Edited: July 17, 2023, 11:34 AM · Can any of you talk or even sing while playing? Even trying to call out a rehearsal letter the best I can do is grunt and probably lose the rhythm. The only player I know of who performs this trick on stage is Seth Lakeman who I'm hoping to catch at a folk festival in a couple of weeks and maybe pick up a few tips.

Replies (32)

July 17, 2023, 11:56 AM · Interesting question.
Here's a related one: What do you focus your attention on while you play?
For example,
1. The current note(s) you are playing?
2. The upcoming notes or phrases?
3. The sounds you hear?
4. Your current finger(s) placement?
5. Your left hand position?
6. Your bow grip?
7. The emotions you have while you play?
8. The audience?
9. The accompaniment (e.g., piano or orchestra)?
10. The conductor (if there is one)?
11. The emotions in the music?
12. The beat?
13. Etc.
- And, does your attention go back and forth, either because you choose it that way or because it's just what happens?
- And, whatever your attention is at the moment, do you have control over it?
July 17, 2023, 12:35 PM · I can count out loud while playing, a useful skill which my students struggle to acquire.

I have memories as a child in a Suzuki group class of us all playing Twinkle while doing questions and answers with the teacher.

Edited: July 17, 2023, 2:00 PM · Yes I can. But I can also play a bodhran and sing, and have done for years, as well as the usual guitar and mando.
July 17, 2023, 1:14 PM · I can do it a little better than I used to. I think it's trainable, but there must be a limit with the ergonomics of the violin.
July 17, 2023, 1:33 PM · I know that a few fiddlers can do that, but I don't think it is a good idea. You are using your chin for two very different things. Guitar+vocal is common, frequently required. The jazz pianists-singers are most impressive. As a mariachi violin & singer I am constantly alternating between playing and singing. Mental focus?--"Multi-tasking" is highly over-rated. Normal humans, at least the males of the species, can only concentrate on one thing at a time. For singers the best results come from focusing on the meaning of the text. For violin, the best results come from mentally focusing on the sound you want to produce. Everything else is rehearsed to the point of being on automatic. Memorization is part of that process.
July 17, 2023, 2:02 PM · But of course plenty of people can play guitar or piano and sing at the same time. Somehow I get the feeling that the violin becomes my voice.
July 17, 2023, 3:50 PM · Singing and playing the violin...I have never tried. Your head is at the wrong angle, there’s a hard object under the left side of the jaw and your ‘“flow”, expression etc is in your right arm rather than your throat and diaphragm.
July 17, 2023, 4:12 PM ·
July 17, 2023, 4:38 PM · Normally I can call out a rehearsal letter if needed, not much more than that.

There's one exception, only because I know the piece so well: having played Messiah six times and sung it five times, I can now sing the bass part of the Hallelujah chorus while playing the viola part. It helps that the viola part can be played with my head off the chinrest most of the time.

July 17, 2023, 5:06 PM · With violin i can surely talk while playing. I can sing something at the same time, but when playing a precise and not trivial melody it seems the only case when it absorbs almost all of my internal CPU, speaking of pitch in the violin. When playing more rhythmically (like the above link to the youtube video) it's no problem...

With electric bass, that is the instrument i played as a pro in the last decades (now no more..) i can sing a melody with another key and time signature over what i'm playing with the bass ..... :D
I was used to make crazy a collegue guitarist, during a period, with this :D

With bass, i started to play and sing solo at the same time and i never thought it was something impossible...... Maybe this form on incoscience is the necessary fuel to happen in it.... :)

Many times, when i was playing a particular gig 20 years ago, an itinerant pop musical act with live music, i played bass in the "pit", and at the same time with a mic i directed with words and cues the other musicians in the band directly into their headphones. I had a system for switching the mix so that i could sing a couple of songs as the main voice with the same mix, and the rest i did background voice.
All of this while mixing the stage mix for musicians and singers. A couple of time i also did the main PA mixing, on top of this.

I don't really believe that was i described could be considered exceptional. I never put in question that it's something that can be done by almost everybody, with "open ears", practice, and no fear to fail. :)

Edited: July 17, 2023, 5:34 PM · Marco I believe it is a thing that certain people can do, it's as simple as that. Doesn't really matter the instrument, unless it's a trumpet;)

I also think you do not have to be taught,the above is just an example that it can be done.

