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Playing & Singing

Postby Ian Shaw » Tue Oct 27, 2015 7:41 pm

Hi All,
Hope this is the right forum to ask this.

Just recently getting back into playing after some years break ( kids & computers, mostly) & would like some advice on playing & singing at the same time. I can do both reasonably well on their own but have always struggled doing both beyond simple strumming & singing over the top.
Are there any tips, practice methods, advice on doing more intricate playing & singing together?
I am a self taught classical player trying to loosen up & play a more percussive fingerpicking style.

Any help would be appreciated

Thanks

Ian
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Re: Playing & Singing

Postby Sam Inglis » Tue Oct 27, 2015 8:07 pm

I think two things are key to doing this:

(1) Practice (and experience), and

(2) Knowing the material really really well.

If you haven't properly memorised the tune or words, or you're fumbling over the guitar chords, it makes combining the two so much harder. The ideal is to practice and learn each part separately until they're second nature.
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Re: Playing & Singing

Postby ConcertinaChap » Tue Oct 27, 2015 9:51 pm

In my case it's singing songs with concertina accompaniment. I find that in order to do justice to the song I have to be able to practice the accompaniment until it is almost totally automatic. I can then concentrate on singing the song with the feeling and interpretation I want. Others (particularly better musicians) may be able to vamp the accompaniment readily, but I can't do that, it has to be this way for me.

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Re: Playing & Singing

Postby Rich Hanson » Wed Oct 28, 2015 10:11 am

Definitely practice. I have a song I've been rehearsing where I have to play a basic guitar solo while singing a harmony. Initially I kept singing the guitar notes, but as I became more familiar with playing the guitar part it became easier to sing the right notes, as my fingers were beginning to remember where to go so I wasn't thinking about the actual notes.
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Re: Playing & Singing

Postby Luke JD » Wed Oct 28, 2015 10:25 am

I agree with Sam. You want your strumming to almost be on autopilot to let you concentrate on singing. I also find having a really secure rhythm helps.
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Re: Playing & Singing

Postby Ian Shaw » Wed Oct 28, 2015 6:06 pm

Thanks for the replies so far.

I guess I'm one of these people who has never found performing very easy. I generally don't enjoy it due to being constantly worried about forgetting the words or messing up.
I am in the process of giving it one more go and trying to get comfortable with it as I think I have some good material that I want to share.
Is there a point at which its possible to just let go and enjoy the performing thing?
Is it just about doing over & over again in front of people?
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Re: Playing & Singing

Postby Rich Hanson » Wed Oct 28, 2015 9:24 pm

Give it time for your confidence to build. Practice, practice and more practice until it's second nature and you cease to worry about screwing up.

It took me until the age of 42 to have the confidence to step out as a front man!
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Re: Playing & Singing

Postby Luke JD » Thu Oct 29, 2015 1:13 am

Ian Shaw wrote:Thanks for the replies so far.

I guess I'm one of these people who has never found performing very easy. I generally don't enjoy it due to being constantly worried about forgetting the words or messing up.
I am in the process of giving it one more go and trying to get comfortable with it as I think I have some good material that I want to share.
Is there a point at which its possible to just let go and enjoy the performing thing?
Is it just about doing over & over again in front of people?


I used to have this same exact thing. I would say you just have to bite the bullet, get your arse up there and do it. Tell yourself "THIS IS GOING TO BE THE BEST GIG I'VE EVER DONE!!" Say it to yourself constantly throughout the day. Don't doubt yourself. Not even a little bit. It works, honest to god, it works. With positive thinking and experience you will learn to enjoy it :) but it'll take some time

Practise lots first so it all becomes second nature :)
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Re: Playing & Singing

Postby Dynamic Mike » Thu Oct 29, 2015 2:28 am

I can sympathise, I'm was never comfortable singing and playing guitar at the same time. One aspect always seemed to suffer at the expense of the other. Practicing helped somewhat, but even then it went to pot when playing in front of an audience. What I did learn however was that everyone will notice your singing errors, whereas 3 bearded blokes called George will notice if you mess up on the guitar & they're going to criticise anyway. I'd keep most of the set simple & maybe slip in a couple of classical interludes to show off your chops.

Just relax, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yJKn3sfuC_0 it can happen to anyone.
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Re: Playing & Singing

Postby zenguitar » Thu Oct 29, 2015 4:06 am

It's well known here that I've been a long time John Martyn fan, and I saw him many times live. And this thread reminds me of when I saw him at the Royal Festival Hall about 3 decades ago...

