A Guide To Singing And Playing At The Same Time

author: Geldof the Grey date: 01/06/2004 category: music theory tips
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  • Introduction So you may be the big guitar guy (or gal) in your band, and other guitarists appreciate your two-handed tapping and pinch-harmonics. But like the drummer and bassist, you're always overshadowed by the singer. Sadly, the singer is usually what people come to see hear in a lot of bands, even when the singer isn't all that good, just look at Oasis! So how can the guitarist get back into the spotlight? By learning to sing, of course! Everyone's favourite strat-batterer, Mr. Hendrix himself, knew this. He always said he didn't think he was a good singer but he kept doing it. By fronting his band he got a lot more recognition than he would if, like a lot of other great guitarists, he was pushed back into a corner somewhere by some squeaky vocalist.
  • Will I be able to do this? Of course, not anyone can sing and play at the same time, and so I prepared this checklist: 1. Can you sing? - Obvious as it is, a lot of us can't sing and we'd probably be better off sticking to guitar. 2. Can you play the song? - It's all very well strumming along to American Pie. But when everyone has enough time to find a dictionary to look up "Levy" while you change chords, then you probbly need a bit more practice. 3. Do you know the words? - A few days ago, I was listening to a beginner singer/guitarist go thorugh a few different songs. The guy hit every single chord through Greenday's Good Riddance, and I was suitably impressed as the same song took me ages to learn. The only problem was that, even though the guy can sing, he changed the lyrics slightly in the second verse to: "So take the photographs And still frames in your mind Hang them on the shelf In good health and good time BA-DA-DA-DA-DA-BA-DA-DA-BA-DA-BA-DA BA-DA-DI-DUM-DUM-DA-DI-DA-DUM-DI-DI-DA" Which isn't quite the same as the Green Day version, but very funny when it happens... If you think you're ready to make your band your own, then follow this guide to singing and playing at the same time. Don't just jump straight into it and go right the way through, but start at the beginning and work your way through these "levels" and soon you'll be the centre of attention once again! A word of warning though, this guide will not teach you to sing in a matter of minutes. The skill and rhythm required in such complex musicianship is not something you can aquire overnight, but this guide is a good place to start.
  • Yeah! I can sing! So, if you've decide you can sing, then you'll be wanting to have a go at it. The best way to start is with a song that's very rhythmic and uses simple chords, so why not Oasis' Wonderwall? Most people know this song so learning the chords shouldn't be a problem and the singing itself isn't very challenging either. Just get a guitar and print out the chords from UG. The best advice anyone can give you is to play the intro, familiarising yourself with the chord sequence and it's simple strumming pattern, and then jump straight into the chorus and try to sing. Easy, isn't it? The mistake most people make is to try and play th whole song straight away. Play a verse or two, and then stop and start from the beginning. Like playing the more complicated songs you need to learn a bit at a time or the moment you take the lyrics away you'll forget them and end up "la-ing". Worse still, you might start singing the wrong song and getting an DJ type effect where they mix Eminem and Britney records. Ughhh. When you know the first two verses, take the words away and play it again. If you suceed, then move onto the chorus and then do an arty little rallentando at the end (listen to the song), learning one part at a time. Soon you'll have your first song memorised!
  • Other first songs: Obviously, you may not know Wonderwall, or need more practice. Here's a few more songs with simple rhythmic chords you could try: 1. The White Stripes -- Hotel Yorba. Uses more standard chords but has more freedom for different strumming patterns. 2. Green Day -- Good Riddance. This is a little more difficult to sing, but the chords from this song are more common than the suspensions from Wonderwall and you won't need a capo. 3. The Verve -- The Drugs Don't Work. Much more complicated chord sequence and a lot harder to sing, this is more impressive than Wonderwall and is better for someone who can play guitar reasonably well.
