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Playing Lead While Singing

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(@sunnibear)
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Hendrix, Stevie and many more did this so well. Much easier to do while just playing chords. I find it nearly impossible to do. Any tricks or input on this subject would be deeply appreciated!


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(@alangreen)
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Like so many other things about playing guitar, this is one of those things that really does get easier with lots of regular practise.

Keep putting in those hours.

"Be good at what you can do" - Fingerbanger"
I have always felt that it is better to do what is beautiful than what is 'right'" - Eliot Fisk
Wedding music and guitar lessons in Essex. Listen at: http://www.rollmopmusic.co.uk


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(@anonymous)
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if you actually listen to hendrix, there aren't a whole lot of instances where he's soloing and singing at the same time. he's just an amazing rhythm guitar player. he does embellish his rhythm parts a lot, and he plays some pretty sick riffs, but most of the time when he's singing, he's singing over rhythm parts. it might sound like a lead line because he's fragmenting chords and embellishing them, but that's different than playing a lead. same thing with srv or jeff buckley or billy corgan or whoever. they are all incredible rhythm guitarists, besides being great lead players.
hendrix also used the studio to his advantage and would layer a bunch of different guitars on the same song, and i've seen him in live videos playing and singing his vocal line simultaneously, which isn't that tough, and songs like red house, where he sings a line and then plays a lick. but his solos tend to be wild, and i can't think of when he cut loose with a solo while still singing.
it's just very tough. your brain is going to automatically make you try to sing the lead, or harmonize it, and it's even tougher when you add in the fact that they're often different rhythms. it can be done, it's just a lot tougher to think about playing lines that are different than what you're singing, or don't support what you're singing. and like alan said, it only comes with a lot of practice.


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(@sunnibear)
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Hey Alan and Jason, Thanks for your guys' input. You are both so right, and Jason, I'm one of the fortunate to have seen Hendrix a few times when I was very young (grew up in NYC), and you are so right... a lot of his vocal and lead riffs were actually the same line, which makes it a whole lot easier *(Voodoo child, etc) Another problem I face is I can wail on guitar...But I couldn't sing a lick until just recently, I've been taking vocal lessons from one of the most renouned vocal coaches in the world, so I may be trying too much at once. Thanks again for your comments!


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(@noteboat)
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On occasion I'll play lead while singing. It's tough to do. As Jason noted, you've got to have your brain doing two things at once.

So if you really want to learn to do it, start by thinking of just ONE thing at once. There are two ways you can do that:

1. If you're working to sing a fixed line while playing a fixed lead part (a la Hendrix, etc), first learn the fixed lead part well enough so you can do it without thinking about what your hands are doing. If you can play the lead line while carrying on a simple conversation, you know it well enough to start trying - and even then it will take a while (this is how I started doing it; after I could play the lead without thinking, it still took me weeks of practice to pull it off)

2. Vocalize. If you're improvising, try singing what you're playing. This is actually a great exercise for any guitarist - it gets your ears, brain, and fingers all doing the same thing, which helps you really learn the sounds you can get out of various fingerings. Listen to George Benson for some great examples of vocalizing his improvised lines.

And if you're talking about a completely improvised line while you sing a fixed melody line... that's really tough. I've done it, but with admittedly widely varying degrees of success. You want to do a few things to make it workable:

a. Know the melody line inside and out. Know what pitches you're hitting, and when. Also know the rhythm to the lyric well enough to write it out accurately. While you're at it, be able to sing the line while doing something relatively complicated physically - like bouncing a tennis ball on a racket while you sing.

b. You're essentially creating a counterpoint - two melody lines going on at once. Two independent melodies are NOT random! At fixed points - usually on the strong beats - you'll want to be creating a harmony: a unison, a third, a fifth, a sixth, or an octave. Ignore all the other intervals... they add tension, and then you're talking a whole new level of things to control.

c. Knowing the rhythm, and the pitches you'll be singing on the strong beats, map out what your tone choices are (those consonant intervals). Do this ON PAPER - you'll be referring to it a lot! Know the chord changes of the song well enough that you can target those pitches at those times consistently while improvising WITHOUT singing.

d. Have a rhythmic plan. Counterpoint is generally divided into "species" for study and composition... first species is 1:1 (one lead note for every vocal note); second species is 2:1 or 3:1; third species is 4:1; fourth species involves "suspensions" (holding a note in voice or lead while the other note changes); fifth species is "florid", or a mix of the other four. Stick to first, second, and third species. While this might seem rhythmically constricting, you don't want to complicate things any more than they already are... and it's plenty complicated. When I sing and improvise at the same time, my lead line rhythms are practically vamps - one, or at most two rhythmic ideas, over and over.