John had broken his wrist so he roped in an old friend to play guitar and for once just sang instead of playing guitar and singing. And it was the weirdest John Martyn gig I was ever at, you could understand almost EVERY word he sang. It was really disconcerting, especially for us fans because we weren't used to it. Walking out at the end there was this big buzz of conversation, and I can still remember overhearing snippets from all those conversations that were, essentially, saying "[ ****** ]! that was weird, I could hear every word and it seems that he was never singing what I always thought he was singing".

And, I guess, that shows that what made John Martyn so special to many of us was that his singing was blurred and slurred in a way that let us fill the gaps for ourselves. We weren't listening to his stories, we were picking up on verbal cues to insert our own stories instead. And it was all because when he sang and played at the same time his attention was split between singing and playing.

The consensus was that we all preferred the John Martyn we were used to, the one where you could understand one word in 5.

And going back to my gigging days... I was playing hybrid rhythm and lead guitar while singing lead or harmony. Rather than working out fixed parts, I worked on learning the structure of the song on guitar. Bass, drums and guitar, we all worked out simple, medium, and complex approaches to each part of each song. When we played the main thing was listening to each other and play by instinct. But when it came to singing, I was on autopilot. I learned the words, and they usually came out, but if I thought about the words it was easy to forget them. There were quite a few occasions when I improvised verses and choruses on the spot when my mind went blank at just the wrong time. And those were songs I'd written!!

Yes, practice is important. But I found that the main things to learn were the structure of the song and the idea behind the song. If you get the structure right and have a few alternate parts rehearsed, your muscle memory will dig you out of a hole. And if you have the idea behind the song clear in your mind, you may not always remember the right words but your mind will provide words that fit. Ninety nine times out of 100 no one in the audience will notice, and on the rare occasion that they do they will think your improvisation was a clever plan.

And the final rule of thumb to help you sing and play at the same time. Spend AT LEAST 50% of your time practising both together. And make a point of going through the entire song from start to finish without stopping even if you make a mistake, ESPECIALLY if you make a mistake. Remember this; you might make a mistake, but 19 time out of 20 the audience won't notice if you carry on regardless. Rehearsal and practice is all about learning how to 'carry on regardless', the better you get at that, the less the audience are likely to notice.

Andy :beamup:
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Re: Playing & Singing

Postby CS70 » Sat Dec 05, 2015 10:38 pm

Cool story, Andy!

I play lead while singing (and rhythm of course as well togheter with the other guitarist) and what I find is that I split my attention between the two. When I'm singing I know what I'm gonna say next, but if the next line is a lead part (a fill or a rehearsed instrumental or an improvisation) I find myself thinking about it exactly like I would think of the next sentence in the lyrics.

I've toyed with playing lead lines and singing at the same time and surprisingly it works, but only when the lead part is harmonically right (or almost unison) with the sung melody.

For the rhythm it's the same - a melody suggest a pattern of playing and I perfect that one and then I just don't need to think about it at all.

For the OP: practice, as everyone's said - but also expand your vocabulary (of strumming or rhythmical patterns, for example) so that more and more stuff becomes almost automatic once you decide to use it.

Beware of that horrible (short) period when you struggle and can't play the same the same part twice the same way.. it's absolutely normal: slow down and persist, take a break if you feel frustration build up, sleep over it (personally I can't practice stuff more than a couple minutes at a time), try again the day after.. within a few days little bits will start to get easy and then it's an avalanche - you soon play the stuff without thinking and you even cannot understand what could possibly be so hard.
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Re: Playing & Singing

Postby SandyE » Mon Feb 22, 2016 2:04 am

I agree that it's practice, practice, practice. I used to play in a band years ago. When others in the group were singing I'd usually play the fills between chords (I was the only one who could do so). But the fills I did for others I couldn't do for myself when I sang. Guess it's a left brain / right brain thing beyond my ability. So I was content to just strum when I sang. What I did do on some songs was to do it solo- using fingerpicking patterns with just a few simple fills here and there. Soloing allowed be to be more expressive. One thing I can say about my soloing- I never fingerpicked the same song exactly the same way, string by string, note by note, each time I played it- and that worked OK for me. It was the expressiveness I felt at the moment in my fingerpicking and it allowed me to concentrate on the vocals. Only I noticed each one was different- no one else ever picked up on it. I know your post is a few months old, but I wanted to respond anyway as I certainly can relate to what you were going through. Good luck on your endeavors!
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Re: Playing & Singing

