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Author Topic: Songs for Beginning to Sing and Play Simultaneously  (Read 5372 times)

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Offline Johnm

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Songs for Beginning to Sing and Play Simultaneously
« on: September 01, 2014, 04:20:18 PM »
Hi all,
One of the ongoing issues for people getting started in this music is developing the ability to play fairly intricate guitar parts and sing simultaneously.  There is very little in the way of instructional information out there with regard to how to get started doing this, and to grow in your skills doing it.  The usual advice seems to be, "Start doing it, and keep doing it and you'll get better at it.", and that actually is good advice.  It seems as though a crucial factor in achieving some early successes in this endeavor is to pick some songs to start out on in which the vocal and instrumental phrasing are very closely linked to each other, with the vocal melody and phrasing, for the most part, sitting right on top of the instrumental melody and phrasing.
It occurred to me that it might be helpful to create a list of tunes with the sort of closely linked vocal and instrumental statements of melody that were cited above, as an assist to folks who are starting or who would like to start singing and playing together.  Here are a few songs that conform to that description which might be good candidates for starting to sing and play simultaneously:
   * My Creole Belle-John Hurt
   * Louis Collins-John Hurt
   * Hop Joint-John Hurt
   * It Ain't Gonna Rain No More-Mance Lipscomb
   * Silver City Bound-Mance Lipscomb
   * Saturday Blues-as played by Shirley Griffith
Can anyone think of other songs in the style which seem easier to sing and play because of the vocal melody sitting right on top of the instrumental statement of the melody?  Or are there other songs that don't conform to this type that are nonetheless easy to sing and play simultaneously for some other reason?  Compiling a list of such songs might be of real value for folks getting started singing and playing.
All best,
Johnm   

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: Songs for Beginning to Sing and Play Simultaneously
« Reply #1 on: September 01, 2014, 07:22:48 PM »
I think Big Joe Williams' classic "Baby Please Don't Go" is a perfect choice. One chord and the truth! Work that Pinky now! : )
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Offline Johnm

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Re: Songs for Beginning to Sing and Play Simultaneously
« Reply #2 on: September 01, 2014, 09:44:30 PM »
Boy, you're right, Phil, "Baby, Please Don't Go" is a perfect choice.  That's a good one.
All best,
Johnm

Offline mr mando

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Re: Songs for Beginning to Sing and Play Simultaneously
« Reply #3 on: September 02, 2014, 02:41:13 AM »
I remember that Willie Brown's "M&O Blues" worked nicely for me. The guitar figure seems to have a very similar phrasing to the vocal line.

Offline Norfolk Slim

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Re: Songs for Beginning to Sing and Play Simultaneously
« Reply #4 on: September 02, 2014, 03:52:57 AM »
I find the rhythm of that really hard to maintain under a vocal even now!  Different things will work for different people I guess.

I found Richland Woman Blues somehow worked for me when I was really struggling to sing and play together.

Offline funkapus

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Re: Songs for Beginning to Sing and Play Simultaneously
« Reply #5 on: September 02, 2014, 06:27:32 AM »
I'm at this point in my relative beginnership, really, and I'm happy to see this thread!  Mississippi John Hurt's "Do Lord Remember Me", via Tom Feldman's clip on Youtube from one of his SGGW videos, has been really helpful.



Offline blueshome

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Re: Songs for Beginning to Sing and Play Simultaneously
« Reply #6 on: September 02, 2014, 07:48:05 AM »
I've always thought Key to the Highway and similar with the I/V change at the start were quite easy to sing along with, the chord changes are simple and go pretty much along to cue the vocal.

Offline Prof Scratchy

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Re: Songs for Beginning to Sing and Play Simultaneously
« Reply #7 on: September 02, 2014, 08:36:16 AM »
I think Blind Boy Fuller's version of Careless Love is one of those tunes where the guitar and vocals sing along with each other. But maybe things with fairly simple guitar parts are easiest to sing along with, memorizing a melody first with a simple chordal backing. I'd put RJ's slow songs in A in that category perhaps.

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Offline Lyndvs

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Re: Songs for Beginning to Sing and Play Simultaneously
« Reply #8 on: September 02, 2014, 09:58:09 AM »
"delia"/"take me back"/"pallet on the floor" etc..Always think these more melodic"pre blues" raggy feeling songs are easier to sing.

Offline Johnm

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Re: Songs for Beginning to Sing and Play Simultaneously
« Reply #9 on: September 02, 2014, 06:17:08 PM »
But maybe things with fairly simple guitar parts are easiest to sing along with, memorizing a melody first with a simple chordal backing. I'd put RJ's slow songs in A in that category perhaps.

