Singing While Playing Bass

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by naruki, Oct 24, 2011.

  1. soulman969

    soulman969 Inactive

    Oct 6, 2011
    Englewood, Colorado
    OK I've been doing this for 40 years so I have some experience with it.

    On lead vocals learn the melody of the song and get it firmly in your head listening to the recording you want to emulate dozens of times until you have it down cold. Your bass won't help you at all with a melody. Words can be read off a cue card but unless you can sight read a vocal music score you better learn the melody with you ears.

    Next simplify your bass lines and memorize that pattern you'll use to a point where you can do it almost unconsciously. Either the bass playing or the vocalizing have to become automatic and I've always found it's easier to automate the bass. You'll need most of your brain to concentrate on recalling they lyrics and phrasing the vocals.

    Practice on your own as much as possible and more importanly with the guitarist or keyboard player in your group so that you have some chordal and/or melodic accompaniment to work off of.

    Use a metronome or a tick track. Bassists tend to lose their perception of timing when they sing. Don't push and don't pull. Create a pocket you can sing within and lock into it. The nice thing is that you can control the tempo and the space needed to fit your vocals with your playing.

    Don't over do either component to begin with. Get it 80% of the way you want it and play it into shape from there. As you get more comfortable you can venture into more complexity. Straight Rock, Country, and Blues are the easiest genre to sing over bass. R&B, Soul and Funk the hardest because of the synchopation. Pick your material well.

    Backup vocals require much the same but are somewhat easier if you have any kind of ear for harmony at all. When taking a harmony line, subject to your vocal range, take one higher than the lead vocal line since that will allow you to hear yourself over the low frequencies shoved at you by your rig. The high tenor parts in country rock are usually handled by bassists. Think Randy Meisner and Timmy Schmidt of The Eagles.

    Get the band together to work on harmonies at a break down rehearsal. Just one guitar, bass and keyboards is you have them. Go unplugged, no percussion because it's a whole lot easier to here the vocals blend that way before you go to a balls to wall rehersal.

    Just start out with stuff that's easy to do like blues or 4/4 rock or country. It takes a while to seperate your brain into two working parts but the less strain you put on one half of the challenge the more you'll have left over for the other. Good Luck!
  2. Bassamatic

    Bassamatic keepin' the beat since the 60's

    I agree - it is really hard as the vocal tempo and rhythm is usually different than the bass. My solution is that you have to work at the bass part until it is totally, completely automatic.

    However I still cannot comprehend how Jack Bruce does "born under a bad sign" or how Esperanza Spaulding sings and plays her syncopated jazz and does it so well.

    Practice, practice, practice, it seems!
  3. Definitely

    Definitely Inactive

    No! Not full gui****! Tell me it isn't true! Tell me I'm still in Kansas!
  4. soulman969

    soulman969 Inactive

    Oct 6, 2011
    Englewood, Colorado
    Haha you did pick a tricky one there didn't you. I've done it but that's one where tempo is really important, it has to flow, and you have to forget all about what your playing so you can phrase the chorus over that riffs synchopation. The verses are a snap if you can get the chorus down.

    Another real tough one to try is the Temps "Papa Was a Rolling Stone". With stuff like these the playing is damn near unconscious. You can't be thinking, bass line, melody and phrasing all at the same time. Something has to slide back.

    To the OP. These are not good tunes to start with LOL. :D
  5. soulman969

    soulman969 Inactive

    Oct 6, 2011
    Englewood, Colorado
    That never happened to me. The brain got fried a few times but the bass always wins out over my guitars. :bassist:
  6. Dick Tree

    Dick Tree

    May 26, 2011
    Normal, IL
    Just learned my first song singing+playing bass. My band has been covering "Hash Pipe" by Weezer lately and I've been able to sing it every time.

    Before that song I couldn't even talk to someone while playing bass... my hands get messed up when I start talking.
  7. bassgod76

    bassgod76 bass turd burglar

    Mar 13, 2003
    South Florida
    I thought Simmons was a weak bassist. Combine that with singing, playing, choreography, and standing in 7" platforms. Since joining a KISS tribute band, I have become very humbled by his ability. This holds esecially true in songs where the cadence of the vocals do not match that of one of his walking bass lines.
  8. Impressive as they are (^) - I think Nathan East and Timothy Smits from The Eagles are even better examples of this ability.
  9. I've always found it easier to strum guitar and sing. Still not easy, but comes pretty easily. I'm not a guitar player, but I can play some acoustic guitar.

