Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog

Training & insights for stage and studio singers, speakers, vocal coaches and producers from professional vocal coach and author of "Power, Path & Performance" vocal training method. Download All Things Vocal podcast on your fav app!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Singing At The Piano? 7 Tips For Keyboard and Voice Synergy

As a singer who frequently plays keyboard instruments, and a vocal coach who works with a lot of piano players, there are things I've had to learn about the most efficient ways of accomplishing this musical multitasking. Depending on how you do it, playing keys can either help or hurt your singing. Here are 7 piano/singer tips for you:
  • Prepare by playing and singing separately.
It's extremely important to practice your voice and your keyboard separately so you can put your undivided attention to the task. When practicing the keyboard part, just sing very lightly if at all, going over to head voice on high parts. When practicing singing, sing acapella or to a piano track you've recorded, or just play "diamonds" or simple chord changes so that you can focus your attention on your vocal technique. When you get them both right and easy, start putting them together. If there are syncopated or complicated rhythms in the piano, even this can become muscle memory as you carefully put voice and fingers together and PRACTICE!
  • Get your posture right.
Sit or stand tall, retaining a flexible feeling in your spine. Slumping, for any reason, is "smooch de mort" (kiss of death) for the voice. It will negatively affect your inhale, breath support and control of breath. It will also tighten your throat. Standing or sitting...do not lean forward in such a way that you collapse your ribcage at all.
  • Get your mic right.
Make sure the mic is positioned close enough to your mouth so you don't have to lean over to sing into it. Also make sure it's high enough to encourage that tall spine. This will greatly improve your breath and open throat technique.
  • Get your power coming from your seat or your feet.
I see way too many keyboard players powering their voices from their shoulders. You need to center your power in your pelvic floor so you are not tempted to tighten your shoulders, neck, jaw- all of which tighten your throat and your breath. And absolutely yes, if you sit correctly, you can sing sitting as well as you can standing. But you must sit on the edge of your seat, not back into it, so that it feels the same as standing. Squeeze your butt against the seat for power. If you're standing, power from your heel.
  • Secure your pedals
If your feet have to slide forward looking for a slipping pedal, you will find your performance focus thrown off, along with a possible sudden posture slippage. Ducktape can be a keyboard player's lifesaver. I keep a roll in my cord bag at all times.
  • Lightly use your fingers on the keys to tip your balance over your tailbone instead of into the keys.
Don't press hard enough to cause tension in hands, wrists or fingers. Just lightly "intend" your fingers to keep you flexibly tall and open... and not slumping.
  • Be a singer who is playing piano... not a piano player who is singing.
This one is a mindset issue. You have to put your priority on communicating your voice, and your playing HAS to be secondary when you're doing it at the same time. For an interim instrumental bridge, go ahead and focus on the keys, but when it's time to sing.. back to your voice and the message you're delivering.

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  • At November 13, 2009 at 12:50 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

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  • At December 2, 2009 at 7:51 PM , Blogger Avocational Singer said...

    In a post on a message board for singer that I like to read (the New Forum for Classical Singers), someone embedded a video of Placido Domingo singing opera while accompanying himself on the piano. I was so impressed at this skill of his. I've tried to accompany myself for years, but I have to admit, I didn't follow one of your suggestions in that I haven't practiced the piano part enough on its own.

    If you want to read the post on the singer message board, here's a link:

    Gotta Love a Guy Who Can Accompany Himself on the Piano

  • At December 4, 2009 at 12:10 PM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Thanks so much for sending this great link... notice how he uses his face, his back stays flexible, and that in this video you get the sense that his singing is coming first.

    Good luck with my suggestions... let me know if they help you conquer this multitasking!

  • At January 13, 2010 at 9:35 AM , Blogger Avocational Singer said...

    Dear Judy,

    Thanks for your comments about my comment.

    I have been succeeded in posting an mp3 file of me accompanying myself in a song after trying to incorporate some of your suggestions about accompanying one's self on piano, specifically practicing the piano accompaniment more seriously.

    It is part of a larger project of mine where I'm challenging myself to learn the 24 Italian Songs and Arias from the standard learning book in 24 weeks. I'm learning a song a week and then posting a clip of each song that I learn using the accompaniment CD that comes with the book.

    But -- inspired by this idea of accompanying one's self -- for one song, "O cessate di piagarmi" I practiced the accompaniment along with the vocal, and then put them together. I found it helpful to meld the vocal and the left hand part together first (two "voices") before trying the whole thing together.

    I found it harder to "support" while sitting at the piano. I am just developing my middle voice range, and so that task was making the thing a bit more complicated. I tried to practice (separately from singing with the piano) finding support through my "bottom" and through the piano bench. I am used to getting support from strong legs on the floor, but figured it had to be possible to do it seated.

    I picked a very simple accompaniment for my first stab at this. If you would like to listen to it, here is the link.


  • At January 14, 2010 at 12:45 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

    Hello, Avocational Singer...

    Good job... what I would have you concentrate on if you were my student is crisping up your articulation and getting it out of your jaw. Lighten and pop your words.

    I've always love this song, btw... I did it for my "jury" as a vocal student in college. I like to use it as part of my warmup, but again, you need to learn to use your consonants differently to get it even better and better FOR your voice.

  • At August 26, 2011 at 6:37 AM , Anonymous Julie said...

    After doing a Google search for "tips for singing and playing the piano at the same time" I came across this post of yours - thank you.
    Not a very skilled pianist but I'm a 'background player' to our lead guitarist and only recently I've become more keen to use my voice (and work on my voice, which has "good pitch but lack of power"). Now I feel that I could improve my singing far more easily than improving my piano playing... Decisions, decisions! :)

  • At August 26, 2011 at 3:12 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

    Julie... so happy that my post inspired you! Hope you keep singing... and keep in touch.

  • At September 19, 2011 at 8:03 AM , Anonymous Cherry said...

    Found it! :))

  • At September 12, 2013 at 12:39 AM , Anonymous Fabio said...

    I like the last one a lot: Be a singer who is playing piano... not a piano player who is singing. My Korg has been sitting at home for months. I think I really should be learning how to play it so that i can sing with it.

  • At September 12, 2013 at 8:42 AM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    HA... DO IT, Fabio. Just remember to practice playing and singing separately until the playing is just part of your arms.

  • At August 4, 2021 at 10:20 AM , Blogger play said...

    Wonderful article. Fascinating to read. I love to read such an excellent article. Thanks! It has made my task more and extra easy. Keep rocking. piano lessons singapore price


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