I was thinking the same thing, Prof.  "Me and the Devil", in particular, has a really spare and simple guitar part behind the singing, just keeping time.
All best,
Johnm

« Last Edit: September 02, 2014, 06:19:40 PM by Johnm »

Offline waxwing

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Re: Songs for Beginning to Sing and Play Simultaneously
« Reply #10 on: September 02, 2014, 09:57:23 PM »
Similar to the RJ songs in A, Lightnin's Goin' Down Slow was one I remember feeling like the vocal flowed easily over relatively simple timekeeping backing, but in between the vocal parts all those expressive Hopkins response licks help the more advanced guitarist just learning to add vocals keep their interest up.

Really glad to see this kind of discussion here, Johnm.

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Offline joe paul

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Re: Songs for Beginning to Sing and Play Simultaneously
« Reply #11 on: September 03, 2014, 01:30:13 AM »
Great idea for a thread. I always think of Mance Lipscomb's Sugar Babe and I Want to do Something for You as songs where the vocal and the guitar part fit seamlessly.
Mississippi John Hurt's Joe Turner blues too, although as I listen to it I can hear it's a lot more subtle than just the guitar playing the vocal line. His Spike Driver's Blues too. I think these songs are just so present in my mind that they make perfect sense, how everything falls together. John Jackson's Boat's up the River too.

Offline Norfolk Slim

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Re: Songs for Beginning to Sing and Play Simultaneously
« Reply #12 on: September 03, 2014, 01:32:27 AM »
I'd cast a word of warning on Spikedrivers.  I'm working on that at the moment, and its proven harder work than I expected, especially getting the vocal out properly without messing up the rest.

Offline Laura

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Re: Songs for Beginning to Sing and Play Simultaneously
« Reply #13 on: September 03, 2014, 02:48:07 AM »
There've been a lot of John Hurt songs mentioned and I wonder if that's because many people start out playing his stuff as an introduction into listening/playing country blues and so have been playing them such a long time they now find them easy!?
Some of his songs - especially the gospel ones - (Do Lord Remember Me, When I Lay My Burden Down, Farther Along, Here Am I, Lord Send Me)  do follow the melody line very closely - I find these easy songs to sing/play simultaneously.  However, one of the first CB songs I tried to learn was Hurt's Stackerlee but I still can't sing it whilst playing.  Simon mentioned Spike Drivers Blues.  I find this a killer to sing! It doesn't follow the melody at all - it's always ahead or behind it.
Another thing which might be worth mentioning is for a female singer, someone like John Hurt has such a low range and it can be difficult to find a good key to play in.

Offline Prof Scratchy

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Re: Songs for Beginning to Sing and Play Simultaneously
« Reply #14 on: September 03, 2014, 04:25:35 AM »
Here's one of the first songs I learned to sing and play back in the 1960s. This video gives you the words too!
 

Offline Annabel

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Re: Songs for Beginning to Sing and Play Simultaneously
« Reply #15 on: September 03, 2014, 09:13:48 AM »
I would suggest Freight Train by Elizabeth Cotten and You've Got to Walk that Lonesome Valley by John Hurt. I haven't been fingerpicking for that long but I can manage the vocals on those. I haven't tried it yet myself because I'm still working on the guitar part, but I suspect Rev. Gary Davis's Candyman shouldn't be too hard, and maybe also Charlie Patton's Poor Me.

I've been strumming and singing for a long time, though, and I've found that it's helpful to learn the guitar part so well you can play it in your sleep before adding the vocals. The same goes for the vocal part?make sure you know it really well on its own. Then when you're putting them together, if it's a tricky rhythm that doesn't track the vocal, slow it way down and work on it in bits.
« Last Edit: September 03, 2014, 09:22:40 AM by Annabel »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Songs for Beginning to Sing and Play Simultaneously
« Reply #16 on: September 03, 2014, 09:39:01 AM »
Hi all,
I agree that "Spike Driver's Blues" is a tricky one.  The way the vocal is displaced from the accompaniment is kind of tough to catch, I think, and takes a while to become comfortable.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Mark Miller