    On bass, I've found it to be really difficult. It doesn't flow like guitar strumming. There are some songs written by bass lead singers that are easier - obviously.

    I'm just now getting started myself. I picked a song I thought I could do and told the band "I'm effing doing this, the only way I'm gonna learn is embarass myself into it" because its so unnatural and unpleasant.

    The song is "Always on the Run" by Lenny Kravitz. The bassline is pretty easy during the verse. I'm getting better at it, I've done it live a half dozen times with no mistakes.

    I have not practiced it as much as I should - only a handful of times and at practice. I actually did it the first time in front of my bandmates which was brutal.

    I'm gonna keep at it. I might be getting laid off this friday after almost 7 years, and if I do I vow to work harder on it. I will have plenty of spare time and I've been looking for a break in the action to work on this as well as my music theory.

    We are a 3 piece and though our guitar player can easily do the singing/playing he's not awesome. I need to pick up a few more songs and add backups.

    Now - gui**** swears that the easiest way for him to do learn is to learn his guitar part AND the vocals AT THE SAME TIME. From the beginning. Dunno, just thought I'd share it with you guys.

    outski :bassist:

    Tom Bomb likes this.
  10. I always found guitars and vocals to be much easier - the rhythm and harmony is even easier since the strumming is more or less in time and sync with the vocal.

    Keyboard is also one of those instruments that goes well with singing, although it requires two hands, lips and maybe one foot all at the same time. Kudos to Geddy.

    Instruments that do NOT work with vocals (eg: trombone, bugle (I tried this - FAIL), Jew's Harp - (pain! Big time pain!), nose flute, etc.

    But yeah - lead or rhythm guitar and vocals go hand-in-hand. It MUST be easy, gui****ists do it all the time.
  11. jmattbassplaya


    Jan 13, 2008
    I actually have an old interview of his where he was asked how he practices playing and singing at the same time. He said he just watches TV while practicing the bassline until he can do it without looking at his hands. Then he starts singing along. It's all about getting a song under your fingers.
  12. You really need to have one or the other on autopilot. You also have to be able to cope with time sharing your processing.

    If you really know and love a song, it is possible. I ending up fronting Manic Depression out of exasperation with our vocalist who could not get the phrasing to save his life. After the "Do it this way, you twit!" demo they looked at me concluded I should sing it. CRAP!
  13. maxiegrant

    maxiegrant Bassist in Transition

    Nov 26, 2007
    Sellersburg, IN
    I see this same thread every couple of weeks. I say the same thing.


    And finally

    KEEP DOING IT. There is no mystery or trick to doing this. Just DO it.

    Hedgehog - YouTube

    Even complicated basslines can be sung over.
  14. soulman969

    soulman969 Inactive

    Oct 6, 2011
    Englewood, Colorado
    +1 Well put. The more of the bass line you can commit to your subconcious memory the easier it is to sing over.
  15. Start by droning root backup vocals.
  16. Guitarist with the Les Paul looks like he needs to pee.:bag:

    +1 to all posts. Practice Practice Practice! You'll get it eventually.
  17. maxiegrant

    maxiegrant Bassist in Transition

    Nov 26, 2007
    Sellersburg, IN
    LOL -- that was his first gig out after something like a 12-year hiatus. He was a tad nervous.

    He's grown into it now, and in fact the other dude is gone from the group and he's my lead player now. Listen to the clip in my .sig to hear how he's progressed.
  18. devntran


    Dec 24, 2013
    Don't think too much about it I guess. Divide your attention. Either sing simple lyrics or play simple bass linesbass lines
  19. Howlin' Hanson

    Howlin' Hanson Lighter cabs, please.

    Sep 3, 2007
    Austin TX
  20. oldfclefer

    oldfclefer low ended

    May 5, 2005
    Southern Ohio
    I've found that learning both parts until they're second nature is a beginning...tough to read music or lyrics and perform both parts...on the tougher songs I really listen to the song and figure out exactly what notes the bass is playing for every word in the song...which helps to coordinate both...and yes tons of practice...
    Tom Bomb likes this.
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    Primary TB Assistant

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