Backup Vocals Can You?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by jalapejoe, Feb 23, 2017.

  1. I joined this band around 9 months ago, after a couple drummers we finally have a core group. The singer really pressures me into doing backup vocals, harmonies. I am 45 years old and have never done that until now, I am wood shedding like crazy, I don't even have that great of a voice but I am trying to sink my playing and keep the pitch right. Do any of you guys do backups? Yes or No and whats your secret to nailing it down?

    Some of the tunes we play and man some are tricky for the backups while playing the groove.

  2. fearceol


    Nov 14, 2006
    alembicguy and jalapejoe like this.
  3. twinjet

    twinjet Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Sep 23, 2008
    Only of it's oohs and aahs. Anything else is too difficult for me. Even yeahs are pushing it.
    jalapejoe likes this.
  4. How? If you recite the lyrics under your breath to keep up with where every one is in the song at this moment..... increase the volume and sing out. However.....

    Most guys, with no formal voice training, sing lead, this is not singing backup. Backup is harmonizing with the lead vocalist. NO I do not sing and play bass at the same time. It's not expected, in our band, so I let that chore pass on by. However.....

    When playing rhythm guitar I do join in on the chorus and yes I'm singing lead along with the lead vocalist. I'm just singing. I'm not singing backup.

    Gals normally do a good job of singing backup. It does not come naturally for most guys. Talk to some backup vocalists and let them tell you how they do it. It seems to revolve around singing in a different octave than the lead vocalists.
    Last edited: Feb 23, 2017
  5. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    Who are some bands/groups that you really like their harmony vocals? Transcribe the vocal parts to some of your favorite songs, and then practice singing each part. For example, if you like Simon & Garfunkel, learn both the Simon vocals and the Garfunkel vocals. Or go transcribe and sing each part of a barbershop quartet. Whatever kind of music you are into. Is there a nearby college or university? Most schools have a capella groups that specialize in arranging popular songs for mixed voices. Go to one of their performances and try to focus on each voice individually, and also how they all work together to define the notes of the harmony.

    The best exercise in my experience is then to use your home studio or other recording device (even your smartphone or iPad has apps for this) and lay down multitrack vocals to become your own a capella ensemble or barbershop quartet. Sing the roots, 3rds, 5ths and other notes of the harmony. Listening back to a recording of your own voice can be a brutally honest way to reveal the flaws in your singing so you can correct them.

    Worst case, autotune. Even the top singers are doing it in 2017. The stigma is vanishing.
  6. Gorn


    Dec 15, 2011
    Queens, NY
    Backup vocals I cannot.
  7. gln1955

    gln1955 Supporting Member

    Aug 25, 2014
    Ohio, USA
    I'm right with the OP. I have an OK at best voice, and could sing some leads that don't require a lot of range. I suck at harmonies. I can do it along with a recording where I match the backup singers, but when I try it in the band, I usually end up listening to the lead singer and fall into matching him instead of singing the harmony. I suck.
  8. jchrisk1

    jchrisk1 Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2009
    Northern MI
    I do backup, but no leads. If the vocal is challenging while playing, subdividing and counting it out helps me to get my parts down.
  9. filmtex

    filmtex Commercial User

    May 29, 2011
    Annsman Pro Audio Dealer
    I sing when I can, including both lead and harmony. Took me years and years of practice to get to the point where I feel some confidence singing. Just keep at it like the others have suggested, you'll sneak up on it sooner or later.
  10. viper4000


    Aug 17, 2010
    A key thing to know is where your voice sits. Are you a baritone, tenor, etc? If you are a baritone, I would say that low root notes are okay. If you are any higher, you will need to focus on 3rd's, 5th's, etc. Chord tones. I too struggle with this. So when in low registers, I sing the bass root. When trying something higher, I play a root on bass, and sing the 3rd or 5th. Not good at it yet, so I do not sing with records very well. As said, Ohs and Ahs are easier, actually singing a line not on the root takes a lot of practice. Good Luck!
    jchrisk1 likes this.
  11. RustyAxe


    Jul 8, 2008
    I do backup harmony vocals and lead vocals. I might be on bass, acoustic guitar or keys, too. It takes a little knowledge of chord structures and a good ear. There's no secret formula, you just have to do it, and do it, and do it.
  12. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    Another suggestion is to join a church choir, community chorus/glee, or local musical theater production. The music director will help you figure out the range of your voice and assign you to the right section. it is also a great way to meet people. :)
  13. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA

    This. Repetition. Here's what has worked for me. I have to have played the bass line so many times I can do it from muscle memory. Then I can concentrate on the vocals more. Also, sing the vocals while riding in the car. Once you get the hand of it it's not as hard as you think. But it's a new trick for an old dog so it will take some work. (Not picking on you. I am exactly your age.)
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  14. el murdoque

    el murdoque

    Mar 10, 2013
    There are two factors to this. First of all, it is singing harmonics and nailing the notes. That takes practice for some people. Including me. And i never practiced that. My tonal reach is not big, my singing voice is nothing to be proud of and all my life so far i was in bands where others were downright a lot better than me so i never bothered.
    The funny thing is that you don't need a superb sounding voice for that - you're just adding the harmonics.

    The second factor is singing while playing the bass. I find it often is a lot harder to play the bass and sing than to play something else (except for trumpets, of course). The rhythm of the vocals and the bass often interfere and i have a hard time playing properly while singing.
  15. There are three skills here: singing, doing harmonies, and playing bass while singing.

    Singing can take years to perfect, or may come naturally, depending where you are with it. If you're just starting out with it, begin singing along with all the songs you hear on the radio, until you are satisfied with what you hear.

    Singing harmony parts by ear is a very difficult acquired skill, but it can be acquired. Continue singing along with the radio, but now start singing all those harmony parts you hear. Given your age, try the classic rock vocal bands you grew up with (Eagles, Boston, Journey, Styx..) distinguishing and singing the parts above and below the melody. This will be hard at first, if you've never done it--it will take a few months, but after a while, you will find it second nature to hear and sing those harmony parts. The next step is inventing them. Begin singing harmony parts on non duets, both above and below the melody. Listen to Simon & Garfunkle's greatest hits, and find the third harmony.

    Singing while playing is very hard for some. The rhythms are usually at odds and rarely line up. Time and practice are the only way to perfect this.

    Not to be daunting, but for a lot of non-singers, this learning curve can take years. If you already have a good ear and chord knowledge, then not nearly as long.
    Mushroo likes this.
  16. Gravedigger Dav

    Gravedigger Dav Supporting Member

    Mar 13, 2014
    Springtown, Texas
    I am not at all a lead singer, but I am blessed with the ability to hear and sing harmony parts. When playing keys or guitar, it doesn't present a real problem, but on bass it is always a stretch.
    when I'm learning a song, I do it in two parts. First, I learn the bass part.
    Then I put the bass down and learn the vocal part.
    Then I start putting the two together. It helps to know what syllable you are on at each note. It helps me with the timing.
  17. Johnny Crab

    Johnny Crab HELIX user & BOSE Abuser

    Feb 11, 2004
    Exactly this.
    It is identical to how my youngest son described learning 2 complex piano parts(left hand, right hand) separately and then playing them at the same time when I asked him....caught him playing one hand of a song one day and asked why.

    Eventually your mind sort of floats between the two tasks as a supervisor but, as Journey's Ross Vallory put it, "If you're thinkin' you're stinkin' ". If you concentrate TOO hard on one task, the other may or will fail(i.e. lose time on bass or go off-key with the vocal).
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