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View Full Version : Did Frank Zappa struggle with the ukulele?



Icelander53
08-05-2014, 06:48 AM
Just to get your attention.

But I read that Frank Zappa (one of our great guitar virtuosos imo) could not sing and play his guitar at the same time. (maybe that solves the mystery of two or three guitarists on stage with him) I struggle here also. While I can do it to an extent I fall apart completely when I try to hold any mildly complex strumming pattern and also play chords and sing. I don't know how you all do that? I can just strum whatever my body wants to do when I sing but often it's not going well with the rhythm of the song or the song sounds rather dull and lifeless.

I was wondering if there are others who struggle with this and what if anything you've done to improve the situation?

I fear I will always be with FZ on this one.

janeray1940
08-05-2014, 07:49 AM
I've been playing uke for years now, but I'm not much of a singer and don't really do a lot of strumming per se. When I do find myself in a sing/strum situation, if I'm playing anything more complex than a straight 4/4 strum, I have to choose one or the other: sing, or play. I'm entirely incapable of doing both at the same time - and I'm totally okay with that since I'd rather focus my time on fingerpicking. But I'm guessing the way to improve it is the same as with all things that take practice: just do it, and do it a lot.

Steedy
08-05-2014, 07:55 AM
I don't think it's only you and Frank Zappa. I saw Dire Straits in concert and noticed that even Mark Knopfler had difficulty performing the song "Money for Nothing". On that night at least, he was clearly struggling to sing the song while playing that angry guitar riff, even though he was playing a simplified version that didn't sound much like the record. It was the first time I realized the guy is human. :cool:

FrankB
08-05-2014, 08:06 AM
I don't know about Frank Zappa, but I can't answer people's questions while playing. I can get how singing and playing something could be difficult, but why do people talk to me and ask questions while I'm playing???

ericchico
08-05-2014, 08:30 AM
If its playing some chords with a simple strum I can sing and make up songs while playing, other than that I have to shut up and pay attention. And I really suck at answering my wife or kids when Im in the middle of a song.

KnowsPickin
08-05-2014, 09:34 AM
A lot of this has to do with the right-brain/left-brain thing. You left brain likes nice linear/verbal information like lyrics, melodies/countermelodies and linear bass lines. Your right brain is spaceal. It likes shapes, textures and patterns like rhythm strumming or repeated finger picking patterns.

I'm also a bassist, so I will give a bassist example. David Crosby described playing bass and singing at the same time is like dialing two telephones to different numbers simultaneously. This is one reason you rarely find bassists who sing lead.

Most lead players play rhythm guitar/uke. The shape of the chords is spaceal. The movement of your right hand strumming is just repeated motor movement using right brain. Singing the lyrics and melody is very much a left brain activity. So rhythm and singing don't get in each others way.

Of course, even playing strum-strum-strum-strum over and over while singing requires basic practice to get used to. But I have a lot of respect for Geddy Lee or Mark Knoffler who can play complicated parts while singing.

Keep practicing!

FarmerBill
08-05-2014, 09:45 AM
Watch the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain and several of the players either sing of play but not both. They are all great players.

Bill

Bob-in-Alberta
08-05-2014, 10:14 AM
I've noticed the same thing with B B King. He either sings or plays, never both.

Icelander53
08-05-2014, 10:28 AM
Well from where I sit this is comforting news. I will continue to practice and I will get a little better because that's been happening but I going to be grateful for those gains and not feel cheated if I can't do it all.

Tootler
08-05-2014, 10:29 AM
BB King admits he can't sing and play at the same time - or at least he finds it very difficult.

Also watch George Formby. All his fancy strumming is while he is soloing. While he's singing it's very basic strumming.

kwall
08-05-2014, 12:27 PM
If you are in the same boat as Zappa that is an awesome boat :)

--

I find it hard to, Ive really only mastered a sing and strum with one pattern. but most of the time ill leave the singing to my friends

DownUpDave
08-05-2014, 12:53 PM
I have about 5 - 6 strum patterns I know really well and are smooth as butter, till I sing. I can sing and strum with a certain pattern I have learned for that song. Throw a different pattern, even one I know in my sleep into a familar song and it is a car wreck. I learned "Over the rainbow" with one pattern and it has taken me one month of practice to change it to DD UU DU and I am very comfortable with that patern just not while playing that song.

So glad to hear others are not all superstars, sometimes we all need company. Uncle Rods boot camp has helped me a lot and I can sing and play songs at will. I just have to go through the steps of building up one part at a time.

Pueo
08-05-2014, 01:21 PM
This.
I started taking guitar lessons when I was in fourth grade. I took private lessons until I went away to high school. As much as I wanted to, and as hard as I tried, I could never sing and play at the same time. Frustrating.