July 17, 2023, 5:37 PM · Marco I believe it is a thing that certain people can do, it's as simple as that. Doesn't really matter the instrument, unless it's a trumpet;)

Mark King is a great example of bass player singing.

July 17, 2023, 5:51 PM · I have trouble seeing how a violinist or violist could really sing while playing for reasons discussed by others, although I suspect it is not impossible, simply too difficult to be worth the effort. The exception might be a baroque violinist or violist who does not hold the instrument under the chin. However, a cellist or bass player would surely have an easier time. I can count out loud while playing (and I do), but singing I would not even try.
July 17, 2023, 11:44 PM · I can count out loud while playing, a very useful skill for teaching... I had to work to learn to do it though. I can also sing when I'm improvising, but just what I'm playing, no words. What I can't do, but would really like to learn, is to sing harmony while I'm improvising a melody. I remember when I was in Conservatory my teacher making me talk while playing, but I wasn't very good at it
Edited: July 18, 2023, 3:36 AM · So it's not the case that everyone but me can do this kind of thing:
I think Marco puts his finger on it best - it's a limitation of the CPU rather than the external flesh and bone. Seth Lakeman can talk and sing while playing an ostinato-type accompaniment (a bit like strumming a guitar) but how far he can go beyond that I don't know. I've yet to come across a violinist who can sing and play two melodic lines simultaneously as Katherine would like. Wind players are sometimes able to hum a harmony to the note they're blowing (e.g. Yusef Lateef) although I doubt they could sing a counter-melody. But of course there's no limit to the weird stunts some people are capable of.

Edited: July 18, 2023, 4:54 AM ·

"Multi-tasking" is a myth! I sure know that it's not something of which I'm capable.

For me, multi-tasking is being "able" to direct my conscious mind on more than one task at a time. As I say, not possible for me. I can only focus my conscious mind on one task at a time. While doing that, I likely may rely on habits to simultaneously follow through on other aspects of the project at hand. But to my mind, that's not multi-tasking. Is it multi-tasking to breathe, to do vibrato, to play in tune, etc., all while we are concentrating on playing a piece? No, I don't think so.

July 18, 2023, 5:25 AM · Fun question.

I used to be quite good at multitasking - indeed, isn't that precisely the art of the conductor? However, you can only focus intently on one thing at the time.

Contradiction? Actually no. For example I can play and sing 'Ba-ba black sheep' Elvis' Jailhouse Rock but don't ask me to do the same for a Schubert lieder (er, which I can't sing anyway, but you get the point)! To me the art of multitasking is to be able to very quickly switch between the two tasks. Thus, the computer analogy is split CPU time between the two - which is, of course, what the simple computer does.

Edited: July 18, 2023, 7:28 AM · Tom, take a look at the video link I posted, a fiddler playing and singing at the same time. It's the only good clip I could find, Now, can you draw a perfect circle free hand ;)
July 18, 2023, 7:30 AM · Me - no way! I couldn't even count silently in my head while playing.
Dave Swarbrick (Fairport convention) used to sing and play, but not at the same time. At least not when I saw them. Maybe the ever-present cigarette got in the way. In a studio recording it's obviously different....
Edited: July 18, 2023, 7:46 AM · I'm not professional violin player, but when I get the opportunity to perform, I always try to practice playing the piece while walking around naming randon things in the room, or read out book titles to distract myself. If I can keep playing it as good as I usually do, then I'm all prepared.

I try to be prepared so that if my brain shuts down on stage or gets distracted, I know I can still 'auto-pilot' and keep playing.

July 18, 2023, 8:04 AM · @Ron - thanks for posting that youtube. What strikes me is that the fiddler, unlike most classical musicians, is not using his chin to help keep the violin in place. As I pointed out, baroque players who don't use their chins could probably sing. So, I agree with you that a violinist can sing while playing, but I think only where the chin and jaw are relatively free to move.
July 18, 2023, 8:40 AM · The violist Wendy Richman plays and sings simultaneously and quite well! Type her name into YouTube, and I'm sure there are many videos with the evidence.
Edited: July 18, 2023, 12:31 PM · Isn't the purpose of the violin to make it sing? Anything else is a distraction.
July 18, 2023, 12:54 PM · Talking while playing is something I've learned/practiced while leading Suzuki groups, along with singing note names or finger numbers of Twinkle or other *simple* duet parts while playing the main piece. Also, saying cello finger numbers to the cellists while playing violin and playing the piano part (harmony) while singing the violin part (melody). For lower grade string orchestra music so nothing too complicated - playing one part and singing another from the score, and of course, talking/singing while conducting (is that an instrument??). When I say sing, I mean the intended pitch is created by my vocal chords and comes out of my mouth, no actual singing technique. In Kodaly training, we did sing one part and hand-sign (solfege) another part or in canon.
July 19, 2023, 8:18 AM · Multitasking requires that all but one of the things you are doing has to be done without thinking.

