Can you speak, or sing, while playing fiddle?

Can you speak, or sing, while playing fiddle?

Are able to speak (next tune title), or even maybe sing, while playing fiddle?
Is the difficulty within the brain function, or is it just practice?
Cheers.

Re: Can you speak, or sing, while playing fiddle?

Tom Spiers, Aberdeen singer, has been doing it for 50 years.

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Re: Can you speak, or sing, while playing fiddle?

A couple of years ago I heard two Lowland two pipers playing and singing in harmony, so for some instruments I know it’s possible. I’ve even read that some Lowland pipers in the 18th century could play, sing and dance at the same time. The fiddle probably has different dynamics. I’ve never tried singing while fiddling, but I CAN dance some reel steps while playing, as long as the tune isn’t too complicated. So I suspect it really is a matter of practice.

Re: Can you speak, or sing, while playing fiddle?

Some peripatetic ‘dancing masters’ would play a small violin whilst teaching dances. Said instrument was carried inside their coat hanging from a cord or similar.
So I guess that not only being able to speak while playing but dance as well!
At best I have been able to manage a couple of verses of a song before losing my way - and only on my own at home, I wouldn’t dare try in public!
Lovely to watch Tom McConville perform. Marvellous.

Re: Can you speak, or sing, while playing fiddle?

Practice

Re: Can you speak, or sing, while playing fiddle?

Hi John, - if you’re referring to the clip I posted above, that’s Tom Spiers, not McConville.

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Re: Can you speak, or sing, while playing fiddle?

> is it just practice?

It is just practice, but it has to be directed practice, like anything.

I mean, what would the difference between fiddle and singing and guitar and singing be, neurologically?

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Re: Can you speak, or sing, while playing fiddle?

I think it depends on what you’re playing, Calum. If the guitar is strumming chords and the fiddle is playing a melody there’s a lot more thought in the fiddle. If the fiddle is chopping and the guitar is playing fingerstyle there will be a lot more thought in the guitar.

Re: Can you speak, or sing, while playing fiddle?

Tom McConville plays mainly double stop chords while he’s singing - Bruce Molsky does a similar thing in Old -Timey songs. So its not really that different to playing chords on a guitar or mando whilst singing.

Re: Can you speak, or sing, while playing fiddle?

My fiddle player friend told me that Liz Carroll came to one of our local sessions back in the day (before I was involved in the local scene) and would lilt some of the next tunes while playing the end of the last. It seems impossible but he swears on it and he’s a very practical type of guy - not one prone for exaggeration.

Re: Can you speak, or sing, while playing fiddle?

No.

Re: Can you speak, or sing, while playing fiddle?

"Tom McConville plays mainly double stop chords while he’s singing …"

Way back, around 1981/1982 (I moved to Vermont late in ‘82), I was living in Miami - then a wasteland* when it came to traditional music. I found in a record store (mostly rock-n-roll) a Tom McConville / Kieran Halpin recording - Port of Call. Bought it without having a clue who they were. Brilliant music, and it blew me away. I still have the LP, but wished it were available in CD form. The recording is long out of print.

I’ve seen Bruce M. many, many times live. He is brilliant at singing while playing fiddle. And he’s not always just playing chords/double stops.

* about 6 months or so after I left Miami, James Kelly moved there. Energized the then very tiny ITM scene.

Cheers.

Matt

Re: Can you speak, or sing, while playing fiddle?

I am just back from holidays in Shetland and there i visited a session in Bixter. There was a guy playing fiddle and singing a song while playing melody. So yes, it is possible. It is praxis and routine. Regarding talking while playing. I was on a Van Morrison concert and they had technical problems in the beginning. So there was a technican on stage, talking several minutes with the keypoard player while he was playing his stuff. He didn’t even look on the keyboard while he was talking with the technican.

Re: Can you speak, or sing, while playing fiddle?

I’m able, to some extent. Being a drummer in a former life helps this type of independence.

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Re: Can you speak, or sing, while playing fiddle?