When I started playing ukulele about eight years ago, I was still unable to sing and play at the same time. I then decided that I MUST make this happen. I was very determined. I chose a song - Imagine by John Lennon - and then just started forcing myself to sing and play at the same time. It took me about a week, about an hour a day or more, and then - CLICK! - just like flipping a switch I could do it. Easily. It was very exciting. I grabbed all my old music and songsheets and could immediately sing and play pretty much anything if I knew how the song went.

Keep at it, you will get it. Just be determined and work through the stoppages.

ohmless
08-05-2014, 02:36 PM
BB King admits he can't sing and play at the same time - or at least he finds it very difficult.

Also watch George Formby. All his fancy strumming is while he is soloing. While he's singing it's very basic strumming.

I agree with your message, but boy, saying he does very basic strumming during his singing is tough for me to take being someone just learning my first formby song right now(I still don't feel ready). I can see the adjective of more being used more appropriately than the word very.

Daktari
08-05-2014, 02:42 PM
I play and sing. Of the two it's the voice that people notice. Good job too.

I play better when I don't sing and sing better when I don't play. I've always played guitar and just worked extra hard to make the singing and playing seamless. Although I've never ventured into anything particularly complicated to play. I left that to my guitarist dude who play when we recorded stuff.

As a 5'1" slender female (far from a lady though!) I always felt like I was wrestling a full size guitar. So coming over to ukulele is proving a real joy. I feel so at home with the uke because it's my size, I don't have to wrestle the damn thing into submission. Entirely because of this I'm interested in learning some instrumental stuff as well as playing and singing lots of old and new songs.

I've been screwing up the courage to make a wee youtube vid to put up for a little peer reviewing of my uke progress. *gulp*

ohmless
08-05-2014, 02:44 PM
I have been too intimidated until lately to even try to add any style to my strumming until lately so I am very bad at it. I can calypso strum fine when not singing but can't keep rhythm for long if singing. the frustration prevents me from focusing on that skill more. Also just a couple weeks ago I started singing with my playing but started with basic songs in my repertoire. I still haven't gotten my simple rhythm playing and chord accuracy that I had when not singing, but my singing is lagging behind so I am going with it anyways. Figuring it would come with time and practice eventually.

Icelander53
08-05-2014, 03:16 PM
This.
I started taking guitar lessons when I was in fourth grade. I took private lessons until I went away to high school. As much as I wanted to, and as hard as I tried, I could never sing and play at the same time. Frustrating.

When I started playing ukulele about eight years ago, I was still unable to sing and play at the same time. I then decided that I MUST make this happen. I was very determined. I chose a song - Imagine by John Lennon - and then just started forcing myself to sing and play at the same time. It took me about a week, about an hour a day or more, and then - CLICK! - just like flipping a switch I could do it. Easily. It was very exciting. I grabbed all my old music and songsheets and could immediately sing and play pretty much anything if I knew how the song went.

Keep at it, you will get it. Just be determined and work through the stoppages.

That's a great success story.

VegasGeorge
08-05-2014, 03:17 PM
I sing and play at the same time naturally. I don't really have to think about it, as far as doing both is concerned. However, I do have to switch my attention back and forth between my vocal intonation and words, and my chording and rhythms . I suppose after I get a few tunes fully memorized and rehearsed umpteen times, it will all fall in place more readily. I seem to remember that it was that way when I was playing and singing every day years ago. But for now, I need time and patience.

Bagaag
08-05-2014, 04:11 PM
I don't know about Frank Zappa, but I can't answer people's questions while playing. I can get how singing and playing something could be difficult, but why do people talk to me and ask questions while I'm playing???

Yes! This drives me nuts. And it drives my family nuts. They talk to me as if I can carry on a conversation... I stare that them blankly, not processing what they've said at all, and keep playing. :)

I can sing and play no problem though. Not sure what the trick was - it was never a struggle for me. But I gather like most things, it can be overcome with practice (start easy and work up).

Edit: Actually, this gives me a great idea! Next time I'll try and sing my response. Maybe that would work.

gardens_guitar
08-05-2014, 05:50 PM
B.B. King Lucille (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Y8QxOjuYHg). The song explains the interaction between BB's singing and playing Lucille.

PereBourik
08-05-2014, 06:39 PM
It was liberating to learn that there are really only 2 strums: up or down. I sing and I make the chord shapes. I just let the strum follow along. I seem to strum with the rhythm of the verse. Sounds ok. Sometimes I can work in a little syncopation.

Trying to expand my chord memory is my challenge.

stevejfc
08-05-2014, 08:47 PM
I don't have a problem singing and playing at the same time. For some reason though, I have a problem singing in key while playing the uke. I don't have this problem with the guitar or piano............................weird.

coolkayaker1
08-06-2014, 03:59 AM
The proven secret to singing while playing the ukulele: two-track recording.

Rllink
08-06-2014, 04:17 AM
Yes! This drives me nuts. And it drives my family nuts. They talk to me as if I can carry on a conversation... I stare that them blankly, not processing what they've said at all, and keep playing. :)

I can sing and play no problem though. Not sure what the trick was - it was never a struggle for me. But I gather like most things, it can be overcome with practice (start easy and work up).

