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Joshua Dupont Posts

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

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!