Sing while playing the bass?

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Sing while playing the bass?

Postby ghiadub » Mon Nov 16, 2009 1:42 pm

This is a two part question:

Part one: Why is it so hard to play the bass and sing?

Part two: Any advice for getting better at singing and playing bass?


For me, when I play bass, breathing is a big part of how I hold the groove. This trips me up big time when I try and sing, even backups, unless I am just playing whole notes on the 1 (almost never)

I am very interested to hear why you might have a hard time singing and playing bass.
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Re: Sing while playing the bass?

Postby aussiemark » Mon Nov 16, 2009 3:25 pm

It depends on the song, and how the vocal accents fit with the bass line. I've sung a lot in various bands over the years, and have even done solo singer/guitar gigs, as well as fronted blues trios. Like anything, practice is the trick - get the bassline committed to memory so it's automatic, and then do the same with the vocals. In some songs you need to be able to do one of those things on autopilot so you can focus on the other thing. No matter how good you are at doing that, there will be some songs that you just can't sing and play at the same time, unless you are freaking Sting or Jack Bruce. For example, I can't sing and play bass to Born Under A Bad Sign at the same time, even though the song is right in my vocal range and I could smoke it if it was a karaoke song.
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Re: Sing while playing the bass?

Postby Freddels » Mon Nov 16, 2009 3:55 pm

I can't b/c I'm singing the bass line in my head while I'm playing. [smilie=icon_biggrin.gif]
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Re: Sing while playing the bass?

Postby GonzoBass » Mon Nov 16, 2009 5:34 pm

If I'm singing,
I am either pounding eighth notes or a shuffle (dunta dunta)
and it's usually with a pick.

Simply because as Mark said,
those are rhythms I can play automatically
IE: without thinking.

(The exceptions in my vast repertoire being "Wild Thing",
which has the vocals pretty much following the bassline
and Jimi's "Fire"
which has no playing under the verse lyrics. [smilie=cheeky-smiley-025.gif])

Why is it so hard?
I think playing/singing is so difficult because-

When starting out it requires using both sides of your brain;
left/analytical as well as right/creative
at the same time.

Which I don't know about you
but that's just not something that comes easy to me.
In fact, the first time I had to sing and play I had my eyes closed, sweating the whole time
and that was at rehearsal.

I do know guitar players who can sing and play even over difficult polyrhythms
but they've been doing both for a long time.
My theory is that they eventually switched both singing and playing to the right/creative side.

I've watched this dual lobe theory evolve, to a lesser extent, in students
where, over time, they stop thinking so much about the mechanics of what they're playing
and the right/creative lobe takes over as it becomes more "natural" for them.

I've also had gigs where things just aren't clicking
and my left brain goes into override
which is never a good thing...
(I start thinking too much)

Bottom line, I guess, being that the suggestion of practice making it easier is true
due to the fact that as we build up expirience and confidence,
(knowing the line, memorizing the lyrics)
it's just turns into something we "do" instead of "thinking about doing" FIRST... THEN doing.

Rub your belly/pat your head?
[smilie=confused-smiley-013.gif]
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Re: Sing while playing the bass?

Postby hoytbasses » Mon Nov 16, 2009 5:38 pm

this is going back quite a way, but I had to sing the lead for 'carribean queen' while playing bass.... couldn't do it for the longest time.....! The bass line is dum dee dum dum dee dum dum dee .....over and over and over ad nauseum.

meanwhile, we did a LOT of soul,motown and steely dan, all of which I can sing the crap out of AND play good bass lines..... go figure: I really think it has to so more with the symmetry of the rhythm to the tune.....

for me it's get the bass line on to autopilot and then focus on getting the vocals done.... 30+ years and counting

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Re: Sing while playing the bass?

Postby nolabass » Mon Nov 16, 2009 6:03 pm

I used to sing Little Feats "Skin It Back" while playing,,,,that was a bugger-bear.

Like y'all said... I have to get the bass line absolutely automatic and then work the vocal in till it's auto too. It takes a lot of repetition. Repetition is a musicians friend. [smilie=music-smiley-005.gif] Some brains simply cannot do 2 rhythms at once....we would all play drums if we could. [smilie=cheeky-smiley-025.gif]

Your nerve paths have to be trained.....nerve pulses look for a "Path of least resistance"....the more you do it, the path become less resistant and the action gets easier, more natural.
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Re: Sing while playing the bass?

Postby SonicBlueJoe » Thu Nov 19, 2009 5:05 pm

When the guitar player and I formed the band I'm in now, about 3 years ago, I told him flat out, no way I can add back up vocals. Hell, I could barely speak let alone sing while playing. We didn't have a drummer for the first few months, so we were performing as a duo to get our feat wet. He said, "Man, I need ya, something, anything, please try."

