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Compromising your bass playing so you can also sing lead

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by MakoMan, Feb 13, 2014.

  1. MakoMan


    Oct 17, 2011
    I'd be interested in hearing from other TBers who play bass and sing lead on this subject, as well as the opinions of other bassists.
    Here's my situation. I'm in my 50s and have been playing bass for just over two years. Through diligent practice, reading TB, and lessons, I've gotten to the point where I'm not bad. Not great either, but good enough to play in a couple of bands that practice fairly regularly and play out a few times a year. More than I ever expected in fact.
    The first band I've been with almost two years. In that band I play bass and do backup vocals. It's a great bunch of guys, experienced musicians and they've been patient with me. My bass playing has improved immensely thanks to their patience, help and encouragement. We get together regularly to practice, play out a few times a year and have a ton of fun.
    The second band I joined in response to an email sent to me by the drummer, who had seen my profile on a musician's website and was looking for a bassist. As it turned out, they were also looking for a singer, so for the first jam we were instruments only until the last half hour or so when I offered to sing until we found someone.
    After a few more practices the other guys in the band told me that they liked my voice and wanted me to just do the lead singing. So that's how it's been. We've been together for 9 months now, practice regularly, have played out a couple of times and we also have a ton of fun.
    My problem is I am worried that the singing is holding me back a bit in my bass playing. There are some songs that I play in Band A that I just cannot sing and play at the same time in Band B. Sometimes someone will suggest a new song and I'll take it home and play with it only to have to come back and tell them 'sorry guys... I can sing it and I can play it, but not at the same time'. There are other songs where I have to change the bass riff slightly or play it a bit more simply in order to be able to sing the song properly, which I hate. Anyway, everyone understands and is cool with it, but it still bugs me LOL.
    I'm also not sure whether playing and singing at the same time is actually helping or hurting my improvement on bass. On one hand practicing singing cuts into my bass concentration while practicing and when I am playing and singing I am definitely not playing the bass as well as I can when I am on bass alone. On the other hand playing and singing at the same time has provided me with a real challenge. For one thing, I don't have to look down at the neck and my left hand anymore. You cannot sing into the mic and look to the left at the same time :D
    Anyway, I am on the fence. Sometimes I think about asking the band to bring in a singer and other times I think I'd like to keep doing all the singing.
  2. winning hard

    winning hard

    Feb 13, 2014
    I suggest that if you enjoy singing, then keep trying to do both. try having a conversation while playing the bass riff, rather than trying to sing. Try to get to the point where your words don't match the riff beat for beat, and once you have the riff down to that degree, singing over it should be no problem.
  3. marmadaddy


    Oct 17, 2005
    Rochester, NY
    Just keep at it. Like anything else, it comes with time and practice. Try some Rush songs. I can sing and play simultaneously pretty well and I'm convinced my teenaged obsession with Rush is the reason for this.
  4. mellowinman

    mellowinman Free Man

    Oct 19, 2011
    Practice, man. Most songs, it's not too hard to sing and play bass without compromising anything. I guess it depends what you're playing.
  5. MakoMan


    Oct 17, 2011
    LOL! Much as I might love to be able to sing like Geddy Lee... that ain't gonna happen :p
  6. Kmonk


    Oct 18, 2012
    South Shore, Massachusetts
    Endorsing Artist: Fender, Spector, Ampeg, Curt Mangan Strings, Nordstrand Pickups, Korg Keyboards
    I am at the point where I can sing without compromising my playing. It just takes practice.
  7. drpepper

    drpepper Supporting Member

    Jul 20, 2009
    Columbia, Maryland
    Yep. I think that it's mainly practice. Even some songs, that you initially think you can't play and sing at the same time, end up falling into place.

    I'm speaking almost entirely from doing backup singing. I don't feel that I have the timbre or whatever to sing many leads (I'm currently doing one, but very uncomfortably), but I find that with backups, I'll start out with the bass line...because I'm the bass player, ha...and find myself believing "Oh, I just can't sing that at the same time I'm playing this." Many of those same songs will end up being fine after some time and practice.

    DMB - What Would You Say is one of those for me. It's not all the way there yet, but we got a video clip and I was able to evaluate, and watching it (when I get it right), I'm not even sure how I'm doing...practice.

    A friend of mine says that one or the other needs to be virtually on auto-pilot. I think I agree.
  8. Hobobob

    Hobobob Don't feed the troll, folks.

    Jan 25, 2011
    Camarillo, CA
    Seriously, practice. How did you get this far in your bass playing? Did you give up when things got hard, or did you persevere until you reached a level where you could be proud of yourself? Same thing applies here. If a song is hard to sing and play at the same time, practice it until you can do it comfortably.
  9. kesslari

    kesslari Groovin' with the Big Dogs Supporting Member

    Dec 21, 2007
    Santa Cruz Mtns, California
    Lark in the Morning Instructional Videos; Audix Microphones
    As others say, practice...
    You've been playing for 2 years, and your doing pretty well singing and playing.
    That's pretty dang cool, really.
    "Hey, my 4 year old has been talking for 2 years, and she can't recite Shakespeare"...

    Give yourself some time. Do the songs you can do, work on the songs that are hard for you and you like.