Humans are already doing a lot of stuff without thinking, breathing, digesting, pumping blood, cleansing the blood and lymph systems,... We do them well without being conscious of them.

I doubt that Joshua Bell is calculating his taxes while performing a concerto or Tessa Lark drafting a message to a friend... They play well because nearly 100% of their conscious mind is focused on the concerto.

Yes, I can count while playing but only in those parts where I have learned that I need to pay attention to the duration of a note or focus on a dynamic. Too much distraction and it all falls apart.

Multitasking has been correctly defined and doing multiple thing poorly at the same time.

Edited: July 19, 2023, 9:52 AM · Not necessarily George - perhaps you missed what I said above? It really depends on the demands of the job. While multitasking is generally thought of as doing more than one thing at the same time it does not have to be. It can be achieved by rapidly switching between the tasks and having the ability to concentrate really fast. this does require, however, that the tasks are not too difficult for that particular mind but I have known scientists who could actually juggle 6 experiments at the same time.

I should add that for the rapid attention-switching multitasking it really helps if the tasks are very different.

With respect to the present case it means that singing and violin playing surely can be done as long as both are relatively simple. Indeed, its also common to play an instrument and also dance (there were even special violins made for the dance instructor).

Edited: July 19, 2023, 3:39 PM · Val Vigoda, who plays a Mark Wood Viper electric, sings and plays all the time. I interviewed her for my blog several years ago and she talks about it there:

What she said in the interview surprised me in that it was such a difficult thing for her to learn to do. My singing is always bad, but it doesn't get appreciably worse if I try to do it while I'm playing the violin.

July 19, 2023, 4:35 PM · I talk while playing all the time because it's so useful when teaching, but I'm always playing rather simple pieces when I'm doing it.
Edited: July 20, 2023, 2:38 PM · I think we need to begin by stating the obvious: Violin playing IS multitasking. This is why it is so difficult. We are required to hold the violin, bow with the right hand, stop strings with the fingers of the left hand, some times more than one string simultaneously. Most of the time we have to read the music while playing it. We need to listen to our intonation and correct when necessary, shape our phrases, adjust our dynamics. If we are part of an ensemble we need to pay attention to our partners and/or the conductor as well.

I am not aware of many tasks that are more multi than violin playing.

There are two kinds of multitasking: Those where all the simultaneous tasks are part of one higher level task. Driving a car is another example of this kind of multitasking (far simpler than the violin but with far more dangerous consequences of errors) . Telephoning while driving or singing while playing OTOH are unnecessary multitasks and most of us should abstain from them because they impact the quality of the main task. Especially when the main task is already plenty complex.

July 20, 2023, 6:05 PM · Albrecht - by your definition EVERYTHING is multitasking :) I think it is generally understood to mean two separate functions - that's two high-level tasks.

OTOH you do have a point because if singing and playing really two tasks since they both follow the same music. Thus, a folk singer-guitarist is not really thought of as multi-tasking when accompanying themselves playing Strawberry Fair but they would be if they did so while cycling!

July 20, 2023, 8:50 PM · I just remembered - long before this trick made it onto YouTube, I (as a child) had marveled at my few-years-older cousin hula hooping while playing violin, or playing violin while hula hooping. One of my students had been able to do it too as a book 1 beginner and it was hoop first, then add violin. I can't / haven't practiced hula hoop at all.

I do tell students that practicing playing violin, reading music, reading and interpreting and acting on the signs and symbols in printed music, being attentive to the conductor, section leader, other players, etc. is good practice for driving.

July 21, 2023, 2:21 AM · I used "multitasking" as a convenient label for this thread without worrying about its precise definition! It could be significant that in playing the violin both the right and left hemispheres are employed in completely different, yet synchronized, motor tasks (of course you could say the same of guitar-playing). Albrecht' points are all well taken, but does this mean we shouldn't sing while driving the car?

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