And as Jason noted, Hendrix and others typically didn't play and sing at the same time. You can create the illusion that you're doing it by a composition device called "stretto" (Italian for "tight"). This basically means that instead of idea B following idea A in a composition, they overlap - B starts before A is done. If your vocal phrase ends on a longer tone, like a half note, it's fairly easy to start your lead line on the "and" after the vocal note starts - or even at the same time that you hit that last note. This overlaps the two lines, and unless you're paying close attention it seems like you're doing both at once - but one voice is actually stationary. Take a close listen, and you'll see that's what most singing lead players are actually doing.

I first decided to try my hand at singing and improvising at the same time a long time ago - I think Ford was president then. I'm still not comfortable enough with it to try it more than a couple times a year in public unless I'm forced to, which hasn't happened in a long time. But then it's not something I devote a great deal of practice time to either - because both singers and lead players are fairly common, it's almost a parlor trick. The only reason I even tried to tackle the problem was because I was the lead guitarist in a band with a singer who had a serious drug problem... I figured I'd need to step in from time to time to save gigs. I'm glad I made the effort (I had to use it more than once), but it's a huge mental strain.

Guitar teacher offering lessons in Plainfield IL


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(@sunnibear)
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WOW! Tom (I assume) That is a boatload of info you just gave me. I really appreciate the time and input you have given me on this subject. Will take some time to digest. As I mentioned to these other guys, I am just learning to sing., Been playing with several great rock bands over the past 2 decades and whenever I stepped up to the mike, It was literally pulled away from me, on many occasion! Like I've posted before "Can wail on guitar... but can't sing a lick" was true. After 3 lessons with one of the most revered vocal coaches in the world, I am learning to sing for the first time in my life. I know, especially after reading what you wrote, that I'm probably taking on a bit more that I can chew. With that said, I will probably proceed slowly, after studying several instruments throughout my life, I do understand the concept of what "practice, practice, practice" means. Thank you so much for the great advice and will definately keep you posted on my progress!


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(@chris-c)
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Like so many other things about playing guitar, this is one of those things that really does get easier with lots of regular practise.

Keep putting in those hours.

That does seem to be the bottom line. From a neurological perspective, it always seems very daunting when we're faced with a new and unfamiliar combination of actions. But the answer usually seems to be similar - get at least one, and preferable both, as solid as possible before adding them together. Switching your attention back and forth between two patchy or incomplete skills often leads to some kind of train wreck sooner or later.

I've seen numerous posts on Youtube where people are gushingly impressed by somebody tapping with both hand on a two necked guitar, and marvelling at their genius at coordination. Yet pianists do it all the time, and any guitar player has to learn to operate both hands independently and confidently. Organ players can play with both hands and both feet. It's not unusual to be able to drive a car using all four limbs to operate different pedals and levers, plus smoke a cigarette, partially listen to the radio, talk to a passenger, monitor the traffic ahead, and still notice the pretty girl at the side of the road. So most of us can successfully multi-task with a bit more practice. It's often the fear of how hard a new challenge will be that's blocking the path. If you break things down into smaller component parts, take them slowly and build solidly, you can achieve very complex outcomes.

Chris


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 cnev
(@cnev)
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I can't remember hearing anyone playing blistering leads and singing at the same time there might be a few but I have to agree with Jason/Note most are not singing and playing at the same time.
And as Jason noted, Hendrix and others typically didn't play and sing at the same time. You can create the illusion that you're doing it by a composition device called "stretto" (Italian for "tight"). This basically means that instead of idea B following idea A in a composition, they overlap - B starts before A is done. If your vocal phrase ends on a longer tone, like a half note, it's fairly easy to start your lead line on the "and" after the vocal note starts - or even at the same time that you hit that last note. This overlaps the two lines, and unless you're paying close attention it seems like you're doing both at once - but one voice is actually stationary. Take a close listen, and you'll see that's what most singing lead players are actually doing.

"It's all about stickin it to the man!"
It's a long way to the top if you want to rock n roll!


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(@chris-c)
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I can't remember hearing anyone playing blistering leads and singing at the same time there might be a few but I have to agree with Jason/Note most are not singing and playing at the same time.

I'm sure that you're right there, Chris. But wouldn't the reason mostly be that it's not usually desirable? I don't think that singers really want their vocals to have to compete with blistering leads when it's their turn in the front spotlight (both literally and musically) and vice-versa. Rhythm guitar doesn't compete with either singing or lead, it supports them. But lead guitar and vocals are much closer together in the part they play - it's a bit like putting two alpha males in the same pack, they tend to need their own space. :) Even if you're doing both roles, I would imagine that you would want to be able to primarily showcase either one skill or the other in any given bar, and have the other take a less prominent role, even if it means fairly swift and subtle switches.

Chris


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 cnev
(@cnev)
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Exactly Chris. The more I think about it other than Hendrix and a few others most singers aren't playing anything and the ones that do usually are playing rhythm only or playing then singing.

"It's all about stickin it to the man!"
It's a long way to the top if you want to rock n roll!


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(@ik-obi)
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Agreed, I can't play lead and sing at the same time and most that do its more rhythm and some sound candy added in every once in a while.


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(@chris-c)
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a lot of his vocal and lead riffs were actually the same line, which makes it a whole lot easier

+1

I like to write songs, so playing the tune and singing along to it is just standard stuff. You write a melody on the guitar or piano, and then try singing along as you play, to make sure that it's actually singable. It doesn't seem hard to do. What does get tougher is when they're not identical - then there's a tendency to try and follow one or the other. But that's also the case when you first try and sing vocal harmonies or 'rounds' (songs where the singers all sing the same refrain but start in different places). Initially you want to try and follow one of the other lines and independence is tough. Same with beginner piano - initially you want to play the same thing in both hands. But building the skills up slowly seems to work OK - maybe splitting the tune up and playing different bits of it in each hand, or perhaps starting with a simple repetitive bass line with one hand and easy melody in the other. After a while it becomes something that you can do without too much stress.

As others have said above, mostly you'll probably be swapping your 'singing voice' from vocals to guitar and the other will either stand aside or drop back into a simple complementary pattern. But the more you practice the new skill, the more variation and independence you can usually achieve. Usually this stuff seems to boil down to deciding whether the extra ability is worth all the hours you need to put in to get it. That's how it seems to me anyway.

Chris


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(@sunnibear)
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Hey Chris, Everything you say makes a lot of sense. I guess it always comes down to the same point of how bad do you want to develop that skill vs how much time do you want to devote to it! How long have you been playing? Anything out there I can listen to?


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(@chris-c)
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I guess it always comes down to the same point of how bad do you want to develop that skill vs how much time do you want to devote to it! How long have you been playing? Anything out there I can listen to?

You definitely don't want to base anything on listening to me play or sing!

I'm strictly an amateur plunker. I'm just opinionated, mostly because I've been listening for over 60 years. I didn't start playing guitar until I was nearly sixty (now mid 60s). For while I joined a community local choir to try and improve my singing, because it makes such a difference if you can sing and play at the same time (takes the pressure off the guitar skills if you can distract them with some lyrics...). It was a lot of fun, but I don't think it lifted my game very much...What about you? Do you have a site with your music on?

Good luck with the vocal lessons, it sounds like you have a terrific opportunity to learn from a really good teacher. IMO, good vocal skills have the power to trump all other musical abilities.

Chris


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(@joehempel)
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I played with a few guys, and the lead guitarist was also the lead singer...he's freakin amazing, and I don't quite know how he does it LOL.

In Space, no one can hear me sing!


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