V.com weekend vote: Can you speak, or sing, (well!) while playing?

November 6, 2015, 1:23 PM ·

Christian H singing
Christian Howes sings, while playing.

Can you sing, or speak, while playing your instrument?

We string players have the freedom to use our voices, since we don't have to use them to blow into, say, a trumpet or flute. But whether we can is another issue entirely. Sometimes we concentrate so hard, we forget to breathe with our mouths and noses, much less sing or speak!

On Monday I attended a workshop on improvisation, given by Christian Howes (look for a full article in the near future) at Metzler Violin Shop in Glendale, Calif.. At one point during his improvisation, he started singing along with himself, sort of scat-style. Pretty cool!

Violinists who are in bands often sing vocals, sometimes while they are playing. Sometimes teachers speak while they are demonstrating. There are those who have mastered this kind of multi-tasking!

As for me, I'm not so great at it, I tend to either trip over the words or the notes!

Can you sing and play? Or speak and play? Both? Neither? Answer "yes" if this is a skill you are pretty good at, and if so, tell us how you learned to do it!


November 6, 2015 at 08:03 PM · i can sing while playing. BUT! This is something that I don't really recommend for string players as I now have dislocated jaw! I have no problem singing while I play the piano and the violin. But the angle of your neck when you rest your jaw on the chin rest isn't suitable for singing ***><***. I think hamming is safer though.

November 6, 2015 at 08:37 PM · I can only speak during easy or sustained notes. I can sing while playing, and often do, but for some reason I find it hard to sing in tune with the instrument. Weird.

Now the big question is, can you sing one thing while playing another! (I.e. harmony or countermelody)

November 6, 2015 at 08:59 PM · Watch how Johnny Gimble does it on youtube.....real good fiddle player and scat singer.

November 6, 2015 at 09:18 PM · I find good intonation to be very difficult to sing and play at the same time. With easy music, or very familiar music, speaking is not so hard.

November 6, 2015 at 09:34 PM · I regularly played one part and sang the other of duets or other parts in scores or accompaniments while teaching and also just for fun and to amuse and astonish listeners...:)

November 6, 2015 at 09:37 PM · I can't on the violin or viola, mainly because when it comes to stopping the instrument sliding away from my cheek, chin, shoulder, I am, well, challenged, even (?) with a Bon Musica (which has a habit of coming off). I can on the piano when accompanying hymns, though I find it difficult to sing anything other than the tune, and if the words aren't in English, that's another challenge.

November 6, 2015 at 09:52 PM · I never had the occasion to speak, except to tell my daughter to not go near my violin stuff, in which case I stop. Sometimes I'll try to sing the melody while playing harmony. I'm not always completely successful.

November 6, 2015 at 10:13 PM · As I teacher I always could play and talk to my students while Explaining or demonstrating.

Singing was totally impossible when I started trying a year ago, then staying for a while an uncomfortable and tough exercise. Now it's become natural, nice and complementary and so enriching. I love it and can only encourage each and everyone to go for it. It gives great access to your 'inner' music perception and deep down expression.

November 7, 2015 at 01:48 AM · I know many high level scientists and mathemeticians who inexplicably cannot count and play at the same time - myself included!

November 7, 2015 at 02:12 AM · I voted BOTH, second option. I can do either, although I haven't tried anything too extended so far. Not sure how I learned it -- just seems to come naturally.

November 7, 2015 at 03:16 AM · I probably started speaking and playing when answering a questions - easy yes or no - and progressed to sentences. Sometimes I do it while teaching - depends on the complexity. I started playing bluegrass and bluegrass gospel and tried joining in the singing on choruses and for some songs - especially if I like them - I'll join in the verses. I can do harmony singing, but usually do it where I'm matching the harmony I'm playing. A few times, I've sung harmony and played the melody - because I often hear the melody in my head even when playing harmony.

Whether one does it or not, I find, depends on the circumstances, and how much a fiddler wants to do more at the same time. I have not tried singing with my classical pieces - maybe some year that will come. I do hum what I'm playing - often, especially when working on certain difficult or tricky passages as I get more confident in what I'm doing.

November 7, 2015 at 06:11 AM · I can't sing well, whether I'm playing or not. But I can sing as badly while playing as I can while not playing.

November 7, 2015 at 06:25 AM · Fairport Convention's Dave Swarbrick played fiddle and sang, but I never heard him attempt both at the same time.(He also chain-smoked....)

But it is a feat which many guitarists and some pianists master. When my son was teaching himself acoustic guitar he also taught himself to sing at the same time. But he said it took some effort until it 'clicked'. Some of his friends who are much more experienced on the guitar are still unable to do this. So why is it apparently so much easier on the guitar, yet still difficult enough to challenge many players? Clearly the physiology of singing with guitar is easier,and very often the guitar part accompanying the vocals is relatively simple, but I suspect it's mainly a 'brain' issue of some kind.

November 7, 2015 at 06:42 AM · I think the difficulty is because of where the violin sits, in close proximity to your mouth. I recommend it to my jazz pupils as it makes them play much more rhythmically, with automatic good jazz phrasing (aligned with the length of a breath). It's a good thing to do on so many levels - playing the phrases you're spontaneously hearing in your head rather than intellectually summoning up finger patterns and habits you've pre-learned. But it's difficult with the violin so near your head to hear both sounds at once, do I recommend they hold the violin in the crook of their elbow at first, then gradually move it back up to the shoulder. Seems to work for most people, including me!

November 7, 2015 at 12:49 PM · I'm a typical man. I cannot multi-task.

November 7, 2015 at 03:26 PM · I can do most things while playing the violin, although whether anyone else would want to listen.....

November 7, 2015 at 04:22 PM · It's even worse: I can't sing or talk while playing the piano either. So, I can't blame the placement of my jaw for that. Something at a very basic brain-stem kind of level prevents it. On the other hand I've never really tried very hard, because it really doesn't interest me anyway.

November 7, 2015 at 07:26 PM · Playing IS speaking, what are you talking about? ;)

November 8, 2015 at 03:56 AM · It's common to see pop musicians sing while accompanying themselves on a guitar or keyboard. They make it seem easy and natural but I suspect that in most cases, like so many things, it took some work and practice.

Among my other talents is mimicry. I can do a number of accents, imitate many people, well-known or otherwise, etc. All of that is with my speaking voice. Singing-wise, one thing I can do is a pretty good Elvis! One of my favorites is to do "I Can't Help falling in Love with You". I can hold my violin guitar style and accompany myself - BUT - I'll play the intro with triplet arpeggiations but once I begin to sing I find that very hard to continue and I simplify the accompaniment to simple two-part harmony. I think that with some work, I could keep up the arpeggiations, but such work is real low on my list of priorities.

As Elvis might say, thank you; thank you very much!

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