One Of Those “Ah!” Moments

Something a lot of people don’t understand is that singing while playing the cello is hard. People sing while playing guitar all the time; why can’t cellists sing too? Despite how easy Jorane makes it look, it’s really a challenge and it’s something I’ve never really been able to articulate to other musicians other than to say, “No, it’s just hard.”

I finally figured out why, thanks to a thread over at NewDirectionsCello.com. Someone asked why it’s so hard, and why guitarists can do it with greater ease, and someone hit on the answer. It’s because the physicality of playing the cello is more involved and complex than that of playing the guitar. Basically, the movements required and the muscles used include those of the muscles one would use to sing.

To expound: one uses one’s ENTIRE body to play the cello, to especially include the diaphragm and body core (EVERY muscle is highly active in cello performance, to include even the legs and feet). Breathing is extremely important with the cello, ergo a conflict may ensue between the cello and voice.

And that’s a huge part of it. To begin with, it’s hard to sing sitting down, because your torso has less room to expand and there’s less support for the column of air. It’s difficult to keep the muscles in the centre of the body relaxed enough while playing to use them to sing as well. Sure, you could play standing up (again I point to Jorane as an example), but that requires learning an entire new style of physically playing the instrument. Your angles are different, the weight distribution is different, and so forth. And basically it’s hard to use muscles for two different things at once, when each requires so much energy. One might as well ask a saxophonist to tap dance while playing, for example.

Apart from that, other musicians on the thread (who play both instruments) pointed out that the cello seems to take more attention to play. This may be because of all the frequent and freakishly minute muscular changes constantly required to balance movement and direction in both hands and arms, for example. Some say they can sing along only if the cello line is simple enough (and, one imagines, the key). Others have problems with the rhythm of the vocal and the cello lines being different. It’s all food for thought, and provided me with an “Aha!” moment. I know how involved my torso muscles are when I play, and I wonder why I never made the connection before.

9 thoughts on “One Of Those “Ah!” Moments

  1. Phnee

    I had the same trouble singing while playing the drums: keeping time and using all four sets of limbs to play made singing/remembering lyrics kind of complex. :P

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  2. Talyesin

    No no no no no. Singing and playing guitar is hard, too. There’s a reason I stop playing during Strychnine, and focus on only one note for many bars on Montreal.

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  3. Owldaughter Post author

    I’m not saying singing and playing guitar is easy, only that it appears to be easier. The movements required are different. But I hear you; Jan used to change stuff because her fingers/hand/arm just wouldn’t move in the way the music required her to move, so she worked around it by substituting or making up a new position.

    And Phnee: I don’t know of any singing drummers (other than as backup with other band members) although I suppose there must be some. Mind you, I can’t imagine how you do something completely different with each limb in a song anyway, but that’s why you’re a percussionist and I’m not!

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  4. Curtana

    The Eagles’ drummer was their lead singer – I forget his name, though. I think the drummer from the Bangles also sang at least some of their songs. Plus Ringo, of course ;)

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  5. Tay

    It’s not hard to sing and play cello at the same time. Now singing in tune and correctly is a completely different story :).

    Reply

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