How To Sing And Play Backup

In this lesson, I’ll show you how to sing while playing backup with an instrument. I’m going to break it down into a step-by-step process for anyone who wants to sing and play backup at the same time.

Here’s the take-home message up front…

Four Steps to Singing and Playing Backup

  1. Practice just the vocal
  2. Practice just the instrumental backup
  3. Alternate between the vocal and backup
  4. Sing and play backup at the same time

Let’s dive deeper into each step.

1. Practice just the vocal

Find the right key for your voice and instrument. On fiddle it will be easier to play backup in keys with open string like G, D, A, C, F. When I began learning Girls Just Want To Have Fun, I found out it was in F sharp. So I transposed it to F major. It worked better for my voice and was easier to play.

Learn the vocal well. Dive deep into how you sing each line. If you stay with each line for awhile, then you’ll naturally memorize the lyrics. It’s a good idea practice singing single words or phrases.

Tip: Use the Amazing Slowdowner or Tunepal to pitch correct recordings to a good key.

Tip: Speak the lyrics to help you remember them. You can do this any time of day. Keep notes for lyrics on your phone.

2. Practice just the instrumental backup

If you’re new to this, then practice each chord in the song. Practice lifting your fingers and finding the chord, over and over.

Then practice each chord transition. In “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” the main transitions are D major to G major, D major to A major. Eventually your transition time will get quicker. 📈

Once you’ve practiced each transition, move on to practicing the chords for each part of a song. “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” has one main part that repeats with different lyrics. “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” has a verses, bridges, choruses.

Play simple rhythms for backup: quarters and halves. Eventually you can do eighth notes, hoedown and other patterns. But even when you master backup, I suggest returning to super-simple parts to backup singers (especially yourself).

If you’re doing something different than chords, like a line or a fill, then independently practice that too.

Tip: Use tools like FiddleHed play-along tracks or Strum Machine to practice playing backup. Do this for each of the four steps I describe in this lesson.

3. Alternate between the vocal and backup

Pick small phrases or lines, then alternate between just singing vocal and just playing backup. Do this in a continuous loop. If it’s difficult, then return to focusing on separate tasks of singing and playing backup.

4. Sing and play backup at the same time on a small part

Here’s where it all coms together. Integrate singing and playing on bits of the song.

Start with single words or short phrases.

  • Hear
  • Hear the
  • Hear the lonesome

Integrating separate tasks is what I call Macro-practice. In this stage you move from thinking to playing.

Tip: Keep the backup part simple, especially while singing. Also, make sure it’s not louder than your voice.

That’s the gist of it. I recommend starting with songs you know well. Or start with songs that won’t be too hard to learn like Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. Remember that these simple tunes are great learning vehicles.

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One response to “How To Sing And Play Backup

  1. This was really helpful. I play guitar and uke as well as the violin and thought that I would have to give up the singing part when I took up the violin. It is good to see that it is still possible. It is so encouraging. Thanks so much.