  • The Tricky Stuff: Single Note Picking As you all found the chords so easy, it's time to go onto something a little more difficult. Greenday's "Warning" is a good start, just play the song's assending scale and then jump in with some lyrics. Because this song's melody is very simple as, alternating between the 5th, 4th and 3rd string, all you are playing is: A D G D e| ----------------- | ----------------- | B| ----------------- | ----------------- | G| ----------------- | -0-0------------- | D| ---------0-0-2-4- | -----4-2-0-0----- | A| -0-0-2-4--------- | -------------4-2- | E| ----------------- | ----------------- | And, let's face it, Billie-Joe Armstrong is not the greatest singer, so anyone who knows the words should find this pretty simple. With this, you need to keep time more than anything else. Learn one verse, and repeat it a few times until you can play and sing all the way through without stopping to think or slowing down. That's the second challenge, and if you've made it this far, then you're doing great, now lets move on to something a little more complicated. The Animals released House of the Rising Sun long ago, and pretty much every guitarist has learnt the haunting, arpeggiotic melody. But how many can sing it? This song is not all that hard at first glance getting the three simple chord sequences memorised and the strumming pattern is quite simple, as it is effectively just an arpeggio with the second and third notes played fast, leaving you with something like the tab below, which shows the timing as played on the track: Am e| -------0----- | B| -----1---1--- | G| ----2------2- | D| ---2--------- | A| -0----------- | E| ------------- | / /./ / / / Once you have the melody down, the next part is easy. Take the lyrics and memorise a verse at a time the same way as you before. Don't worry if you can't sing as low as the vocalist on the song, you're doing fine if you can memorise all of the lyrics or keep time, without doing both at the same time! The reason this is more difficult than Greenday's Warning which we attempted earlier is because of the snycopated notes. The fast bit is out of sync with the rest of the melody and so singing and playing at the same time becomes a little more difficult. Again, the only way to perfect this is to memorise the melody and then try and sing along. Learn a verse at a time and you'll be through it in no time. Other songs which fit into this category for practice and are: 1. The Kinks -- You Really Got Me. The guitar part is mostly power chords. Unfortunately for us, the guitar part and vocals overlap and so it's a lot more difficult than it sounds. 2. Red Hot Chili Peppers -- Can't Stop. Incredibly funky guitar and highly syncopated, this is a real challenge to any Chilis fans. 3. Foo Fighters -- Times Like These. This piece uses funny time signatures and Grohl's trademark mix of shouty bits and proper singing bits and so is pretty tricky.
  • That was easy! What's Next? Well, now that we've established you can sing and can play a few songs, it's time to increase your repetoire. The best way to do this is to figure out how you sing. Find what register you're comfortable in and group your self accordingly. It's this kind of understanding of your musical position which tells you what sort of songs to learn which you will be able to sing and play at the same time. So, who are you? Noel Gallagher - If you can't sing, then you fall into this category. Despite not being particuarly good singers, Noel, Liam and Co. have done very well for themselves. It's sheer singer songwriting talent that brought them through. Try Billie-Joe Armstrong and Blink 182 as well, basically anyone who writes the kind of songs anyone can sing along to. Dave Grohl - Multitalented? So is Mr. Grohl, the nicest guy in rock, and with the Foo Fighters he proved he was a damn good frontman. If you're shouty, but can still sing pretty good when you need to, try playing Everlong and move to Next Year. Or go for the more rocky tracks such as The One or Monkey Wrench. Matt Bellamy - Matt Bellamy is a freak. He's one hell of a guitarist, but also a brilliant pianist and a has a voice like a trained soprano. You really need to be able to sing to try songs like those of Muse. Josh Homme (QOTSA) is approaching this kind of style. No-One Knows is another good string point Kurt Cobain - Powerful voice and power-chord mastery? Kurt wasn't the greatest guitarist, but he could play some pretty complicated rhythms and still sing at the same time. Any Nirvana songs are good, obviously, but other punk tracks from The Jam and The Clash all fall under this sort of category. Justin Hawkins - Like your power falsetto, do you? If dogs bark when you sing and you feel comfortable at these pitches, then by all means carry on. You could try Freddie Mercury (Queen) and Robert Plant (Led Zeppelin), who both sang like this a lot, and both had great guitarists behind them, so this should be very challenging. Hendrix - Sure, he made his guitar talk, but he could sing as well and his ability to stand in front of an audience and be good at both at the same time was what made him great. What would we do without him? If you can play and sing like this, then why not attempt some Dire Straights? Now you know what sort of singer you are, you can start working on your tracklist. By looking at how well you can sing and play, you can see what you can sing. It also shows you what, for the sake of mankind, you shouldn't even attempt!
  • Ok, so what do I do now? Well assuming you want to continue singing and playing at the same time, you need to pick some songs to learn. If you're just strumming there are dozens of chord tabs on UG and books full of lyrics with chord boxes are available in most music shops. If you want to continue along the difficult path, start with some Hendrix for challenging guitar parts. From there you can go onto pretty much anything. Just follow the same routine of memorising each part of the song, instead of learning the intro off by heart and then forgetting the lyrics as you move into the first verse! A good method is to keep the music handy when you're learning and check up only if you're stuck. Even try Stairway to Heaven or Sultans of Swing with their multiple endings and variations on the same theme which makes the guitar part more complicated. If you can keep time and play through these while singing, then you're well on your way to becoming a great frontman. You just have to get other people to agree that you're any good! Hope this helped any oppressed guitarists kick some annoying singer out of their band. - Geldof the Grey (a.k.a. Steve - steevo_baby@hotmail.com)
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