I’ve experimented with singing while fiddling just enough to know that I could get it if I worked long and hard at it. That said, it’s not hard to sing a ditty that’s basically diddling made up for the tune, but an actual song is a different matter, because the lyrics almost never match the tune exactly in a consistent way - in other words, in one verse, you’ll have one syllable per single note, which is fine, but the next verse, you’ll have a couple of syllables on one note or one syllable on two notes, so you’ve either got to have/develop that "type of independence" or work out separate bowing if not fingering for each verse. Or just provide yourself an accompaniment of drones and chords, which can still be tricky.

As for talking - I find it a mental effort just to call out the key.

It’s a different matter with other instruments - lots of, if not most, competent pianists can sing or talk while playing with no particular effort. French horn or oboe is another matter again.

Re: Can you speak, or sing, while playing fiddle?

No, but I don’t play a fiddle anyway. Still I can’t do it when I play any instrument (except my bass).

Re: Can you speak, or sing, while playing fiddle?

Día dhaoibh! Greetings one and all!

I do like this discussion and hope many will gain confidence enough to expand their horizons.

On a humorous note I’ve heard many a fiddle player discussing the next round of drinks, or even ordering them, whilst in full flight, let alone what the next tune might be.

Regarding the ‘more thought process if fingerpicking the guitar’, I don’t strum or chop; I have always fingerpicked when I sing. It allows the freedom of expression that a rhythmic framework inhibits.

‘meself’ mentioned that phrases in a song might change from verse to verse and to me that is the crux of the matter!

When I sing ‘as gaeilge’ I quite often play the fiddle at the same time.
Yes, the lyrics require different bowings.
But isn’t that the same as all the articulation required to speak or sing, to enunciate all the different consonants?
I must admit I can’t play a counter melody on the fiddle when singing, I just can’t do that…yet!

On the flute however, especially when playing jazz, I can sing whilst playing. It generates some amazing overtones. And I can sing a harmony line which raises some incredible tonal qualities.

So, please explore your instrument and enjoy the freedom, not the constrictions you might believe exist!

All the best

Brian x

Re: Can you speak, or sing, while playing fiddle?

At a session a while back, somebody asked the name of the tune.
A flute playing friend of mine, while playing, said the name of the tune.
I said, "Wow, I didn’t know you could talk while playing flute".
He said, "I didn’t either".
All without skipping a note.

Re: Can you speak, or sing, while playing fiddle?

Bruce Molsky does a DVD called Singing with the Fiddle, it’s pretty good although very challenging to actually do!

Re: Can you speak, or sing, while playing fiddle?

I find talking while playing to be very difficult, whatever instrument it is. The difficulty while playing fiddle is augmented by the necessity of using one’s jaw to speak.

Re: Can you speak, or sing, while playing fiddle?

Some play holding the fiddle lower; I play my hardanger thusly. This has made me occasionally/increasingly play std fiddle on my chest 🙂

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Re: Can you speak, or sing, while playing fiddle?

I cannot say a word while I’m fiddlling, but I’m also not that good 🙂 I’ve been playing for four years, and if I say something I lose my place! But I think that’s just inexperience. I’ve heard some fiddlers sing. The American fiddler Bruce Molsky even harmonizes with himself!

Re: Can you speak, or sing, while playing fiddle?

I don’t think it’s fiddle specific: I have encountered the same while learning various instruments: piano, guitar, bodhran, button accordion, It’s only when you get to a certain degree of familiarity with, and proficiency on, said instrument that you can talk or sing while playing, a bit like talking or singing while driving a car!
What I would question though, having seen some of my pals playing: is it possible to SMILE while playing fiddle?
I honestly believe that tucking that fiddle under the chin paralyses the facial muscles! 😉

Re: Can you speak, or sing, while playing fiddle?

If I am playing something that by now comes naturally, I can just about hold a conversation as I play (or, at least for long enough to tell someone to shut-up). As for singing, well apart from ‘diddley diddly’ and ‘diddle de-de’, just about everything I play has no words that I know of.

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Re: Can you speak, or sing, while playing fiddle?

Oh yes, and in response to Trish’s comment, I find it impossible to smile while I play.

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Re: Can you speak, or sing, while playing fiddle?

