Singing and playing bass at the same time is an incredibly difficult task. Traditionally, when a lead singer in a band plays an instrument, they opt for the guitar or piano instead. But why do vocalists prefer these instruments over the 4-string, and why is it difficult to sing and play bass simultaneously?
Singing while playing the bass guitar is difficult because basslines are generally syncopated to the vocal line. When the bass line is a cross-rhythm to a vocal phrase it is demanding to focus on both which generally requires the vocalist to be able to play the bass line without thinking about it.
The bass guitar is a less harmonically complex instrument than the guitar or piano. However, basslines are often more complex in terms of rhythm and groove.
Therefore, I will show you how bass compares to the guitar and piano in terms of difficulty. I will also show you how to practice singing and playing bass at the same time. Lastly, I have made a list of singing bassists from various genres so that you can learn from the best.
Is singing and playing bass harder than guitar?
As a general rule, it is harder to sing and play bass than to sing while playing the guitar. Basslines tend to consist of rhythms that are vastly different from that of the vocal line. Guitar parts, on the other hand, are often strummed in a way that aligns with the vocals rhythmically.
On the surface, playing guitar while singing can appear more complicated than playing bass, as chords are more complex than individual notes. However, when playing an instrument while singing, the rhythm plays a much bigger part than harmony in terms of difficulty.
Switching between chords between bars or playing deep grooves with multiple notes both have their challenges. But it is what rhythm you are playing within a bar that mainly dictates how hard it will be to sing simultaneously. Thus, it is the cross-rhythms between vocals and basslines that make them hard to do at the same time.
Related reading: 10 reasons why people choose the bass over the guitar
With that said, not all basslines are equal. When the bass is playing 8th notes, it is generally easier to sing while playing, than if you did the same thing on the guitar.
The issue is that if the bass deviates even slightly from a straightforward rhythm like this, it quickly becomes syncopated to the vocal line, making even simple bass lines difficult to sing over.
The same holds true when comparing the bass to the piano. Synchronizing the left and right hand is a challenge of its own and harmonically it can be even more complex than the guitar. Still, rhythmically the instrument is generally played in a simple manner in genres such as pop and rock, while the bass often isn’t.
How do you learn to sing and play bass at the same time?
To learn how to sing and play bass at the same time, you need to be able to play the bassline in question effortlessly and without thinking. When the bass part has become second nature, slow the tempo down and practice getting comfortable singing over it, while being conscious of how the vocal line aligns with the bass rhythmically.
There`s no denying, singing and playing bass at the same time will take a lot of practice.
While I`m a horrible singer, I have tried some different techniques through the years to at least be able do some background vocals.
The first thing you need to do is to play the bass part a lot. You should get to a point where you are able to play the bass without looking at the fretboard or actively thinking about the bassline.
When you have the bass part down, make an attempt at singing at the same time. In all likelihood, there will be spots that throw off your timing. When this happens, identify how the rhythm of the vocal line and the rhythm of the basslines interact.
I have found it helpful to clap the vocal line on my left thigh and the bass part on my right thigh. This is a simple way to get a grasp of both rhythms and how they play off each other at the most basic level. To begin with, I recommend choosing songs that are easy to sing while playing bass.
It also helps to slow things down. First, get comfortable playing the bass line at a slow tempo, and then try singing over it. This will feel and sound awkward, but it’s incredibly helpful for getting both parts down.
As you start mastering both parts, keep increasing the speed gradually, till you eventually are able to play them at the intended tempo. For more tips and more in-depth explanations of these methods, make sure to also check out my list of helpful tips for singing while playing bass.
Bass players who sing
Bassists that sing might be a rare breed, but they are out there. I recommend listening to artists that are both in and outside the genres you normally listen to, to get a broader understanding of what playing the bass and singing can sound like.
Below are some bands from various genres with a bass-playing frontman, or co-lead vocalist:
|Bassist that sings
|The Police, Solo
|Pink Floyd, Solo
|Death Metal, Grindcore
|Les Paul Trio
|Less Than Jake
Singing while playing bass is not for everyone. It feels unintuitive at first and makes playing the bass even more difficult.
The guitar and piano are played with more harmonic complexity than the bass. Still, the cross-rhythms that arise from bass grooves generally make it the most challenging instrument of the 3 for singers. This is because rhythm is the most important factor for whether a musical part is difficult to sing while playing.
Together, a vocal phrase and a syncopated bass line can be an incredibly complex rhythmic pattern. To execute both simultaneously, you need to be able to play the bass part effortlessly. You also need to understand what type of rhythm the bass and vocal line are producing together.
McCartney, Lee, and Claypool are some of the most legendary bassists out there. The fact that they sing while playing bass has turned them into musical icons, and has helped put their basslines into the spotlight.
Thus, while playing bass while singing will take a lot of effort, the potential rewards for those who stick with it can be life-changing.
Playing basslines effortlessly will not only help you sing at the same time, but it will also improve your ability to play the guitar. To learn more, read these 5 reasons why learning bass will make you a better guitarist.