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The Weekend Vote weekend vote: Can you sing, or speak, while playing?

March 20, 2009 at 7:21 PM

Last week, I asked if you can sing, and most people said they could, though some had better voices than others. But one reader mentioned that his job involved singing while playing, doing backup vocals and such.

Singing while playing!

Not so unusual; guitarists and pianists seem to do this with frequency and ease. But despite the fact that we violinists don't need our mouths to make our instruments speak, we don't all sing while playing. In fact, some of us probably don't even breathe while we're playing!

And that brings me to talking while playing. A friend of mine who is a Suzuki teacher trainer advises aspiring teachers that they'd best learn to speak while playing. It's a great skill to have.

Personally, I find it rather hard to sing or speak while playing, but I probably should learn. To be honest, I usually mess up: either I jumble the notes or I jumble what I'm saying.

So I'd like to include both singing and speaking in this week's poll: Can you speak and/or sing while you are playing your violin? If so, what do you use this skill for? And how did you cultivate it, or were you simply born with the ability to do high-level multitasking?

From Bart Meijer
Posted on March 20, 2009 at 7:40 PM

Strange thing: I cannot sing while playing the violin, but I can sing a little while playing the piano. I was warned against singing or talking while playing: saliva might damage the varnish. 

From Ruth Kuefler
Posted on March 20, 2009 at 7:44 PM

I do a little of both in my teaching. Sometimes when a student is learning a brand new piece by ear, I'll play along with my student and guide them by singing the fingering or letter name of the notes as I play along them. Sometimes I'll also comment or explain a concept as I'm demonstrating it on the instrument.

From Anne Horvath
Posted on March 20, 2009 at 8:50 PM

If counting out loud counts, yes.  I can sing/count and play.  Often when I teach, and going through duets with students, we will both count out loud, and I will play my part and sing/count their part.  (We are the Count Out Loud studio...)  I make no claims of the quality of singing, of course.

From Michael Divino
Posted on March 20, 2009 at 10:10 PM

No, but then again I have never tried


From Charlie Caldwell
Posted on March 20, 2009 at 11:30 PM

Yes, I can talk while playing violin. However, I frequently drool when I do so. Maybe I should take up viola instead?

Honestly, why should someone not be able to talk while they play?

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on March 21, 2009 at 4:34 AM


I train all my studnets to say rythms while playing long bow strokes as basic training. Gradually they intenralize this.

I also emphasis duet palyign while singing the second violin part and vice versa.  Also for praciticng unaccompanied Bach it is invaluable.




From Graham Clark
Posted on March 21, 2009 at 11:20 AM

I cannot speak while playing (nor very well immediately after playing), but I can sing what I play as I play it, and also sing simple harmonies and counter melodies.

What I mean is that I sing an improvisation and play it at the same time. Or improvise on the fiddle and sing it at the same time.

Singing with your playing is a fundamental exercise for developing improvisation skills, and I use it quite a lot in teaching jazz. It attunes inner ear to fingers like no other work



From Rebekah Smith
Posted on March 21, 2009 at 4:36 PM

 When I was a student only I couldn't do any of the above while playing.  Once I started teaching though I found it helps to be able to sing/speak/hum while I am playing for and with my students.  Stopping in the middle of a piece to explain something is overrated.  Not gonna lie though, it was hard at first!

From Randy Mollner
Posted on March 21, 2009 at 5:57 PM

This is something I think about a lot.  I've been able to sing while playing, guitar, banjo, mandolin, and piano for about twenty years.  I remember at the age of 15 it taking about a month of daily practice to separate my hands from my mouth while playing guitar.

But on the violin, my first and primary instrument, I've never been able to do much more than count rhythm, shout rehearsal numbers/chords/notes, or vocalize along with the exact notes I'm playing- as Graham describes.

Lately I've started singing original songs with one of the groups I'm in (Slaughtertown String Band) and I've had some success with singing a melody over either long sustained double stops, or simple rythmic, guitar-like patterns. 