One could drone on fiddle, and could sing, or play guitar chords and sing. Both of those require minimal complexity, and are essentially rhythmic, and both hands work toward a common purpose.

What I find interesting is how someone can play piano and sing - each hand is doing a totally separate thing, isn’t it? Both are not working to do the same thing, eg play a note, or a chord, as on fiddle/guitar.

Just a thought.

Re: Can you speak, or sing, while playing fiddle?

As for drummers! Much maligned, but doing 4 different things at once before they even try to sing! 2 hands, 2 feet + voice, all doing different things! Phil Collins (Genesis) springs to mind

Re: Can you speak, or sing, while playing fiddle?

No. Sometimes I have to remember to breathe 🙂

Re: Can you speak, or sing, while playing fiddle?

Yes all the time! It’s easier for me to sing and play the same tune, or drone chords behind a song, but often I do finish up a conversation if the tunes start up during a session, or lilt a bit of the next tune if I’m leading a set and it’s hard to hear.
I think it’s just practice, but you need to have your muscle memory working independently to keep playing. So you could start with a tune you know well, and then take steps to get there…try closing your eyes, walking while you play, humming the same tune you’re playing, and then saying simple phrases “my name is x” “today is Tuesday”.

Re: Can you speak, or sing, while playing fiddle?

Since fretted instruments are my focus, I can’t comment on fiddling and singing. I’ve found that since I was trained classically (I seldom strum), I 99.9% of the time fingerstyle, so I have to concentrate on the singing and let muscle memory play the guitar if I’m the lead voice. If I’m harmonizing to another’s lead, I can let more of my mind play the instrument. So while singing I avoid instinctively difficult
passages/fingerwork in favor of simpler patterns. There were exceptions to this. When I’d switch to Tenor Banjo for some pub songs, I would use a plectrum rather than fingerpick. There, verses and choruses were usually strummed in a pattern to accentuate the rhythm of the tune, but I’d return to playing the melody/harmony supported by an occassional chord for an instrumental break (really more of a clawhammer style, the pick hitting the passage while my middle, ring and pinky would strike the supporting chord on an upstroke). It does take a lot of practice, and there are some that are very adept and make it appear effortless.

Re: Can you speak, or sing, while playing fiddle?

We can and you can too. Practice.

Re: Can you speak, or sing, while playing fiddle?

I have trouble speaking/singing when playing ANY instrument!

Re: Can you speak, or sing, while playing fiddle?

I enjoyed this discussion thread and thanks for the video links. Being first a pianist, singing is no problem when playing any instrument that is not close to my face. It is probably about what you get used to doing as you learn to play, and we always had lots of singing in my house when growing up. Playing the violin, however, I find restricts the air flow for singing because of the posture and the location of the violin on the chin. Perhaps singing violinists change their position somewhat to improve their air flow?

Re: Can you speak, or sing, while playing fiddle?

yes you can if there is words. However, you have to know that fiddle song with words very, very well.

Re: Can you speak, or sing, while playing fiddle?

"I don’t think it’s fiddle specific: … "

I vigorously disagree. I’ve been playing fiddle for thirty-five years or so, and find it a real effort to sing or talk while playing. On guitar or piano, talking and singing take no effort whatsoever, for me - and I suspect that many others find the same thing.

Re: Can you speak, or sing, while playing fiddle?

I think singing and dancing while playing may be different from - easier than - talking - insofar as singing and dancing might be repeating memorised words and steps, while playing memorised notes, respectively. Whereas talking implies that you might utter a sentence perhaps that you have never said ever before. That suggests to me there is a lot more going on (particularly if you’re the kind of person who tends to first articulate in your head what you’re about to say out loud) when you talk and play. I see it happen quite often though, particularly at the end of a mid-set tune, in order to tell the backer the key of the next tune.

Re: Can you speak, or sing, while playing fiddle?

There’s some neuroscience involved. It comes naturally for some people, some pick it up with practice, and it’s really hard for others.

Music, for me, is strongly wired to the nonverbal parts of my brain. I have a hard time even following the lyrics when someone is singing a song, unless I concentrate on them to the exclusion of the music.