Is it even possible to be a great musician that can't sing?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by Clyde75, Aug 14, 2022.

  1. Clyde75


    Jul 24, 2020
    Atlanta, GA
    My guess is no but I'd love to know what you think.

    I think most would agree that having a good ear is a prerequisite to being a great musician. That is the ability to play what you hear and to be able to do that relatively quickly at that. It's commonly said that if you can sing it you can play it. That certainly holds true for me. Is the converse true? If you can't sing it, does that mean you can't play it? I wonder.

    Now full disclosure: I can't sing. I have however been working very hard lately on ear training and playing melodies by ear. This site has been a great resource for that. Progress is coming along pretty well and I am now able to figure out the longer melodies in about 15 to 20 seconds. To do this, I am almost always singing the notes first.

    Now for my real question. If I keep training my ear, will I be able to sing? It would be nice. I'm the bass player in a five member cover band and I am the only one without a microphone in front of me..for good reason. I do find myself humming melodies more often now and am hoping this is a good sign.
    Dust2Dust likes this.
  2. It is a good sign and you must keep on doing what your doing those hums will turn into words, and then back up vocals..and then you will be singing leads have faith it will come.
  3. ebo


    Jul 15, 2012
    Bay Area, Ca
    I’ve been told anybody can sing, it’s a matter of training. I think people are hesitant to do the training because it’s not you working on an instrument. You ARE the instrument. It’s intimidating. It also exposes you emotionally. You aren’t making your guitar cry, YOU have to cry. Practice practice practice. What doesn’t kill your makes you stronger.
  4. MrLenny1

    MrLenny1 Supporting Member

    Jan 17, 2009
    New England
    Keep it up. A singing bass player will get more work.
  5. LBS-bass


    Nov 22, 2017
    LOL, you have to define "ability to sing."

    You do not need to have a well developed voice in order to hear things well in your head and find correct notes on an instrument. But a person who has that level of ear development will probably be able to croak out the correct notes using the voice.

    In my opinion, this oft-repeated saying is a little cart-before-the-horse. You need to have a good EAR. Being able to sing something with passable intonation is a result of having a good ear. But having a good EAR is also all you need if you are going to PLAY something with accuracy. There's no actual need to marry the two, but it's frequently used as an ear training exercise in order to help people connect their fingers to their ears, if that makes any sense.

    However it can be a crutch. It's annoying when you hear a recording and someone's grunting away in the background.
  6. Oddly


    Jan 17, 2014
    Dublin, Ireland.
    This would certainly help explain my mediocrity...
  7. LastJaguar


    Oct 10, 2019
    When you say "can't sing", do you mean like John Deacon or more like Geddy Lee?
    2pods, EVerderame, rtav and 14 others like this.
  8. Rune Bivrin

    Rune Bivrin Supporting Member

    Oct 2, 2006
    Huddinge, Sweden
    Bob Dylan. 'Nuff said...
  9. StyleOverShow

    StyleOverShow Still Playing After All These Years Supporting Member

    May 3, 2008
    Amplifying @LBS-bass said it’s about your pitch perception and exercising that helps immensely. Everyone should sing backup, mic’s or not imo. Now do you have the tamber and vibrato to sing lead, is not the question.

    I started singing melodies recently and then working them out on bass. Tremendous help in building bass lines. So sing baby, sing. It will help you be a better player.
  10. chazolson

    chazolson Supporting Member

    Jan 8, 2013
    Reston, VA
    This. What you want (and I think what you’re actually doing) is ear training. Keep doing it, regardless of whether or not you sound like Clarence “Frogman” Henry when you do. (Look it up, kids.)
    Dust2Dust and Old Garage-Bander like this.
  11. LBS-bass


    Nov 22, 2017
    Yes, this and what styleovershow said put it better. Learning to sing trains your ear, it's (marginally) easier to train your ear that way because you don't also have to play an instrument at the same time. But ear training is the key, however you do it.
  12. Michedelic

    Michedelic MId-Century Modern

    Jeff Beck can’t carry a tune in a bucket; every time he tried(“Nazz Are Blue” with The Yardbirds, unspectacular results with two early solo singles, flat as a blown tire on BBA’s “Black Cat Moan”)it just seemed like he shouldn’t have bothered. Then he stopped bothering, ditched the concept of using someone else, and went the instrumental route, continuing to evolve as one of the greatest rock guitarists ever. He sings and emotes through his playing.
  13. tbz


    Jun 28, 2013
    No. I can “sing” parts in my head, that I can then reproduce on bass effortlessly, all day long.

    But I can’t sing those parts with my actual voice without substantial effort, and additional practice. Or I just can’t because they transcend my limited range.
  14. Wasnex


    Dec 25, 2011
    Yes. In my ear training classes we were told not to hum because it would interrupt our classmates. Instead, we were encouraged to use our breath to shape the notes at a very low volume. Only you should really hear it clearly. The range I can cover with this technique is way wider than I can sing.

    The technique is sort of like a combination of whispering and whistling.

    I have a pretty weak voice. My vocal range tends to vary a lot, and the range I can actually cover reliably is too narrow to be very useful. I have had success singing hillbilly harmony, but it's not realistic for me to sing lead.
  15. Killing Floor

    Killing Floor Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2020
    Austin, TX
    Short list that springs to mind of great musicians who can’t sing:
    Randy Newman
    Bob Dylan
    Neil Young
    Nick Cave
    Tom Waits
    JJ Cale
    Lou Reed

    I’m sure I missed some.
  16. Bob Dylan new exactly what he was doing in the early days... Using his voice as a scalpel. not a great voice per say, but an expressive one
    bobba66, 3j4f, S-Bigbottom and 6 others like this.
  17. mrcbass


    Jan 14, 2016
    Sacramento, CA
    Yes. The voice is just another instrument and that instrument depends greatly on what one is born with.

    That said, there is a huge difference between being able to sing something and being able to sing something that others would want to listen to. I'd be surprised to meet someone who can play a melodic instrument well that could not sing a phrase or two. It may not be great tone, but probably good enough for ear training type needs.
    MarkJC8, MrBeta, nick4bass and 2 others like this.
  18. Esteban Garcia

    Esteban Garcia bassist, arranger, aelurophile Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2018
    Portland, OR
    Most anybody with a music degree has done some voice lessons or classes (and piano), but being able to read and hit the notes does not necessarily make one a singer. IME sight singing is incredibly valuable, and being able to sing scales in tune is critical for learning double bass or fretless BG position shifts. But i still don't claim to be a singer.
  19. TyBo


    Dec 12, 2014
    Many of those are very debatable examples. Some pretty effective singing from a number of them for sure, expressively. I'd lean hard on early Dylan as one such ... later on, he could be a real train wreck. Eh, it takes a lot to laugh, it takes a train to cry ... :D
    scott sinner and 5StringBlues like this.