It's still so hard to disconnect the mouth from the bow.  My guess is that there is just so much more work for the brain to do when it has to constantly focus on the intonation of two instruments simultaneously-- thus the greater ease of singing playing instruments with discreet intervals, like the guitar or piano.

Oh yeah, and whats with the drooling?

From Mirjam Lumkeman
Posted on March 21, 2009 at 8:55 PM

For teaching it is indeed very useful. I can sing along while playing, count aloud, or sing on numbers. Also the same with piano righthand playing the tune, left hand making the fingermovements en singing on numbers or words, while watching my student and correct him/her. But these tunes must not get too complicated.

But I cannot sing a counterpart very well and I also cannot talk with somebody about something else, let's say about the news or the wheatherforecast.  It is just too complicated for my mind, I guess.

I was told to train it while playing scales, first start to tell yourself to stick out your tongue, or make a stupid smile, just try to focus your brain not only on violinplaying. It's hard and make sure nobody else is around in the room ;-) But it helps to take some tension away.



From Mirjam Lumkeman
Posted on March 21, 2009 at 9:10 PM

I must add that I have to speak English with my students, (teach at an International School)  which is not my mothertongue. It is a complicating factor for playing and singing/talking at the same time.

It is much easier for me to play and talk/sing at the same time in Dutch. 

From Jennifer Chen
Posted on March 22, 2009 at 6:07 AM

My very first violin lesson, my teacher deliberately talked to me while I'm learning. I was asked to keep my hand moving (keep playing), and answer his questions. (He was asking me about my holiday trip). Although  the first lesson is quite easy with little to play obviously, but you can imagine how hard it is for a first timer at the same time trying to press the right note at the right place and move your bow and aiming at the right place to make a real sound.

He said it'd relax me. Right. It probably worked, make me less shaky I think.

I find myself able to talk, answer questions, if I know my piece and have it remembered by heart. (I'm still a beginner). I sometimes walk around the house,  look at what other people are doing, say hello to them... while playing violin at the same time, just to relax myself when I think I'm trying too hard to push myself in learning the piece. I actually find it helps, my hands are more relaxed and things like that. (Although you don't practice like that every time).

I can also sing while playing, but the problem is sometimes you go out of breath coz i'm too concentrated on the violin.

From Karin Lin
Posted on March 22, 2009 at 8:14 AM

I have no problem singing or speaking while playing violin (in fact, I do the latter frequently, e.g. "Mommy's practicing now, please wait until I'm done").  However, I can't speak at all while playing piano, though I can sing the melody if I'm playing a pop song or something.

I guess it depends on what you mean by "speaking", too...some people would have difficulty holding a real conversation, but I think just about everyone has yelled "Don't rush!" or "Take the repeat" to a chamber music partner :)

From Tasha Miner
Posted on March 22, 2009 at 1:19 PM

I voted yes.

I've always been able to speak out instructions to classmates, ensemble partners, or students while playing.  I'll often sing a rhythm while I'm playing to help myself learn something, too.  I've never cultivated it, it just came naturally.  I also am an OK singer just by myself, I get it from my Mom.

A real challenge for me was in high school when we had to memorize a song and prove it by playing it for the class while reading a newspaper and then reporting what the article was about.  If the article took longer to read than the piece was to play, we had to just repeat as needed.  Anybody else do that?

From Dottie Goldfarb
Posted on March 23, 2009 at 3:38 AM

Yes, I do strolling violin and am able to communicate with people while playing,ie, 'how are you' where are you from', etc.

From Royce Faina
Posted on March 23, 2009 at 11:55 AM

Yes, though very much acquired.  As a kid I wanted to be like both Geddy Lee of Rush and Charlie Daniels.  It adds extra sparkle to listeners eyes when speaking to them or singing when Buskering... They get a big kick out of it.

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