Accompanying a vocalist on the guitar is a skill that is sometimes overlooked by guitarists, especially when the attention is usually on playing the fastest shred licks possible or how many effects pedals one can fit on their pedalboard. One skill that’s very important as a performing guitarist, and is something that will lead to many more gigs, is the ability to make a vocalist feel comfortable and supported, especially in the context of an acoustic duo which will be much more stripped back than a full band setting, and be more exposing for all parties. In this article, guest blogger and professional guitarist Cameron Hayes tells you all about how to achieve the skill of accompanying a vocalist.

How To Accompany A Vocalist On The Guitar

Listen to the Vocalist!

Probably the most important thing to do when accompanying a vocalist on the guitar is to listen to them! This may sound obvious, but you would be surprised by how many guitarists are stuck in their own world when accompanying a singer, thinking about what section is coming next or why their E string keeps buzzing, or what they’re going to have for dinner later! When I’m playing with a vocalist, particularly in a duo, I try to pretend that I am the one singing so I can really lock into where the vocalist is feeling the pulse of the beat, and what they are trying to do dynamically with the song. Locking in with their timing is very important to create a tight and professional sound, which is why it may be worth either you or the vocalist counting in the tune to determine the tempo. This can be a little tricky, especially under pressure, so this would definitely be worth practicing in rehearsal. To make for a more dynamic performance, try to listen to the vocalist’s dynamics from section to section. Typically, the verses will be a little softer than the chorus, and the loudest and most exciting part of the tune will most likely be the last chorus, so listen out and match your guitar playing to this. Sometimes mistakes will happen during the gig, for example the vocalist may sing a double chorus where it should just be a single, so make sure you are on the ball to support this change of structure. One part of a song where it’s particularly important to be listening out for vocal cues will be the ending of the tune, which will often be improvised during a live gig if the original ending is not suitable (e.g. a fade out).

Composition of Parts

Many cover songs that a duo will be playing in an acoustic setting will be tunes that are full band orientated, meaning there will typically be guitars, bass, keyboards, drums, and other percussion elements to support the vocal in the original recorded version. It is very important when playing with a vocalist in a duo to replicate elements of all these instruments to create a full sound that the vocal can happily sit on top of. If the guitar in the original track is playing very simple and spacious chords that are not really that noticeable in the original version, it would be rather silly of me to turn up to a gig and play this exact same thing in a duo as it would be far too sparse, and be incredibly awkward for the vocalist to sing over!

  • You want to replicate first and foremost the harmony that is being played in the original (the chords),
  • then any bass riffs that need to be played around these chords,
  • and any percussive elements that you have room to also put around these other elements. The guitar can actually be a rather percussive instrument. For example, by slapping your right hand (or strumming hand) against the strings on beats two and four, you can replicate the sound of a snare drum. Other muting techniques can also be used to replicate percussive instruments such as hi-hats as well.

Volume

Another thing that may seem obvious, but countless guitarists seem to always forget, is to not be too loud! This is more common when talking in the context of electric guitarists, but can also be an issue on the acoustic guitar. Not only will this be irritating for the vocalist, but will sound silly for the audience, since many people are going to identify with the vocal melodies and lyrics of a song before the chords, so it is very important that this is heard. Another reason to take this advice is if you want to be called back for the next gig, so don’t drown out your vocalist! Having said this, the flip side of the coin is that if your guitar is too quiet, this will not provide enough support for the singer and may sound unbalanced, so finding that perfect middle ground is worth doing during rehearsal and soundcheck, and may be something that has to be tweaked during the gig. It takes time to instinctively know the appropriate volume, but the first step is being aware.

Conclusion

This is all by no means an overnight process to gain the skill of accompanying a vocalist on the guitar, but is something that is worked at over time. Why not get in contact with a friend of yours that sings and needs a guitarist to jam some cover songs? Start by listening to them and moving with them through the song to create one tight sound. Before too long, your performance will be ready for any stage to entertain an audience.

See also

» Acoustic Guitar Amplifiers
» Effects for Acoustic Guitar
» Guitar Stools
» Feedback Busters
» All Guitars & Accessories

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» How to Play Great Solos Over Chord Progressions
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» Playing Guitar Without a Plectrum: Fingerpicking
» Open G Tuning: The Key to the Rolling Stones
» Guitar Chords: CAGED Major
» Learning to Read Guitar Tabs

Guest Blogger Cameron Hayes (The London Guitar Institute)

Cameron Hayes is a guitar educator at The London Guitar Institute, teaching a wide range of styles such as rock, metal, blues, jazz, folk, RnB, acoustic, and many more! He teaches a large volume of students on a weekly basis and always looks to provide outstanding value in each and every lesson!

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