    For me, when I find a song hard to sing, it helps to break down the specific part that gives me trouble - to really understand which syllable goes on what bass note (or rest). Once I figure that out, it becomes clear what and how I need to practice.

    Keep going, amigo.
  10. MakoMan


    Oct 17, 2011
    OK good to hear the opinions leaning towards continuing to do both.
    I guess I have doubts because I never really considered myself much of a singer. I really just wanted to play an instrument at my advanced age. It was never my intention to sing every single song. I mean I like to sing and I'm OK at it. Ideally I'd like to sing a few songs but focus on the bass and let an actual singer do the heavy lifting.
    But seeing as how I'm doing it I might as well do it the best I can. And practice is the only way to do that.
    BTW... practicing lead singing along to your bass playing alone isn't the easiest thing in the world... it's like something is missing without the drums and guitars. It's so easy with my mandolin or even an acoustic guitar, which I am not very good on. When I get together with the band is when I find I can really work out the vocals.
  11. SouthTippBass


    Jul 22, 2010
    Stop doubting yourself, you are doing fantastic for a guy who hasn't been playing bass for even three years yet. It took me ten years to get the courage to sing one song live, and I was sorry that I waited so long because playing bass and singing is a freakin awesome feeling! :hyper:

    Just be thankful you have such an understanding band to work with, keep practicing and don't give up!
  12. If I can sing backups I hear the bass as if it was being played by someone else.
  13. mellowinman

    mellowinman Free Man

    Oct 19, 2011
    I'm doing it more and more. It really does give the band a lot more flexibility if I can sing and play bass on a song where we don't need additional instruments like keyboard or acoustic guitar.

    When I'm singing Aerosmith, I don't want to play bass. The vocal itself is hard enough, without having to use my body for playing an instrument. Same with Led Zeppelin. Really, any vocal where I have to use my whole body to sing the part, I would rather sing "naked." But most vocals? I think that with practice I could play and sing most anything from Classic Rock.

    I've learned a couple where the bass line is off-tempo to the vocal. Once you get one of those, it's a really cool feeling. You deserve to be proud whenever you do that. Practice each apart, and slowly bring them together.

    You can do it!
  14. As a player who also got a late start, I'm pulling for you to get it going. I haven't been playing quite as long as you yet, but I would love to be where you are now. Push through my friend!
  15. jive1

    jive1 Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jan 16, 2003
    Owner/Retailer: Jive Sound
  16. cronker


    Feb 13, 2007
    What I do is try to learn the bass part and vocal as one. I don't learn either separately.
    Even today, where I'm not singing the part, there are some lines that I cannot play without singing the line.
    I can't play Jermiah was a bullfrog without singing.
  17. GKon

    GKon Supporting Member, Boom-Chicka-Boom

    Feb 17, 2013
    Queens, NY
    I play bass and sing lead vocals in my band.

    Just like everyone else said, practice, practice, practice!! Especially since you've only been playing for two years. I find it fantastic that you can play well and are in bands and can even contemplate, much less sing and play at the same time! It took me YEARS (literally) to get to that point.

    At times, you may find yourself concentrating more on the bass, or more on the vocals for a song, but, as you play it again and again, it will all mix in together.

    In my opinion, too, you won't in any way be holding back your bass playing. Rather, you will be adding another (might I add, very difficult) skill to your tool bag. Keep on doing it!
  18. cronker


    Feb 13, 2007
    I find I have "touchstones" in a song. A certain lyric will find me on a particular note. I tend to not worry and let my brain do the business.
    After a while, it becomes second nature, as I mentioned above. I'm sure people like Geddy and Jack Bruce, Chris Squire etc do the same thing.
    After a while, it becomes second nature to sing your line whilst playing.
    I only sing backups, however. Lead might be a little more daunting.
  19. nukes_da_bass

    nukes_da_bass Banned

    Feb 19, 2006
    west suburban boston
    My backing vocals are designed to "fix" our lead vocalists weak voice and or tonal weaknesses.
    So I'm almost a second lead vocalist.
    Something is gonna suffer, playing or singing- I've been singing harmony backup so long I try and get into a pocket with the bass drum when I'm singing a difficult melodic figure and keep the riff simple in I's IV's and V's.
  20. Yeah , practice practice practice. OK , that sounds too simple and , it is. I played guitar for years and with one exception , I didn't have any problems singing and playing at the same time. the one exception was "Aqualung" Sheesh , that one drove me crazy. Took a couple years before I could pull it off. As far as playing bass and singing , for years , I just couldn't do it. Funny thing is , if I played with a pick , I could but I don't like playing bass with a pick. I started off with some pretty easy songs on bass and singing , songs that the bass lines and the singing were in the same cadence. Dang , I was pulling it off ,,,, finally. As I got into more complicated stuff , what I found was , to learn it , drastically slow the parts down and use the bass lines as a que as to where the singing comes in. This has helped in most cases , but it takes a lot of work. There are still some things that I just can't quite get. Some , I just told the guys "sorry , not this one." Some I can just kind of root note while I am singing and pull it off. I find the more I do that , as time goes by and I get more familiar with the songs , I can usually improve on the bass lines. Again , practice practice practice.:bassist: