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Month: January 2016

On Auditioning New Players

Have you ever been to a Piano Fondue show and thought, “Man, would I love to be doing that!”? Well, here’s what I’m looking for…

When I’m auditioning a potential new player for Piano Fondue training, I have them sit in on the Thursday night dueling show at the Ivory Room. They get to play two 30-minute sets, each done across from a PF veteran.

I’m only looking at three things.

  • How’s the voice? I’m really looking for basics here – mostly just intonation. Other aspects (power, range, tone, endurance) are easier to work on should they need any polishing.
  • How’s the personality? How comfortable are they with the crowd? Are they looking at the audience at all? Are they smiling? Are they bantering with the other player? The veteran player sitting across from them is helping them out. How do they respond? Performing with Piano Fondue is like being the frontman in a rock band. Can they handle it?
  • How are the piano chops? I’m looking for one thing – can they convincingly accompany themselves without looking at their hands? Everything else can be worked on.

To sum it up, sing in tune. Have personality. Don’t look at your hands. Can you do that? If so, you have potential. Send me an email.

-Josh

Healthy Singing with an Earplug

I have a quick tip for all you singers out there (especially the ones at noisy bars). Put an earplug in one of your ears. It helps you monitor how healthily you’re singing. I’ve been doing it for years now, and I gotta say it’s a godsend. I can feel where the threshold of “destructive pushing” is, and I simply don’t cross it.

[Bonus fact] Most people have one ear that is far better at determining intonation. It shouldn’t take much experimentation to determine which ear to plug and which to leave open.

Happy singing!

-Josh

Breathing Exercises: Lung Expansion

Here is a great breathing exercise I learned back in my drum corps days that really helps increase your lung capacity. Just remember to not lock your knees – we don’t want anyone passing out! (seriously) Also, I’m not a doctor. If something hurts while doing this exercise, stop doing it. That goes for everything else on this website, too.

That out of the way, here we go!

  • Set a metronome for 60 beats per minute (or just think of everything in seconds).
  • Lock your fingers behind your head and pull your elbows back, opening your chest cavity.
  • Breathe in for 4 counts – feel your lungs expand downward, to your sides, and in your back.
  • Hold for 4 counts
  • Sip more air in for 4 counts – one sip per count – really force more air in there
  • Hold for 4 more counts
  • Release for 8 counts – when you release, create some resistance for the air by hissing through your teeth, controlling the rate of air movement with your diaphragm. Release ALL of your air in the allotted time.
  • Next time through, release for 12 counts. Then 16. Then 20. Then 24…

Pro level – the last 4 counts of release, really force it out hard to the very end – don’t quit early!

Keep it up, and you’ll soon find your lung capacity growing and your vocal power increasing. Let me know how it goes in the comments.

-Josh

“Blood Rites” by Jim Butcher

Recently, I have been enjoying Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series for a lot of my light reading. In the stories, we follow the exploits of Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard (he’s in the Yellow Pages) and full-time smart-ass. He never fails to find new ways of pissing off the citizens of this world as well as many denizens of the spooky Nevernever – a kind of parallel dimension where all the demonic nasties hang out. He is also often forced to walk a tightrope between his contacts with Chi-town’s mortal underworld and those with the Chicago PD (neither of whom like him very much).

“Blood Rites” is the sixth book of the series, and in it Butcher develops his world of vampires a bit more, exploring the White Court of vamps – a breed who feed on sexual desire, as opposed to the more traditional blood-suckers of the Red and Black courts. We meet some new characters, including a sultry White Court vixen and a bad-ass mercenary (who’s mostly human-ish), and we get to peek a little further into Harry’s bizarre family history. It is all set against the backdrop of a string of mysterious deaths (murders?) surrounding the production of a classy(?) porno film being shot in Chicago’s suburban industrial parks. However, those looking for steamy scenes should look elsewhere. Everyone remains clothed (mostly), and the metaphors remain quite tame and amusingly lame (can anyone say wizard’s staff? Ha!).

These Dresden Files books are fun, fast reads, and I hear they keep getting better (there are 15 of them so far). I imagine that I’ll be turning to Harry Dresden again soon for some solid in-between reading.

-Josh

P.S. – There was a short-lived Dresden Files TV series attempted starring Paul Blackthorne, and we’ve watched a couple episodes – it’s pretty good. We keep meaning to finish the show, but never remember to – perhaps some upcoming lazy winter’s Sunday.

Sit Up Straight

Okay, I’m going to channel my best inner-mom when I tell you this… “Sit up straight!” In addition to not looking like a slouch, good posture helps your singing and speaking tremendously. Lining up your vocal apparatus and activating your core is damn near everything you are trying to accomplish with voice lessons, and good posture is the end-all, be-all, holy grail of setting it all up for you. Activating your core has more benefits, too. It sets you up to be a physically stronger person. Strength comes from your core, and by keeping it active, you are essentially always working out. Last, but entirely not least, sitting, standing, and walking with good posture makes you feel better, stronger, and more confident, and when you’re feeling better, stronger, and more confident, you are going to feel happier. Good posture will literally improve your life, so let’s get on it.

When I remind myself to check my standing posture, I always imagine there is a string attached to the crown of my head, pulling me up like a marionette and stretching my spine. A couple side to side stretches and a deep breath later, I’m in power town, and I’m feeling more limber. If I’m sitting down, I sit so that I feel ready to stand up at any time. It keeps me super energized and ready to sing and play with energy and vigor. Try it yourself and see if you feel better and more energized. If you’ve been slouching for years, a lot of these muscles will put up a little fight when you start activating them for the first time, but keep it up, and you’ll eventually train good posture as your default. Until that happens, try to make occasional posture checks into a habit. Set a reminder on your phone or ask a friend or significant other to remind you from time to time.

Keep thinking positive, keep smiling, and get after that good posture. Your body and soul will thank you for it.

-Josh

“Once Upon a Time in the North” by Philip Pullman

If you’ve read the Philip Pullman His Dark Materials trilogy (“The Golden Compass” is the first of these) then I imagine you’ll enjoy this book. Pullman has been expanding his oeuvre in this universe, and “Once Upon a Time in the North” is a very short (a couple hours) prequel to the original trilogy. We get another look at the adventuring Texas aeronaut, Lee Scoresby, and we learn how he met the impressive and imposing Iorek Byrnison. It’s a quick storyline which takes place entirely in one rough arctic town – perfect for a winter weeknight read! Local politics plays a central role as the harbor town readies itself for a mayoral election, and many of the xenophobic themes from the original trilogy begin rearing their ugly heads.

Pour yourself a hot toddy and enjoy.

-Josh

A quick BTW for Pullman fans – if you weren’t already aware,  the BBC is producing a TV series based on the His Dark Materials trilogy! BBC press release