Tips to Singers

17 replies [Last post]
Joined: 23 Apr 2007
Groups: None
Tips to Singers

I appreciate a good singer at a jam. It means I can concentrate on my playing while someone else carries the tune (in more ways than one). But I am finding that some singers do not understand the process of playing with a vocalist so I'm re-posting this here.

Singers new to jams need to understand:

1- Just because you learned the song in the key of Db doesn't mean we're going to play it in Db.

2- Asking five or six musicians to find the key for you based on something you hummed to us is not the way to endear yourself to us.

3- You may be a great karaoke singer on Thursday night but that doesn't mean we want to hear you on every song.

4- No, I don't know any Taylor Swift songs for your 6-year old to sing.

5- Stay with the beat!

Any other tips to singers?

Commenting on this Forum topic is closed.

Joined: 28 Mar 2007
Groups: None
Tips to Singers/ Players

Actually, as a singer AND a player, I believe if the singer sings in Db solidly, the players should follow suit. No less a personage than Bill Monroe sang in Bb and B and made his musicians follow in those keys (tough on the fiddlers who can't use a capo).

However, the exception is if a singer or instrumentalist is tuned flat or harp, they should conform to standard pitch and not expect the jam to tune to them.

The rest of the tips I agree with. ;)


Joined: 23 Apr 2007
Groups: None

I am also a singer AND player and I disagree that the players should conform to the singer's key if it is out of the ordinary. Mr. Monroe's band knew ahead of time what key the song would be in and were ready for the changes.

Most of the folks I jam with or have jammed with can usually transpose keys fairly easily if they were dealing with 3 chord songs or just slapping on the capo.

My point, however, was and still is that newcomers, especially singers, should adapt to the flow of the jam and not vice versa.

There was some tongue in cheek included, too. Miss that?

Joined: 21 Nov 2008
Groups: None
keys to sing in

I agree that capos pretty much solve problem. I thought the original comment was addressed to the situation where odd keys came up that could not be readily capo'd to. That normally invites disaster for playing along in a jam. Sometimes a few can transpose and be comfortable but the rest just muck it up or quit playing.

Joined: 14 Oct 2008
Groups: Jersey Jam
As Steve said: "... the rest

As Steve said: "... the rest just muck it up or quit playing." That's my experience at "bluegrass-ish" jams.

Keep in mind that some instruments don't adapt well to capos, plus some PLAYERS don't adapt well to capos. Since Bill Monroe sometimes played in B or Bb, folks will find a way; since he never (or rarely?) played in Eb... THAT becomes a poltical issue!

- Ed

another view

I think when the spot light is on you, it's your turn, you decide whatever key to sing or play in. Any decent musician should be able to follow it and if not, it wouldn't kill you to keep your instrument quiet for a song. Anything on the fretboard can be held 10 different ways, use a capo and figure them out. Almost every jam, someone will bring something new to the table and most of us musicians are respectful enough to just sit back and listen, learn something and if possible follow along. We all walk away more educated.

Joined: 23 Apr 2007
Groups: None
Well, "figuring it out" while

Well, "figuring it out" while everyone else sits and waits seems impolite and would probably be a real jam killer in most circles. What I would probably do is suggest, then play a bit, in another more acceptable key in hopes that the singer could adapt.

Most jams, at the least the one's I'm privy to, are made up of musicians who don't have regular gigs or play professionally. As I implied in my first post, tongue firmly planted in cheek, is a singer should avail themselves to the abilities of the musicians.

I sincerely hope that your comment- "Any decent musician..." was referring to decency of manners as opposed to "accomplished". Either way your comment smacks of condescension.

Joined: 6 Mar 2011
Groups: None
No power trips-just cooperation

If the singer doesn't have a good sence of pitch, they will not know in what key they are singing anyway.If they do, sing away.Otherwise let the musicians start it of in a key that is within the range of the singer.If their is no give and take you will just be butting heads.

Joined: 6 Mar 2011
Groups: None


Joined: 6 Mar 2011
Groups: None


Joined: 6 Mar 2011
Groups: None
Capo is mostly a crutch

In most instances a capo is a crutch.It is not hard at all to play in flat or sharp keys.If you play full chords find the root note and barre them with major and minor variations etc..If you want something in the lower register then capo's are no good.They only raise pitch.You could re-tune every note on the low side and capo it but that would be a major hassle lol.

Joined: 23 Apr 2007
Groups: None


Um, no. I have enough experience that I can transpose on the fly but what I am talking about, which you've missed entirely, is that when a singer comes to a jam he or she should be as flexible as the players. But asking the players to transpose a song to an uncommon key (such as Db, as mentioned initially) is a bit unreasonable. Instead, the singer should be more flexible since his/her voice is easier to "tune" than a stringed instrument.

"Capo is mostly a crutch"

When I see people making such a statement it reminds me of a fellow MENSA member saying that the average person sucks at math because they are lazy. I guess the same could be said then of those of us who use electronic tuners because we are not capable of tuning using intuition.
Hum...I believe that most musicians would call a capo (and a tuner) another tool in a musician's toolbox. Retuning or detuning can be tedious at a jam, especially since a jam is supposed to be a casual affair anyway.

Joined: 14 Mar 2011
Groups: None
Yeah but singers are far more

Yeah but singers are far more limited in their range than an instrumentalist. It behooves the musicians to transpose if they want to play with a particular singer who has a very limited range. Not everyone is a virtuoso with a 3 octave range.

Joined: 28 Mar 2007
Groups: None


I didn't miss the Taylor Swift reference. But I stand by my assertion that player should adapt to singers, IF they know their key and can stay on pitch. With some singers who don't play an instrument, I let them start singing, and I "find" their key. If they veer a little off the key, I stay put, as a "guide". Different strokes for different folks. But I don't allow a pitch-challenged singer to dominate a session or jam


Joined: 14 Aug 2009
Groups: None
Singers changing to what the instrumentalists can easily do....

I am sure having some trouble figuring out all the issues that are being brought up. If you can actually PLAY an instrument, learn to do it well. I love Psalms 33 Play skillfully and with a LOUD noise.
If all you want to play are simple tunes, stick with OLD bluegrass and old timey tunes and don't get involved with singers that have more ability. I play WESTERN SWING, Southern Gospel Quartet, Bluegrass (old and new) and at 63 years old, I can play most of what you want to sing. I do think it's a shame that we have to dummy down the songs we choose to sing many times just to try and satisfy older players that never got any better. I don't own a capo, but if I did, there ...shouldn't be any key that was difficult... should there ?
Part of the fun of playing music is getting better at it, and if you want to know something, politely ask. It might help more than one person to get better.

Joined: 14 Aug 2009
Groups: None
Stay with the beat ??

I can't tell you how many times "musicians" started a song off so fast the singer couldn't put ANY EXPRESSION into the song they chose. One more little hint... sometimes a pause in playing is better than a G run ...yet again.

Joined: 14 Jun 2009
Groups: None
capo crutch

you can sing in a lower key..... we just capo up and sing an octave lower! a capo is a crutch, yes, but a very useful one!


I seldom use a capo when flat picking; but when I fingerstyle I will use one quite often. I also use one very often when in a group of three or more guitars all playing the same notes in the same key, using the same positions. I will look for the different sound.

User login

Find local musicians and jams through folkjam.

  • Improve your skills - play
  • Promote your local jams
  • Join/start local groups
  • Connect with local musicians
  • Receive details of new jams via email
Sign up!  It's free

Play well with others

Recent comments