Postby bluessinger45 » Mon Feb 22, 2016 10:23 am

Hi,
I agree with all the sentiment on here. I would add that always practice as far as you can with the set up you will be using. What I mean is that if you sit and play the guitar with a boom mic, practice with this in statsis (doesn't have to be plugged in). Also bar stools can end up with you holding the guitar at strange angles. These little changes can sap your confidence if you're not careful.
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Re: Playing & Singing

Postby Sam Spoons » Tue Mar 08, 2016 7:38 pm

I find I can play and sing at the same tim as long as the phrasing of the vocal falls rhythmically on the timing of the playing, anything with a different rhythm is almost impossible for me unless I know both parts backwards, forwards, upside-down and inside-out (and even that doesn't work for everything) so +1 for lots of practice.

If the OP's still here it'd be cool to hear how you're getting on :)
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Re: Playing & Singing

Postby Eddy Deegan » Wed Mar 09, 2016 2:58 am

I can play really well, as a rule. If I say so meself 'n all. I can't sing for toffee but I've done a lot of vocal work in the context of harmony vocals in a band. I can play piano like a maniac, blind drunk, with the lights turned off. I can play piano long after I've lost the ability to walk, should I imbibe that much. It's like breathing to me.

HOWEVER... as soon as you ask me to play anything and sing at the same time I turn into the audio equivalent of an elephant trying to ride a banjo :)
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Re: Playing & Singing

Postby Sam Inglis » Wed Mar 09, 2016 9:55 am

Eddy Deegan wrote:I turn into the audio equivalent of an elephant trying to ride a banjo :)

Is that a good or a bad thing? It sounds like it might be quite entertaining!
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Re: Playing & Singing

Postby CS70 » Wed Mar 09, 2016 11:45 am

Eddy Deegan wrote:HOWEVER... as soon as you ask me to play anything and sing at the same time I turn into the audio equivalent of an elephant trying to ride a banjo :)

It is really just habit and practice. The movement and feeling of your mouth, vocal cords etc becomes part of the song as much as the movement of your hands on the instrument. The same with breathing pattern, etc. Just like with playing, the first times you try you aren't able.. but if you persevere enough and practice properly, your brain will build the control structures/associations. And when the neural network is completed you have the magic moment where you "suddenly" can do it.

It saved my ass at gigs with bad monitoring, where you don't hear yourself so well: you can still "feel" what you're singing with your muscles position, just as much you don't need to look at the keyboard or fretboard to play find the right note on it, and still sing in tune and pitch - for the songs you know, of course.

In conclusion - I think there's "singing and playing a song you know well" - which is just like playing; and there's "singing and playing something that you are just reading or making up", and there everybody's slowish.
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Re: Playing & Singing

Postby damoore » Wed Mar 09, 2016 5:07 pm

Ian Shaw wrote:Thanks for the replies so far.

I guess I'm one of these people who has never found performing very easy. I generally don't enjoy it due to being constantly worried about forgetting the words or messing up.

Everybody forgets the words occasionally. If you haven't heard Ella Fitzgerald's version of Mac the Knife where she forgets the words, you've got to go listen to it. Whether she actually forgot the words or not doesn't really matter; she either forgot or thought a pretense of forgetting was credible.

Then there is the famous case of Rudy Vallee breaking up in the middle of a recording.

In both cases, it was considered entertaining enough to release the recording. One of the nice things about live recordings is you get to hear the mistakes (and sometimes the people talking in the background :-( ) so it makes the performers more human and gives hope to we mere mortals.

The only thing you want to avoid is stopping. When a ballad decides that tonight it wants to be an uptempo boogie, you just have to hang on and go with it.
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Re: Playing & Singing

Postby blinddrew » Wed Mar 09, 2016 5:30 pm

I'm pretty much there with playing and singing (though I'm pushing myself to do more riffage whilst singing rather than just chord work), but I'm finding it really difficult to add a pedal board to the combination as well... :¬(
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Re: Playing & Singing

Postby paul tha other » Wed Mar 09, 2016 6:27 pm

ive been playing in bands for years every gig i play i make at least one mistake..the trick is to practise NOT putting on the "ive made a mistake face"

ive struggled with this myself...still cant sing over things that riff..or play lead and sing
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