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Alembic Club » Miscellaneous » Archive: 2005 » Archive through December 18, 2005 » Playing the bass and singing at the same time « Previous Next »

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Username: mpisanek

Post Number: 93
Registered: 1-2005
Posted on Monday, November 14, 2005 - 5:23 am:   Edit Post

I have been playing bass for a few years now, and still have terrible problems singing and playing the bass at the same time. Is it just me, or do other people have the same problem?

There is no problem singing while I play the guitar, mandoline, banjo, or keyboards, but I just can not sing well while playing the bass! It is really bothering me at this point, and I'm getting more and more frustrated with myself for it.

I was wondering how many bass players sing as well as play, and to what extent they did vocals.


Advanced Member
Username: keith_h

Post Number: 249
Registered: 2-2005
Posted on Monday, November 14, 2005 - 6:42 am:   Edit Post

I do mostly backup vocals these days but still do some lead vocals. In my younger years I did most of the lead vocals for the groups I was in. As I've gotten older I've found I need to simplify the bass part while I memorize the lyrics. Once they are memorized I can branch out into more complicated bass lines.

Senior Member
Username: flaxattack

Post Number: 701
Registered: 4-2004
Posted on Monday, November 14, 2005 - 10:02 am:   Edit Post

uh yeah sure... you bettcha
been playing for 40 years and only singing for 1 yr plus
if i take lead usually i pick a fairly simple bass line songs///
guess its the walk and chew gum syndrome
but= the more i do both- the better it gets....
on both fronts
i dont take liberties with tunes i sing as i would do on songs i dont play, and when its the guitar solo time? i take some of it... tough noogies lead guitarists
Senior Member
Username: 811952

Post Number: 555
Registered: 10-2003
Posted on Monday, November 14, 2005 - 10:30 am:   Edit Post


My experience is that it really depends on a bunch of things I don't really understand. Of course (for me), knowing the vocal part to the extent that you don't have to think about it helps, as does knowing the bass part just as well. I haven't sung in a band for a couple of years, so I'm not up on it at the moment. Simplifying the bass line helps considerably when you're first putting the two together, then once you've got the vocal part down I find I can start thinking about the bass line again and actually improvise some rather workable lines whilst singing. The difficulty for me is that the bass must be precise just as the vocal must *breathe*, in addition to having two separate musical statements going on at one time. I find I have to *let go* of one or the other (or both) and just let it happen. I don't know if any of my meanderings on this subject will be useful to you or not, but I hope they are..

Senior Member
Username: stoney

Post Number: 426
Registered: 7-2002
Posted on Monday, November 14, 2005 - 11:25 am:   Edit Post

Hi Michael,
I've been playing bass and singing for 37 years. My vocal/bassplaying got put on the hotseat back in 1977/78 when I joined up with a 3-piece "country/rock & roll" band. Everyone had to sing back-ups and leads. I was already singing a few songs but they were ones with really simple bass lines so I decided it was time to up the anty. I chose the Linda Ronstadt version of "Heat Wave". It's got nice variation in the voice and a catchy bass line with a nice variety of walk-ups during the chourse. I just hammered the heck out of that song until I could sing it without worring about what my hands were doing. I think this is a left/right side of the brain arguement and it just takes time and practice, LOTS of practice. Generally when you're playing bass, you're playing on the off beat while when playing guitar and keyboards, you're more in sync with the melody. Oh yea, did I mention...practice!!! Good luck,
Senior Member
Username: lbpesq

Post Number: 761
Registered: 7-2004
Posted on Monday, November 14, 2005 - 1:32 pm:   Edit Post

As a guitar player I've had the opposite problem. I used to do more solo acoustic performing. On some songs I had trouble NOT singing! These were songs where I would finger pick. When the "instrumental" came around I was essentially playing the same thing as when I was singing. Yet, when I stopped singing and actually thought about the finger picking I would screw up! Go figure.

Bill, tgo
Intermediate Member
Username: j_gary

Post Number: 145
Registered: 6-2005
Posted on Monday, November 14, 2005 - 4:20 pm:   Edit Post

Michael, don't feel alone. I've been in a three piece for years requiring lots of singing and it is always difficult to do both. Particularly while running the PA, talking to drunks and stomping on the stage light controls.

My major malfunction on stage is remembering the dang words, not to mention the key. I find that if I can just relax and let my fingers do the walking they will usually do the right thing. If I fuss & fret I usually drop the ball.

In our group the guitarist has a photographic memory, perfect pitch too. Guy is sick. He can make you feel like a tard. I can lean on him when I get "lost". The boys have learned that when I'm singing, buckle in, as the ride could get bumpy. I often take em where they have never been before. It's not always a bad thing. Usually is, but not always.

