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I want to start singing backup - where to start?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by npbassman, Jun 4, 2014.

  1. npbassman

    npbassman Supporting Member

    Apr 25, 2002
    I didn't quite know where to put this post so I'll start here. Mods please move to the appropriate forum if necessary.

    I have absolutely no experience singing whatsoever but I'd like to start pitching in on backup vocals. I'm thinking about taking a few lessons at a local music store but does anyone here have tips on how to begin this journey? This will be me like a beginner on any other instrument and so I don't want to start out on my own and develop bad habits from the get go. I'm sure there are proper ways to breath, belt out the notes, posture, etc.

    Thanks! Mike
  2. DiabolusInMusic

    DiabolusInMusic Functionless Art is Merely Tolerated Vandalism Supporting Member

    Mushroo likes this.
  3. Singing harmony is challenging for many. Sing a lot. Sing as much as possible, then start singing the various harmony parts. Take time to listen to and sing as many different harmony parts to as many different songs as possible. Join a choir or a barbershop quartet, men's chorus. Listen to the way various chord changes inter-connect tonally. Absolutely learn the fundamentals of music theory as related to harmony.

    I started at age 4 in the back seat singing with mom, dad, and eventually little brother while on trips in the car so for me it is second nature to create a harmony part where I think there should be one when given the freedom to do so. Like becoming a proficient bassist, harmonizing can be learned. And, imo most can sing well enough to carry a tune with some basic training. Harmonizing is the next level after being able to sing a song by your self and sing it in tune. You will quickly learn that 2 or more singers together creates a special dynamic that requires each to work to blend with the other(s). Learn to balance the volume of your voice with the lead singer and other back-up vocalists.

    I recommend separate rehearsals (at first) for vocals including harmony whenever a new song is added to the bands song list or a new harmony part is added to an existing song. The rehearsal should be just guitar or keys (perhaps bass) with the vocalists acoustically (no mics) so you can hear and learn the parts completely.

    Lastly, it is my opinion that all the singers should be at the same level in the monitor mix. This forces each singer to blend with the other singers. This is just how I have done it, and I like 3 and 4 part harmony a lot and do it whenever possible in my pop/rock band (only 3 singers in the present band...).
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2014
    SanDiegoHarry likes this.
  4. tangentmusic

    tangentmusic A figment of our exaggeration

    Aug 17, 2007
    Agree with bassmeknik above.

    Question - Originals or covers?

    Concerning covers:
    Everyone sings along to tunes in the car. Listen to the songs you cover while driving. (I call my vehicle "the mobile vocal isolation booth")
    Start here. Try to key in on the backing vocals as you listen to songs. Emulate them best you can.
    Depending on what songs you're doing, there could be multiple harmonies. Is your voice naturally high? Take that part. If you have a lower voice, concentrate there. Alto? do the same.

    For originals you will have to work out harmonies within the band, but the same principle applies.
  5. SanDiegoHarry

    SanDiegoHarry Banned Supporting Member

    Aug 11, 2008
    San Diego, CA
    I took two semesters of voice in college for this very purpose. Man, that was painful.
    But my biggest problem isn't singing - it's singing and playing and the ONLY solution to that is to sing and play to work through it.
  6. kev b

    kev b

    Nov 28, 2012
    Sing along in the car, I recorded our set list and played it whilst commuting.

    It's tricky to start with and you probably won't be able to sing whilst playing at first but stick at it and you'll get there.
  7. bass12

    bass12 Say "Ahhh"... Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2008
    Montreal, Canada
    I was hired for a gig a couple of years ago that involved having to learn quite a few backup parts in a very short amount of time. Also, I was expected to sing some stuff right on the edge of the end of my upper register. I was pretty nervous (even though I had done some backups and limited leads before). I knew a great vocal teacher and ended up taking several lessons with her. She gave me tips on posture, breathing, vocal exercises, etc. and it helped a lot. Those lessons also gave me a level of confidence that I otherwise probably wouldn't have had. So, yes, I would recommend some vocal lessons.
  8. chuck norriss

    chuck norriss Banned

    Jan 20, 2011
    There's a great documentary on netflix called 20 feet from stardom. I recommend it.
  9. Dogbertday

    Dogbertday Commercial User

    Jul 10, 2007
    SE Wisconsin
    Blaine Music LLC
    I did like a year and q half of vocal lessons in college as well with the thought of learning how to learn so I could bring myself up to speed if the need arises. I definitely learned my range and how to stretch it. Also how to warm up. The haarsest part for me was finding that harmony note. I found playing tunes and singing on acoustic gtr helped because I reference my notes more easily than on bass and I could concentrate on where to listen for a place to pull harmonies out.

    Also listening to the radio helps a lot.
  10. interp

    interp Supporting Member

    Apr 14, 2005
    Garmisch, Germany
    By all means, take some voice lessons. Might help, can't hurt.

    But above all you need to do what you did when you learned to speak English as a small child: spend a few weeks/months doing nothing but listening to people sing. Listen carefully to the pitch. Listen to the phrasing and rhythm. Listen to the melody lines, listen to the harmony lines. Just listen. And then listen some more. Then, after a while when you have internalized the sounds and harmonic structure, then you can start working on producing the sounds yourself.

    I taught people to speak Russian for ten years and the one thing I learned in this process is that speaking and singing--vocalizing, in other words--is built on listening. Trying to do either without learning to truly listen first is futile.
    bassmeknik likes this.
  11. It really does start inside. I am an intense listener. And I have to be able to hear the part in my head first in order to sing it while playing bass...

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