At our last gig, couple weeks back, I sang lead on 5 tunes.

Wang Dang Doodle/various
Rockie Mountain Way/Joe
Goin Down South/NMAS
I'd love To Be A Hippy/NMAS
Ball & Biscuit/White Stripes

Sing back up on a bunch as well. Never thought in a million years I'd be able to do it, as much as I might have wanted to. I agree with the others that practice with the band, repetition, and song selection are all key.

I tried the "have the bass line down cold" approach first (and if you know any of those 5 tunes, they all require only pretty simple bass lines), and while I agree with this advice, it only carried me so far. As soon as I turned my attention to singing, much to my consternation and outright fear, my playing would fall apart no matter how much I thought I had it on auto-bass-line. I found that out of the box, I really need time to focus on singing the song right, in the context of the band and what the other guys are doing. I also find that they need that as well. If I am dropping or misplacing lyrics, they get screwed up much more than if my bass line is suffering. I couldn't "work into" the singing aspect. I had to focus my attention on getting comfortable with all that goes into singing the lead, and also be comfortable knowing my bass part suffers initially. Hippy and Ball & Biscuit have some particularly hard timing aspects to the singing as it relates to what the other guys are doing and the structure of the arrangement. When I first tried them, they just wiped my hands right off of auto-bass-line.

So I think it works both ways for me. As soon as I don't have to think about the singing any longer, the bass part that I thought I didn't have to think about falls back into place. [smilie=fun_84.gif] [smilie=cheeky-smiley-025.gif]
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Re: Sing while playing the bass?

Postby Father Gino » Thu Nov 19, 2009 5:18 pm

I've sung lead for years, but never more than 6-8 tunes a night. I never thought I could do it either, but I did get better at it over time. There are still many tunes I'd love to sing, but I just can't play and sing. I just can't seem to sing one rhythm and play another. Except some songs for a reason I can not figure out.

If you want to get used to the concept, try singing some simple swing type tunes with 1/4 note walking bass lines. They're pretty easy to recover if you screw up the chord progression.
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Re: Sing while playing the bass?

Postby basswinn » Fri Nov 20, 2009 12:48 am

I started out singing while playing bass when I switched over from guitar. My first bass gig I had to play "Heart of the Sunrise" by Yes and sing lead. I was too stupid to know not to try. Trial by fire and all that. Over the years I would say that 80% of my calls have been because I do both. To this day, I really savor back-up band or jazz gigs where I don't have to sing and burn my voice out by the end of the night.


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Re: Sing while playing the bass?

Postby FatBoyBass » Fri Nov 20, 2009 3:04 pm

When I'm having trouble with a specific song trying to sing and play, I practice phrase by phrase. Learn how the the vocal pattern falls in between and on top the notes you are playing. I usually don't have trouble in the case where the vocals fall in line with the bassline (ie "Electric Funeral" by Sabbath). In the case where the notes and vocals don't line up they are usually on the off beats of one another. It just becomes a matter of pounding out each phrase slowly, then building speed/comfort in private rehersal.
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Re: Sing while playing the bass?

Postby harleyyy » Fri Nov 20, 2009 3:18 pm

I can sing and play a few tunes I really dig. The favorite being The Smithereens, "Blood and Roses". I'd be curious to see if any of you would find it tough to do, because it sure came easy to me. Floyd's, "Wish You Were Here" is another, and that was even easier. I believe the confidence starts with picking a tune in your range and really loving the song to begin with. Maybe it's more distinct to the individual more than we think [smilie=coz.gif]
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Re: Sing while playing the bass?

Postby shamus63 » Sat Nov 21, 2009 1:41 pm

No singing for me; focused on driving the bus only.
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Re: Sing while playing the bass?

Postby bigfatbass » Sat Nov 21, 2009 3:50 pm

I've found that learning the vocal first, really getting to the point where you can sing it without thinking about lyrics/phrasing, works best for me. Bass comes easy, vocals not so much, so I feel concentrating on the uncomfortable part makes the whole thing easier in the end. I spent YEARS fighting to be able to sing over an "Iko Iko" rhythm until I forced myself to write a tune employing it. Here's a clip: Los Blancos - Willie Got A New Leg

Currently struggling with Springsteen's "If I should Fall Behind". Simple bassline (very Blue Bayou), but the vocal phrasing has been subtly vexing. He is constantly singing 3 beats or more over 2 note bass phrases. Much tougher than I expected!
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Re: Sing while playing the bass?

Postby ghiadub » Sun Nov 22, 2009 12:35 pm

Thanks for all the great advice guys - it is helping.
"Play the music, not the instrument"

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Re: Sing while playing the bass?

Postby moe monsarrat » Thu Jan 12, 2012 2:22 pm

I sing lead and play bass in a reggae band. Check out The Mau Mau Chaplains on youtube.
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