Oh yea, never, ever look at the gal in the tight jeans. You're just asking for a train wreck.
Username: davehouck

Post Number: 2567
Registered: 5-2002
Posted on Monday, November 14, 2005 - 4:33 pm:   Edit Post

Michael; for what it's worth, I think that being frustrated with yourself doesn't help and isn't fun, whether it's playing while singing or anything else in life. I think it is helpful to be accepting of where you are now, accepting of your current level of playing and singing at the same time, and then, like Stoney said, just practice. If a particular song isn't working now, that's ok; go on to something else and come back to it later. Playing music is a joyful experience; if you're busy being frustrated, you'll miss the joyful part. Of course, that's just my view; others will have differing views based on their own experiences.
Username: valvil

Post Number: 788
Registered: 7-2002
Posted on Monday, November 14, 2005 - 4:50 pm:   Edit Post

Singing while playing bass? After almost 20 years I just recently managed being able to simply say 'yes' or 'no' while playing...:-)

Username: chuckc

Post Number: 24
Registered: 7-2004
Posted on Monday, November 14, 2005 - 5:39 pm:   Edit Post

Boy, talk about hitting the nail on the head. Playing bass and singing is something I have just started to experience again. I have played drums for many years and sang and it was easy as pie, even playing lead guitar was not a big deal but bass and singing, man what a challenge. The only thing I am able to relate it to is the rhythmic nature of most bass parts usually never follow the vocals, at least not to the extent that a guitar player or drummer usually has to deal with. Not to minimize the talent of playing guitar or drums and singing, but I appreciate Paul McCartney's playing the more I play bass and sing.
Advanced Member
Username: dannobasso

Post Number: 312
Registered: 3-2004
Posted on Monday, November 14, 2005 - 6:11 pm:   Edit Post

Been doing it a long time. I used to be the lead singer and bassist and played synth pedals at the same time. My heroes were Lake, Wetton, Lee, Cetera, Paige, Simmons, later Claypool etc. At least one of the activities has to be automatic. Now its just bass and backups. Still have the pedal setups just no call for them. Maybe in my later years i'll do a UK cover band?
Intermediate Member
Username: gbarchus

Post Number: 143
Registered: 6-2002
Posted on Tuesday, November 15, 2005 - 12:16 am:   Edit Post

I grew up singing and playing bass and took it for granted that it was normal. Of course, the fact that I grew up playing a lot of Beatles songs didn't hurt. I owe Sir Paul for that. I've noticed over the years that singer/songwriters who are also bass players (Paul, Sting, Peter Cetera, Louis Johnson) seem to be more careful of how the vocal and bass lines are created, maybe like blues styles where the singing and guitar parts compliment each other. In the 80s I was playing a lot of dance/funk music and realized that the singers were not the bass player, yet I had to sing the song! It took me quite a while to to be able to sing and play that music. First I would get the bass part down until I didn't have to think about it. Then I would learn the vocal part without playing bass. When putting the two together, I would discover the places in the song that created a "conflict" between the vocal and bass lines. In those places I would slow it down until I could recognize the rhythmic differences, like the bass part is a triplet and the vocal line has a dotted quarter note, for example. I would keep slowing it down until I could manage to play both parts together and then work on speeding it up. The problems are also complicated by the fact that the other players in the band may not be playing the song the same way, which would become a distraction for me. Getting past that point, singing and playing bass at the same time is a joy, especially when I can be creative on both parts, which happens ocassionaly. I don't take it for granted any longer. It's one of the main reasons I can make money as a musician! I love singing harmony and when someone is thinking about hiring a bass player, I would get the job over far better bass players. Lucky for me, I don't have to sing when playing "The Chicken."

(Message edited by gbarchus on November 15, 2005)
Username: mpisanek

Post Number: 94
Registered: 1-2005
Posted on Tuesday, November 15, 2005 - 1:16 am:   Edit Post

What tends to happen to me is that I usually end up either playing what I am singing or singing what I am playing! I don't usually sing lead, but am usually pushed for backing vocals. I tend to sing a very high harmony part that adds a quite distinctive sound to most bands, and find that very natural. Words are a real problem. I can memorize them and practice them until the cows come home, but put a bass in my hand and I'm lost!
Senior Member
Username: 811952

Post Number: 559
Registered: 10-2003
Posted on Tuesday, November 15, 2005 - 5:44 am:   Edit Post

Oh Danno.... A UK cover band would be most excellent! Rendezvous 602...

I used to do the Taurus pedals thing too, while singing and playing a third part on the bass. It was all so easy back then! I still have a set of pedals, and am awaiting an opportunity (i.e. large enough stage) to start using them again. I am told I'm getting a mic again soon, so I guess I'll be relearning old tricks. Or at least trying to relearn old tricks!

