Hi everyone! If you haven’t come across it already, check out my facebook page (here). I have started a “Song of the Day” project where I am recording a video every day. I’m also taking and playing your requests, so make a comment on the videos. Have a look, and spread the word 🙂
Sometimes an audience isn’t even close to giving you the energy you are craving (or needing) for your show. It doesn’t matter why–so many factors can play into it: small audience size, too far away from you, sports on the TV, networking events, et cetera, et cetera, ad nauseam [latin!]. It can be so crazy frustrating to play in these situations, but–here’s the thing–you can’t let it get to you. Keep pushing that rope. Keep banging your head against that wall. Keep herding those cats. You gotta do it, because there’s going to be a moment when something shifts, and the folks will be more receptive to what you’re doing. If you’re not there 100% to capitalize on that instant, it will pass you by. Don’t let it! It’s going to be tough–it’s going to be damned near impossible–but you can’t give up on that crowd. They’re going to be there for you. Where will you be?
When playing a request-based show, sometimes you are faced with a conundrum – you just don’t have any requests to play! This happens a lot of times at the beginning of a show while people are still getting situated, their drinks ordered, etc. Sometimes it can happen during a longer show if the crowd is in the middle of a turnover. Hell, sometimes the crowd just wants to sit back and listen without having to constantly think of another clever tune. Well, what do you play? It’s easy to panic and not be able to think of even ONE of the hundreds (maybe thousands) of songs you know you can play at that moment. That is where the “go-list” comes in handy. The go-list is simply a list of songs that you know can work at any time.
These lists are also useful when you’d like to change the direction the requests have been going. For instance, when a lot of people come to a piano-bar show, they limit themselves to only thinking of “typical piano songs” (Elton John, Billy Joel, Rat Pack, etc.). They don’t realize that we can play guitar-heavy songs, too. It’s times like these when a well-placed rocker by the Stones or even some Def Leppard can step up the request game. The go-list is a great way to remind yourself of that perfect song.
There are countless ways of putting your go-list together. You can jot down a list on the back of a request slip before the show starts. Some folks use a Post-It note. I prefer a spreadsheet on Google Drive that I can access at any time from my phone or my tablet [nerd alert]. I maintain a couple of them – one dance-heavy list for wedding receptions and another one for solo shows that I have separated into three categories based on the pacing of the show (low, mid, and high energy).
The go-list is a great tool to keep up your sleeve. You never know when you’ll need it. Keep it updated and keep it handy.
Every person in the crowd is important. Make sure you’re taking time to connect with every person out there. It’s tempting to just focus on the fun people who are giving the energy back to you, but take the time to branch out from that core. Even a glance and a smile can affect the energy in the room. Don’t worry – that core group will still be there for you if you need an energy refill.
When playing an all-request show, you absolutely must stay up-to-date with the current trends in pop music. I try to keep at least three or four current top ten songs ready to go. Right now that means “Love Yourself” and “Sorry” by Justin Bieber, “Stressed Out” by twenty one pilots, and “Hello” by Adele. Mind you, I’m not memorizing these tunes – most of them won’t make it a month in the zeitgeist – but I certainly get familiar enough with the tune that I can pull up some lyrics and perform it pretty well.
I have the Billboard Hot 100 bookmarked and I listen to most of the songs about every other day on average, usually while getting ready in the morning [edit – just the top few songs, not all 100!!]. The mind is fresh and ready to absorb new tunes in the morning, so why not take advantage! If you don’t subscribe to a music service, most of the current hits are on YouTube for on-demand listening. It also doesn’t hurt to sit down at the piano and play through a verse, chorus, and bridge of the tunes once a week or so. Make it a habit, and soon you’ll be winning over a whole new demographic of music fans.
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.
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.
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.