How to Accompany a Singer – Tips for Guitarists

As a guitar player, accompanying a singer requires a different style and approach than playing with a band. Here a few tips to help you make that transition:

1. Let the Lyrics Take the Spotlight
When accompanying a singer, your primary job is to accentuate the vocals. Be careful not to dominate the musical output.

2. Capture the Mood
Before you begin, familiarize yourself with the lyrics to pick up on the overall mood of what the songwriter intended. Is it sad, happy, fun, or pensive? Consult with the singer too. How do they want to interpret the mood of the lyrics? It is usually best to let them take the lead on this, although you should not be shy about asking if they’d like to try it another way if you think it would work better.

3. Regulate the Volume To Fit the Atmosphere
Most band music is played loud to fill large indoor spaces or enormous outdoor spaces so you may be used to playing at volume 10. However, when accompanying a vocalist, it is important that your music not overpower or detract fro the lyrics. It is also important that the melody you create fit the space. So, if you are playing in an intimate setting such as a coffee shop, church, or a small room at a musical festival, by all means adjust the volume to fit the occasion.

4. Experiment With Space
During your practice sessions, look for ways to play with space. Remember, you don’t have to play continuously. Instead of playing full chords straight through the song, mix in some double stops and arpeggios. Experiment with different ways to fill the space between verses and between words. Creating a “call and response” between singer and guitarist can captivate an audience.

5. Try Using 6th intervals
Playing minor and major 6th intervals are an underutilized guitar technique that blends well with good vocals! With only two notes, you can outline the harmony of any chord and create a nice wistful effect. For a good example of 6th intervals, listen to the legendary song, “Sitting On the Dock of the Bay,” by Otis Redding.

6. Experiment With Different Registers
It can be interesting to provide a contrast in registers between the the guitar melody and the singer’s voice. If the vocalist sings at a lower pitch, try playing in a higher register. If the vocalist sings at a higher pitch, trying playing at a lower register. If there are other instruments accompanying the singer too, such as a piano or harp, try playing a contrasting register to both the vocals and the other instruments.

Final Thoughts
The weaving together of the human voice and guitar is more beautiful than either can create alone. Make sure you truly listen in your practice sessions and you can achieve something spectacular.