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Re: Songs for Beginning to Sing and Play Simultaneously
« Reply #17 on: September 07, 2014, 06:56:50 AM »
Thanks for this thread!  I'm working a lot on this now--trying to sing with feeling and attention while I play without losing the playing--as opposed to having the singing just be an afterthought.  Among the songs mentioned, Creole Belle works really well for me, as does Freight Train.  Here's a thought though:  at least for me, the danger in having the timing of the sung and played melodies match too closely is that it can be an invitation to robotic singing.  I find it easier to get some expressiveness into the singing if there's just a little anticipation or lag here and there.  So Spike Driver actually works well for me, but Louis Collins doesn't.  Even though I love the song, I haven't yet found a way to sing it with any real feeling, but those little syncopations between voice and guitar in Spike Driver make that easier.  Oh Babe it Ain't No Lie also worked well for me for a similar reason:  there's just enough added spice in the playing that the playing and singing work in synergy.  But too much difference and it all falls apart.  I (kind of) learned Blind Boy Fuller's Meat Shakin' Woman, but can't even start to sing it without it falling apart.  There's just too much funkiness in the playing, it takes all my concentration even to pretend to be playing it.

Maybe the first song in this style that I could sing well while I played was Frank Stokes' It Won't Be Long.  Nothing but thumb under the sung verses, so you can pretty much just focus on the singing and then really tune into the playing during the fills and breaks.  MJH's Pallet on Your Floor is a good in-betweener:  relatively simple under the vocals, with most of the harder, notier stuff in between.

Offline banjochris

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Re: Songs for Beginning to Sing and Play Simultaneously
« Reply #18 on: September 08, 2014, 08:55:53 AM »
I (kind of) learned Blind Boy Fuller's Meat Shakin' Woman, but can't even start to sing it without it falling apart.  There's just too much funkiness in the playing, it takes all my concentration even to pretend to be playing it.

Don't feel bad about that -- that song (and the Blind Lemon song it's based on, "Bad Luck Blues") takes a LOT of concentration to sing and play. The way it's constructed there's really no room for a mistake.

Offline Zoharbareket

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Re: Songs for Beginning to Sing and Play Simultaneously
« Reply #19 on: October 14, 2014, 05:48:49 AM »
Yet another great thread Johnm! thank you.

Elisabeth Cotten's Freight Train could be one.

Another possible way to look at this issue is to simplfy songs you want to play down to their bare strummed chords and then, gradually, introduce the guitar-intricacies into the blend. For me this approach worked well with RGD's Lo I'll be with you. I started with just strumming the chords in order to concentrate on the singing and now I can do a half decent take of the song, fingerpicking an' all.

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Offline Johnm

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Re: Songs for Beginning to Sing and Play Simultaneously
« Reply #20 on: January 10, 2016, 06:43:26 AM »
Hi all,
I was going over some songs at a lesson the other day and was reminded of a group of songs that fit well in this category, I think:  Robert Wilkins' raggy pre-blues numbers in C--"Police Sergeant Blues", "Alabama Blues" and "Long Train Blues".  In each of them the vocal melody is pretty much right on top of the melody as it is phrased on the guitar, and each of them has at least one place where the the melody takes the bass for a ride.  That little bit of extra concentration required to do that while singing is really good practice.  Plus, they're just great songs, and fun to play and sing.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Mark Miller

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Re: Songs for Beginning to Sing and Play Simultaneously
« Reply #21 on: February 22, 2016, 05:18:48 AM »
Thanks John. I have to admit I've been scared to tackle Wilkins. I was not familiar with him until I bought your Country Blues book and CD. His songs are amazing, but seem more complicated or, to use a fiddle tune term, crooked than I'm used to, not to mention how far it strays from MJH / Stokes / Cotten alternating bass structure. Maybe I just need to jump in?  Is it more that the style is unfamiliar than that it's difficult?  I love Blind Blake too but I bought Woody Mann's DVD lesson and after spending a week learning three bars of the first song I figured I'd better wait til I'm a better player. Do you think your Wilkins DVD would be easier to get going on?

Offline Johnm

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Re: Songs for Beginning to Sing and Play Simultaneously
« Reply #22 on: February 22, 2016, 06:07:44 AM »
Hi mole,
Robert Wilikins' material is not all of a piece.  Some of it is pretty hard blues, in terms of sentiment and rhythmic feel, but a portion of his repertoire, those songs I mentioned in the post preceding yours, are more along the lines of John Hurt or Frank Stokes in their use of alternating bass and more raggy feel.  All of his stuff is great, though, and if it appeals to you musically, you won't be bothered learning to cope with his different way of doing things, it will just be fun.  Best of luck with working on his songs.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Mark Miller

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Re: Songs for Beginning to Sing and Play Simultaneously
« Reply #23 on: March 01, 2016, 09:52:57 AM »
Thank you John.  I just ordered your Robert Wilkins video.  Always helps me a lot to be able to see the hand positions and techniques.  With any luck, after working through some of those, I'll be able to tackle the ones in your Country Blues book.  What fun!

