it, this is risky. Any tune you hear between listening and performing will start to contaminate the memory. If some sort of emergency crops up, and you only get one day, then try to take breaks between listenings – an hour is good, making sure to listen to other songs in between to really solidify the song.
  • Ideally, I like taking five days to a week to really get a song solid. I don’t know the brain science behind it, but I find that if I don’t listen to the song every day, but take a day or two off in between, the second listening is much more effective – must be some sort of long-term vs. short-term memory thing.
  • Pay close attention to the bridge and try to learn it first. The bridge is usually the toughest part to get solidly since it typically only happens once in the song. Try to remember how it goes while listening to the first couple verses.
  • If you can play an instrument, play along with the song. It will help solidify any weird changes in the tune.
  • Try to sing the song by yourself between listenings. Singing along with the recording isn’t usually as helpful – you may start relying on cues that won’t be there when you perform it live.

Good luck. If there is one tip that I would recommend above the others, it’s putting space between listenings. It does wonders. Keep singing!

-Josh

Do you have any tips for learning music quickly? Share them below!

Comfort Zones

As a bit of an introvert, I am constantly coming face-to-face with the limits of my Comfort Zone. It can be a challenge to get past that brick wall, but I have found that the more I fight past it, the weaker it becomes. Whether it is introducing myself to fellow business leaders in town or cold-starting my piano show in front of a small crowd of strangers, putting on a smile and jumping in really works. Try it!

Keep pushing your limits, and you’ll find that they start melting away. The fact that our Comfort Zones exist is proof that we aren’t taking enough chances in life. Put yourself out there. You will fall flat on your face a couple times, but you’ll land on your feet a couple times, too. The more you stretch yourself, the easier it will become, and the better you’ll get at it! The Comfort Zone is on the list of our enemies. Fight it!

-Josh

Vocal Exercises – the Messa di Voce

A wonderful tool for developing your voice is the messa di voce. Italian for “placing the voice,” this technique involves sustaining a pitch with a gradual crescendo (getting louder) and decrescendo (getting softer). This is a great exercise for warming up, increasing your range, increasing your dynamic power, and increasing your control. The thing to remember is that you want to make the crescendo and decrescendo as smooth as possible.

Many times, I’ll use the technique if there is a particular note in a phrase that I’m having trouble with. This is often because of a challenging vowel sound on the pitch. Try it yourself. First, sing through the phrase using a lip trill (check out my post on the lip trill). Then do it again, except this time pause on the trouble spot and add the messa di voce. Feel the amount of support you’ll need to pull it off. Now sing it through with the words this time, pausing at the trouble spot and holding the respective vowel. Try to keep the vowel consistent as you crescendo and decrescendo. It can take a couple times through before you find the right feel (a lot of times we call this feeling the placement – it can feel like the sound is physically coming from different locations in your vocal apparatus).

When I use the messa di voce in my warm-up regimen, I add it to the top of scales as I sing through them. This can greatly increase your comfort in your upper register. I will also use it at the breaks in my voice (a break is what we call the spot where the voice transitions from one register to the next – e.g. the spot between your regular voice and falsetto or between your chest voice and head voice). The messa di voce can help smooth out those breaks more quickly.

Practicing this technique, you will notice not only an increase in your dynamic range, but an increase of control at the extremes – the very louds and the very softs. Control is what we want to cultivate as we develop the voice, and the messa di voce is possibly the best exercise for working on it.

Just as versatile as the lip trill, the messa di voce is an essential part of any vocalist’s toolkit. Use it often.

-Josh

Making Choices

For a long time I was hesitant while making important choices. The problem was that I wanted to have the most information in front of me as possible before choosing. Makes sense, right? Well, here’s the thing. A lot of times you don’t know what the right decision would have been until way later, and the consequences of making the wrong choice usually aren’t nearly as bad as the consequences of making no choice. You may lose your opportunity, fall behind, or (even worse) develop a reputation of indecisiveness!

When faced with a decision, of course think about it, but do so with the information you have now. Trust your gut, but don’t mistake nervousness for a red flag. You will always be nervous when making a quick decision.

Make choices when presented with them. If it’s the wrong decision, great! It’s an opportunity to learn and grow and make better choices in the future.

-Josh

I Love Meditating

I love meditating. It calms me down. It wakes me up. It organizes my thoughts and focuses my mind. In this post I’ll be sharing my specific meditation practice. I don’t personally come at meditation from a spiritual viewpoint – there’s absolutely nothing wrong with meditative spiritual experiences, but I just use it as a tool for my mind and mood.

The thing to keep in mind when practicing meditation is that there is no failure. Hell, taking one intentional deep breath leaves you better off than you were before. There is no reason to not try.

When I meditate, I try to sit full-lotus (cross-legged with each foot resting atop the opposite thigh). If I’m not limber enough that day, I’ll sit half-lotus (same thing, except only one foot is atop the opposite thigh). Holding my body in these semi-stressful positions really helps keep me alert. If you can’t pull off a lotus, try it kneeling down or sitting in a chair.

I face a blank wall (no visual distractions), and I don’t close my eyes. I don’t really focus my eyes on anything though – more just middle-distance gazing. I keep a notepad or my phone next to me, and I set a timer for fifteen minutes. Here we go…

All you do is focus on your breaths. Breathe deeply. I count to ten – breathe in (one), breathe out (two), breathe in (three), etc. (going back to one after getting to ten). Focus ONLY on your breath. Feel it fill your lungs. Other thoughts will come to mind. When they do, try to ignore them. Push them aside and concentrate on counting those breaths. Sometimes I will remember important things that I had forgotten about, or maybe a great idea will pop into my mind. That’s why I have the notepad. I write it down so I don’t have to worry about pushing the thought aside as I meditate and possibly losing it again!

After the fifteen minutes elapse, I stand up, stretch a bit, and get on with my day – refreshed, renewed, and rarin’ to go! I know that fifteen minutes can seem like a long time to sit still like this. When starting out, just shoot for five. Or three, even. Any little bit will help clear your mind and focus your thoughts. Give it a shot!

-Josh

How did you do? Any tricks you use while meditating? Obstacles? Share them in the comments!

They Just Won’t Pay Attention

I was playing a show the other night. It was a corporate holiday party – nametags and everything – and I just could not get the people to engage with my show at all. I was still getting requests, so I had a good set to do, but the crowd was hanging away by the bar and gabbing. What to do?

This type of thing can easily happen at any event where networking or catching up is the focus (think class reunion). It’s easy to get discouraged, but don’t! Try getting them involved for a few songs (I tried for a good twenty minutes). If they’re not biting, then just play for you. Eventually they’ll come around. Just think – after they get to the small talk portion of their conversations, you’ll be their savior!

Keep playing, and make sure you’re enjoying it.

-Josh

Give It Away Now

One thing that has really taken over my life these days is clutter. It is extra present for my wife and me, having just moved into a new house and finally getting all our stuff out of storage. We’ve been spending the past year and a half living in a one bedroom apartment, and over that time, we’ve really discovered what we need and what we don’t need.

Even if you are not currently dealing with dozens of boxes filled with who knows what, you could probably benefit from shedding some of the crap you have hanging around. That stuff is weighing you down and visually stressing you out. I like keeping a box in the house for Goodwill. Every week (more like multiple times a day for us!) find something in your house that you don’t need in your life (maybe it’s a sweater or a bowl or a bobblehead) and put it in the box. Every month or so, run the box over to Goodwill. Hell, grab a receipt and write that shit off your taxes!

Make it a habit – you will love having less clutter in your life. Live free!

-Josh