Username: room037

Post Number: 66
Registered: 9-2003
Posted on Tuesday, November 15, 2005 - 6:31 am:   Edit Post

I had never singing as lead vocal, over 20 years.
But now, I am trying bass with singing.
My favorite artist is "Pat Metheny group".
I wish to play like "Steve Rodby", and sing like "Pedro Aznar".
But It's Sooooo---- DIFFICULT !

I asked how to do the balance of bass and singing to "Richard Bona" at his clinick.
He simply said "always singing while playing the bass" and "try again, repeat! repeat!".
I did it few hours and I felt both meaning.
"Play like singing" is good lesson for melodious bass play.
"Sing as bass playing" is good training for listening ourselves. (Just like George Benson!)

Let's try it !
Intermediate Member
Username: hydrargyrum

Post Number: 164
Registered: 3-2004
Posted on Tuesday, November 15, 2005 - 2:52 pm:   Edit Post

I wish I could play like Metheny in any state (singing or not).
Intermediate Member
Username: byoung

Post Number: 149
Registered: 12-2004
Posted on Tuesday, November 15, 2005 - 7:43 pm:   Edit Post


I think you've nailed it. My wife, who sings, always asks me about some aspect of a song, you know, with the words that go...

The blank stare.

I only rarely hear words while I'm playing-- I know the words only to songs that I learned while not playing.

Could it be a medical condition: anarthria musica? Aphasia musica?

Username: mpisanek

Post Number: 99
Registered: 1-2005
Posted on Wednesday, November 16, 2005 - 6:25 am:   Edit Post

As I sing and play the bass, both my singing and my bass playing seem to be more towards autistic than artistic!
Username: dibolosi

Post Number: 7
Registered: 1-2004
Posted on Wednesday, November 16, 2005 - 9:42 am:   Edit Post

It used to be a problem for me in the way back when. My two biggest bass influences, John Entwistle and Chris Squire, made it all seem possible that you could sing while playing a "busy bass" style. I think you just have to detach the hands from the head. Let the hands go and do their thing while the words flow out of your head. Of course I've also had the same issue as j_gary and just up and forget the lyrics. That's when you have to make 'em up on the spot.

It is always a pleasant surprise in listening to recording of yourself in a club and suddenly hearing a bass line you don't remember playing at all.
Senior Member
Username: alembic76407

Post Number: 403
Registered: 5-2002
Posted on Wednesday, November 16, 2005 - 10:52 am:   Edit Post

I am a great singer and a bass player !!!!!!!and,

I'm so happy nobody in this club ever get to hear me sing and play bass at the same time!!!!!

it would blow my illusion or delusion

David T (TLO)
Senior Member
Username: 811952

Post Number: 562
Registered: 10-2003
Posted on Wednesday, November 16, 2005 - 1:54 pm:   Edit Post


Amen to that! (referencing my abilities, not yours)

Advanced Member
Username: jlpicard

Post Number: 253
Registered: 7-2002
Posted on Friday, November 18, 2005 - 8:05 pm:   Edit Post

I have played in a guitar / bass / drum trio for many years that only recently became a four piece. After getting sick of missing string parts, horn sections, organ parts and the like, I decided to teach myself to play a keyboard to try to enlarge the sound. Now through practice and gigging I play the bass with my right hand, (lefty) keyboard with my left, sing lead vocal and /or harmony and turn on and off a Digitech Vocalist harmoniser with my right foot all at the SAME TIME! So the next time you get frustrated just remember what I have to do to get through the night! I agree with the others, just practice and what seemed so insurmountable before will become so second nature you'll wonder what all the worry was about. Mike
P.S. As I recall two of the most difficult lines to sing and play for me was the middle section of "Roundabout" and singing lead on Paul Simons " Late in the evening" while trying to keep that bass line in the pocket.
Senior Member
Username: lbpesq

Post Number: 770
Registered: 7-2004
Posted on Saturday, November 19, 2005 - 9:45 am:   Edit Post

I used to be in a 9 piece band that did "Late in the Evening" with your's truly on lead vocals. A GREAT song, but I even had a tough time playing rhythm guitar and singing it at the same time!

Bill, tgo
Username: davehouck

Post Number: 2608
Registered: 5-2002
Posted on Saturday, November 19, 2005 - 10:01 am:   Edit Post

Cool song, Bill!
Username: zn_bassman

Post Number: 39
Registered: 4-2005
Posted on Tuesday, November 22, 2005 - 6:37 am:   Edit Post

I once read an interview with Geddy Lee of Rush, who can sing and play very difficult parts simultaneously. He said it just comes naturally to him, but for the really tricky stuff he needs considerable practice, and he makes sure not to think about it too much on stage.

And I can say "yes" or "no" while playing about 3 times out of 10 - I've improved! ;-)

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