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Category: Music

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.


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!


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.


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.


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!


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

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.


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.


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!


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

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!