Offline Johnm

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Re: Songs for Beginning to Sing and Play Simultaneously
« Reply #24 on: March 02, 2016, 08:57:38 AM »
I think you'll enjoy working on the Robert Wilkins songs, Mark.  He was a wonderful musician and I think the pieces are very accessible to play and sing, with work.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Johnm

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Re: Songs for Beginning to Sing and Play Simultaneously
« Reply #25 on: March 30, 2017, 08:24:51 AM »
Hi all,
This thread has not been posted to for a while and I think it is actually an important one in terms of building the skills that will enable playing all the music and not just the guitar parts.  I was listening to Bob Campbell's "Dices Blues" yesterday and today and realized that it is a good candidate for this thread, because apart from the V7 chord in the 9th bar, his vocal is exactly mirrored in his guitar accompaniment--they're right on top of each other.  The song is not easy to play, but it is not super daunting, either, and there is a lot of repetition, which is always helpful, in terms of picking a song up relatively quickly.  Here is Bob Campbell's performance of "Dices Blues":



All best,
Johnm

Offline obrigadotony

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Re: Songs for Beginning to Sing and Play Simultaneously
« Reply #26 on: April 12, 2017, 08:37:05 PM »
I think you need to dial it way down on the complexity of playing in order to sing and play at same time.  Even creole belle would be a challenge if you're a beginning singer.

I would start with "sweet home chicago" and other blues shuffles where the playing would/should be rote (assuming you aren't attempting the open string work on the G and E that RJ is doing).  Once you get comfortable singing and playing 'anything' then move on to Creole Belle etc. 

I would recommend even starting with "this land is your land" - I really the beginning singer is overcoming emotional/confidence challenges much more than 'vocal' challenges so you want to sing anything, even a cappella.  If this wasn't the case, I would have started singing at 13 rather than 33  ;)

Offline banjochris

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Re: Songs for Beginning to Sing and Play Simultaneously
« Reply #27 on: April 13, 2017, 10:50:11 AM »
Good point on "This Land is Your Land." I'll add that if you're just learning to integrate guitar and vocal, you couldn't do much better than playing Carter Family tunes. They're not fingerpicking blues (at least most of them aren't!) but you're playing the melody right along with the voice without a lot of rhythmic complexity. The thumb-lead style is always a good place to start. A lot of Lead Belly's numbers would be good candidates as well for the same reason.
Chris

Offline Johnm

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Re: Songs for Beginning to Sing and Play Simultaneously
« Reply #28 on: July 25, 2017, 08:34:07 AM »
Hi all,
I recently thought of a repertoire of tunes that I think would be great one for beginning to sing and play at the same time--the songs of Henry Thomas.  On many or most of his songs, Henry Thomas utilized pretty much of a boom-chang approach in the right hand, and it is a great and relatively simple way to accompany singing.  I intend to try some of these out in music camps this summer.  The fact that so many of his songs have great melodies doesn't hurt either.
All best,
Johnm

Offline DerZauberer

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Re: Songs for Beginning to Sing and Play Simultaneously
« Reply #29 on: July 26, 2017, 06:28:24 AM »
I've always liked Son House's "John The Revelator" or "Grinnin' In Your Face", no problem keeping guitar playing and singing in synch  ;)

Fun aside, this is a real problem I have, but admittedly since I consider myself no singer at all I've really done nothing to work against it. I find, however, that the songs I play the longest, songs that are so deeply committed in subconscious muscle memory, I can do a lot of things to and not lose a beat.

Overall, I see the following categories where I find it easier to sing to:
1) Classic Blues progression with "basic" chords and a few things thrown in, or shuffle rhythm - e.g. Sweet Home Chicago, Before You Accuse Me. Rollin' & Tumblin'
2) One-Chord Drone - e.g. Going Down South by RL Burnside
3) Free-Form with sparse playing - e.g. Hobo Blues by John Lee Hooker

The things that are "impossible" for me have things alike a steady alternating bass with the treble playing something differently, "ideally" a slide line that goes with (or against) whatever the voice is doing.
"The blues is not a plaything like some people think they are." - Son House

Offline Rivers

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Re: Songs for Beginning to Sing and Play Simultaneously
« Reply #30 on: July 26, 2017, 07:45:18 PM »
Trouble In Mind in the key of E is the easiest song I know how to sing.

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