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Category: Music

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.

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

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

Getting the Crowd to Sing Along

While playing on stage, whether solo or with Piano Fondue, I often want to let the crowd sing certain parts of the tunes. This can be difficult to accomplish unless you’re super comfortable with it. I have a couple tips and tricks I’ve gathered through the years to help out. Keep in mind – you are going to be asking people to step out of their comfort zone, so you’ll be walking a tightrope between pushing their discomfort and reinforcing their confidence. It’s an art, so the more you practice, the better you’ll get.

1) Make sure you know the song pretty cold. At least well enough to be thinking significantly ahead of where you are currently singing. If you seem unconfident, they won’t be willing to step up.

2) Make sure it’s a song they know pretty well – at least the part they need to sing. Whatever part you’re super comfortable with is probably the part that they’re super comfortable with, so give that line to them.

3) It can be helpful to let them know before you start the song that you’ll be asking them to sing along. Something to the effect of “I’ll be needing your help on this one” can clue them in to paying attention.

4) Cue the crowd a good beat or two ahead of time, either with a “sing it!” or a gesture their way. It also can be clever and effective to come up with a question to ask on the mic that the line they are to sing would answer.

5) Cutting the music short right before they’re supposed to come in gives them an aural space to fill. (Pro tip – don’t cut on the beat. Cut it on the half or another unusual spot to jar them into paying attention.)

These final tips are really important.

6) Don’t try to sing along with them. If they see you singing, they’ll stop to listen. You want them to sing. Let them.

7) If they don’t come in right away, don’t try to fill in the space. They’re feeling the awkwardness too, and most of the time will step up to fill it for you. And if they don’t, make a joke about it. “Well, that didn’t work” or something to that effect lightens the mood, and makes everyone feel a little more confident to sing the next time through.

At the end of it all, sometimes a crowd just doesn’t want to sing along. They’d rather just sit back and enjoy the show. That’s fine. Maybe toss a couple tries at them throughout the show, but don’t push it. Remember, they are there to have a good time. Let them!

-Josh

Musicians – are there any tricks you use to get a crowd to sing along? Music lovers – have you seen someone who was particularly good at getting the crowd involved? Share it in the comments.

Onstage Energy

Is this familiar? You are lying in bed or sitting on the couch or driving to work and you just don’t feel like “bringing it” today. You’d rather lay low and fire up the Netflix. Are you ready to have your mind blown? I’ve had that feeling too. Yes, seriously! I know!!!! We have so much in common!

It doesn’t matter if you’re heading into the office or walking onto the stage, sometimes you’re just not feeling it. There’s a mantra for that. “Fake it til you make it.” Get up there, smile, and lie through your goddamned teeth. Throw yourself at the moment. Then the next, and then the next. Hell, tell yourself that you’re having fun. Believe me – our brains are pretty dumb when it comes to this kind of thing.

Here’s an exercise for you to try the next time you are feeling just plain neutral – not down, not up. Straighten up either sitting or standing, take a healthy breath (from down low in your gut), and hold a smile for ten seconds. I know you feel stupid. Shut up. As the ten seconds progress, I want you to take that weak-ass smile (oh I can see you) and gradually extend it first to your eyes (good – it’s getting more believable) then finally to your ears (just do it – you’ll feel what I mean when you try). See! You feel better already! You don’t? Well it works for me sometimes. Just fake it til you make it!

Do you have any tricks to get yourself going when you’re not feeling it?

-Josh

[Side note (or is this a footnote?) – after writing this post and going through the exercise as I wrote the steps, I went back to the top to start reading it back. That’s when I added the silly “yeah, I know” bit with all the exclamation points. My energy had actually been lifted by doing the exercise while writing this! Crazy, right‽]

-I am not saying that this trick can take you from sad to happy, nor is it any kind of treatment for any depression. It is simply a way to give yourself a little bump – a little pump priming to get you over that first hill. Chances are you’ll get rolling from there, but there are always bigger hills, and sometimes it doesn’t hurt to talk to a professional therapist or counselor if you need to.

Connecting with a Crowd

This is a blog post that I made over on the Piano Fondue site (pianofondue.com). I think it definitely belongs here now that I have this site up and running. Enjoy!

-Josh

Playing a show like Piano Fondue, you find yourself in front of a new crowd every night. You want these folks to sing along and have fun, but before that can happen, you have to connect with them. Once you develop a connection, the audience will pay way more attention to you, and they’ll be open to having some fun.

Here is a great trick that I learned early on. Start small. Focus on two or three audience members sitting close to you. Chat with them, ask how they’re doing, ask if they have any requests, show them other people’s requests, cheers them with your drink – anything you can do to involve them in what’s going on. Make sure these few people are having fun, and the rest of the crowd will follow suit. When the crowd is watching you, they’re watching you through the front few rows. They’ll want to have that experience that you’re having with that front table, and once that happens, you’re set! After a few songs, try opening the circle to some other folks in the room. Odds are, they’ll be ready to play along.

See you at the next show!
-Josh

Hi, everybody!

Hi, everybody!

Welcome to my little side project on these open seas of the internet. I have been wanting to have an outlet for sharing what insight I have in the world of live music, business, and life in general, and the Piano Fondue site just didn’t quite seem the place for it all. Piano Fondue, by the way, is a business I run. It’s a piano-centric entertainment company based in Madison, Wisconsin. The main act is a dueling-pianos type show, and it’s just a riot! I started the company with my friend Christopher Lange back in 2006, and after almost a decade of wearing several different hats in and around the business (co-owner/entertainer, then as an independant contractor) I’ve been running things solo now since October, 2014. I highly recommend checking it out if you have the chance. Just head over to pianofondue.com </shameless_plug>

I hope that as this site develops, we will get to know each other a little better. I really mean it – please feel free to ask questions, comment, insult me, what have you… either here on the site or on twitter, where you can find me at @PianoJoshDupont. I think I’m looking to figure out the same things we all are in this crazy world. Join me, and let’s find stuff out together.

-Josh