Edit: Actually, this gives me a great idea! Next time I'll try and sing my response. Maybe that would work.As far as singing and playing, for me they just kind of go together. Singing is way out of my comfort zone, but getting out of my comfort zone is part of what this is all about. Playing in public is out of my comfort zone too. OK, so it is just me and the wife when it comes to family, and we sit together a lot looking around on the internet, watching TV, my wife taking her on line Spanish lessons, and sometimes I just sit there playing the uke, strumming chords, picking out scales, and the like. My wife talks to me all the time while I'm doing that. I talk to her. It has really helped me multi task on the ukulele. Sometimes while we are talking, I'll just bounce between two or three chords. Sometimes I just strum real quietly while we are watching the news or something like that. I sit out on my front porch and play a lot, and the neighbors walk by. They always make comments when they walk by, usually nice comments, and I respond while I'm playing. This has all been going on since day one, so it is becoming natural.

coolkayaker1
08-06-2014, 04:23 AM
I'm not aware if Mr. Zappa struggled with the ukulele, but he did struggle with naming children.

Just ask his daughter, Moon Unit.

ericchico
08-06-2014, 04:38 AM
So this post got me thinking and I googled Tommy E. Ukulele and found this little gem. One of the greatest guitarist playing a Uke backstage and singing.
http://youtu.be/8774DAut-W4

70sSanO
08-06-2014, 10:08 AM
While I don't sing that well, I have not found any problem singing while playing guitar. It is pretty common if you are playing chords. Look at all the folk and wooden music like CSN from the 60's.

What I find utterly amazing are the bass players who can sing lead vocals... McCartney, Jack Bruce, Sting are just phenomenal. I've played some bass and I can't ever imagine trying to lay down a line and sing anything melodic or otherwise.

John

Icelander53
08-06-2014, 01:10 PM
I don't really have a problem singing and playing chords. It's just holding a strumming pattern that has any complexity or changes that throws me for a loop.

Pueo
08-06-2014, 01:22 PM
While I don't sing that well, I have not found any problem singing while playing guitar. It is pretty common if you are playing chords. Look at all the folk and wooden music like CSN from the 60's.

What I find utterly amazing are the bass players who can sing lead vocals... McCartney, Jack Bruce, Sting are just phenomenal. I've played some bass and I can't ever imagine trying to lay down a line and sing anything melodic or otherwise.

John
Not to mention Phil Lynott and Geddy Lee...

FrankB
08-06-2014, 02:02 PM
While I don't sing that well, I have not found any problem singing while playing guitar. It is pretty common if you are playing chords. Look at all the folk and wooden music like CSN from the 60's.

What I find utterly amazing are the bass players who can sing lead vocals... McCartney, Jack Bruce, Sting are just phenomenal. I've played some bass and I can't ever imagine trying to lay down a line and sing anything melodic or otherwise.

John

Sting came to mind for me as well, but John Mayer does very well playing lead (solo) and singing.

Freeda
08-06-2014, 02:33 PM
I don't really have a problem singing and playing chords. It's just holding a strumming pattern that has any complexity or changes that throws me for a loop.

This. Exactly this.

PereBourik
08-06-2014, 03:19 PM
How about going back to basics? The uke group around here starts meetings with simple two chord song sing alongs. Things ramp up. But the idea remains. Start simple and build on it. Singing is a skill like any other. Start where you can. For me it was Buffalo Gals and an old folk song if knew inside out.

itsme
08-06-2014, 04:53 PM
I'm not really a singer, but I can pretty much strum and sing along, since that's what a lot of the meetups around here are.

Like a few others have said, I find it impossible to concentrate on playing and being able to talk at the same time.

It's amazing how many people don't realize the difficulty and will try to "chat you up" while you're playing.

I will usually stop and tell them that I can't talk and play at the same time, kinda like walking and chewing gum. :p

iamesperambient
08-06-2014, 05:25 PM
Just to get your attention.

But I read that Frank Zappa (one of our great guitar virtuosos imo) could not sing and play his guitar at the same time. (maybe that solves the mystery of two or three guitarists on stage with him) I struggle here also. While I can do it to an extent I fall apart completely when I try to hold any mildly complex strumming pattern and also play chords and sing. I don't know how you all do that? I can just strum whatever my body wants to do when I sing but often it's not going well with the rhythm of the song or the song sounds rather dull and lifeless.

I was wondering if there are others who struggle with this and what if anything you've done to improve the situation?

I fear I will always be with FZ on this one.

ive honestly never had too much of a difficult time with this problem however only one song has stumped me which i can not for the life of me sing and play and its a simple song one of the first i ever learned 'come as you are' by nirvana the melody and vocal pattern is so different i can't sing the verse and play at the sametime, i really honestly have no idea how kurt did it.