Friday, September 20, 2013

Singing While Playing Bass: How to Learn, How to Practice

Once you have mastered some basic singing skills (see previous post), it is time to learn to play your bass while singing lead.  This has been a tough for most bass players.  It is difficult to play bass lines while singing lead.  You can get confused very quickly.  We can't all be the bass genius that Paul McCartney is, who does this with ease.

My band was playing at a Beatles Tribute, and I made up my mind I wanted to finally start contributing to our vocal effort.  Listening to Beatles tunes, I found that "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" was well within my range, and there seemed to be no bass part.  I could sing this song and not have to worry about playing bass (or so I thought).  I sent my karaoke recording to the band and they agreed I could do the song.  At the next practice, I sang it live and the band was enthusiastic.  However, over the next week I learned that there was indeed a bass part to the song, and I found a couple of YouTube videos where the bass players demonstrate how to play the song.  I had to rethink my approach, but I knew one thing, I would not give up!  I was committed to singing and would do whatever it took.

I learned to play the bass while singing this song in four steps:

1.  I learned the bass part without singing, just playing along to the record.
2.  I learned the singing part without playing the bass.
3.  I started putting the two together. This was done by taking each lyric in the song, singing it slowly while playing the appropriate bass part.  In this way, the two different activities were cemented into one in my brain.  I slowly increased my speed until I could play and sing it at the same time, all the way through, and then I started recording it.
4.  I listened to the recording and learned where there were rough spots, then concentrated on smoothing those out.

There is nothing like playing and singing the song live, so I began doing that at band practice, developing more confidence with each try.  Finally, the Beatles Tribute event arrived, and I sang my song to a live audience.  I was nervous -- this was my first singing ever to an audience -- and the song was mostly good, with a smooth tone and on key.  There were a couple of rough spots, but they weren't disastrous.

And the bass part, that I played simultaneously with singing?  It was flawless.  I had proven to myself that I can sing and play at the same time.

My next step will be to identify several songs I want to sing with the band and begin learning them and the bass parts.  I can do this -- and so can you.  My first effort is below.

Singing While Playing Bass: It Can Be Done

This week I had my debut as a singer at a gig with my band.  I have always been a bass player, and I have found singing and playing bass simultaneously to be difficult.  So I never bothered developing my singing skills.  I could occasionally sing some back up, but even that was rare.

Our band had a great female singer, but she left after a short time, due to her new marriage and career, and once again we had to rely on our musicians to provide the vocals.  I decided to start singing for practical reasons:  if the musicians in the band also supply the singing, the band is not dependent upon a single lead singer.  Any band that wants to grow and prosper must develop the singing skills of everyone in the band.  Everyone must row the boat, there can be no idle passengers.

I began practicing singing to karaoke songs I found on YouTube, downloading the videos using iSkysoft iTube Studio software, converting them to MP4 self-playing video files, for ease of access.  Then I would sing to the YouTube videos and record the singing with Free Sound Recorder, available on the web.  I could then send my efforts out to other band members for feedback.

Further, I searched the web for websites that teach singing skills, and found great teachers like Roger Burney and TVS Training, both of whom provide a number of free singing lesson videos on the web (and more intensive training for a reasonable price).  I also bought Jaime Vendera's book, "Raise Your Voice," 2nd Edition, and downloaded lesson vids from the web.  With these tools I found some important ways to improve the tone, range and power of my voice, and  I am not working on becoming a credible singer.

Another thing I do to improve my singing voice is to sing along to CDs in the car, practicing the techniques I have learned from the aforementioned resources.  The major lessons are how to sing in the soft palate, how to avoid putting strain on your pharynx, how to breathe, how hit the high notes.  Singing with CDs helps to strengthen your vocal muscles, which must be developed like any other exercise.

Next article:  the method I used to start singing and playing simultaneously.