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HANDS-FREE…NOW WHAT??

“I feel naked!”

That’s what many performers say when they put down their guitar or keyboard for the first time, and try to do a song without it.

We had a question – a 2-part question – that came in recently, asking the following; How do you get used to singing without an instrument?

What are some good techniques to start becoming more comfortable?

Well, first of all you might be saying, ’So, why go without it? Why should I even try?’

Well, there are a couple of reasons. As we’ve told you often, much of what is communicated to your audience from the stage is VISUAL…55% actually.

So if you typically play guitar throughout your entire set, the audience tends to get a little bored watching you, so it’s important to switch things up at some point for a change of scenery.

If you’re the lead singer of a band, it’s relatively easy to arrange a few songs that sound good without your instrument….it will just take some extra rehearsal time to make it happen.

At this point then, you need to figure out if the song is better with you holding the mic in your hand, or leaving it in the mic stand.

Most of the time when I’m working with an artist, this decision becomes a ‘feel’ thing.

With the lyrics and tempo as my guide, I’ll picture both scenarios and sometimes just have the artist try it both ways to see what works better.

So, now comes the ‘getting comfortable’ part.

The only way to get comfortable doing something is to DO it…over and over. That being said though, the ‘what’ to do needs to come before the ‘HOW’ and for some of you, that’s the main issue.

The first thing you’ll come face to face with is what to do with your hands, right? Since your hands have normally been on a keyboard or guitar…or drums or whatever..

NOW you’ve got to figure out what to do with them and what’s going to look good to the audience.

Let’s start with a mic stand, so at least you’ll have SOMEthing to ‘play with’.

Using the stand as a tool or prop to hold onto part of the time, it’s always best to put your hand on the mic itself instead of down on the stand. Grabbing the stand with two hands especially, can make you look tense or nervous.

Important note here though; switch to a straight mic stand with a round base. A boom stand is too awkward if you’re not playing an instrument.

Thinking about the song lyrics as your ‘script’, ask yourself what makes sense visually, in terms of what the song is saying.

When you’re having a conversation with someone, most of us will use our hands to tell the story as we’re speaking.

So just let your hands follow what the lyric is saying. The goal is not to ‘act out’ every word, but to let your hands punctuate or enhance what’s being sung.

On the right type song, it looks good to ‘work’ the mic stand with one hand and use the other to express yourself.

A slight move away from the stand works best, then pull the stand toward you.

Rehearsing in front of a mirror is optimal for ALL of this, so you can see for yourself how it’s looking from the audience perspective.

I think you’ll find that something that feels awkward to you, might actually look fine…it’s just that you’re not used to doing it and it feels strange.

Some songs call for just standing behind the stand, using one or both hands and working your angles to connect with the audience.

Conversely though, there may be a song (a ‘1’ perhaps) that’s super quiet or solemn, that would call for you to simply stand there with both arms by your side and no movement at all.

Pay attention to, and work on your stance though. The way you stand can either come off as confident or awkward.

It’s going to vary depending on the person and body type, but for the most part, a staggered stance looks best.

Now let’s talk about holding the mic. Whether you take it out of the stand part-way through a song, or for an entire song, it’s going to require you to move around on stage.

We’ve covered movement and placement in other blogs and in Tom’s Live Music Method book, so I won’t spend much time on that here.

But practice moving naturally, as if you’re walking across a room or down the street.

Practice singing and moving until it feels natural. No need to ‘walk to the beat’ of the song, unless that happens to work.

The tempo and vibe of the song will dictate how you move.

Video yourself to see how all of this looks. I know it feels strange to have to ‘practice’ moving and expressing yourself with your hands while you’re singing, but that IS how you will get comfortable doing it.

One lead singer that I worked with comes to mind from a few years back, who was playing acoustic guitar on every song. The band had lead guitar, keys, bass and drums, so dropping the acoustic for some songs was not going to be a big deal.

He had lots of swagger and presence already, and I knew his inner ‘Freddie Mercury’ was waiting to show itself.

That initial ‘taking away of the crutch’ was tough for him, but he pushed through and ultimately was glad he did!

He was freed up and was lots of fun to watch as he worked the stage. He looked totally confident!

Practice these things on your own, then when you get to band rehearsals, set up like you’re onstage and rehearse it there as well.

Don’t wait till you get to a show to work on this…you’ll be thinking too hard about it and that will take away from you being able to focus on the audience.

Do your audience (and yourself) a big favor and try dropping your instrument for some songs in your set…you probably felt awkward trying to play a guitar chord for the first time but you persevered, right?

Same thing with this – the more you work on it, the quicker it will become second nature!

Amy Wolter

As a trained Live Music Producer for Tom Jackson Productions, Amy Wolter brings her years onstage as a lead singer & keyboardist - along with her experience as a producer, arranger, and songwriter - to singers and bands who won’t settle for ‘good enough’. She’s worked with artists at all levels, and genres ranging from Rock to Celtic, empowering them to have confidence and authority onstage, and put on memorable live shows, a few of whom have been on two of the largest US tours in recent history. Some of her clients include Grammy award winners The Band Perry & Lacrae, CMA and ACM –winning country acts, Gloriana & Thompson Square, 2016 The Voice contestant Mary Sarah, CCMA (Canada) winners High Valley, Jess Moskaluke & Chad Brownlee, and Winter Jam Tour veterans Sidewalk Prophets & Love and The Outcome.

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Greenroom Comments

  1. Amy,

    I was a Folk Singer in the 1960s and a Jesus Musician in the 1970s. Eventually, as an evangelically-minded person, I was preaching as much as I was playing, but always with a guitar in hand. Then someone asked me to preach a regular sermon behind a pulpit, and I was SO awkward. I told my girlfriend at the time (now my wife) that I didn’t think I could preach without a guitar in my hands.

    Now I don’t preach much, but I still play a lot. At least I can work without an instrument in my clutches if I have to. Great article!

    Paul Race

  2. Great advice it’s so important to mix it up when playing with an instrument.

  3. This is awesome advice, thank you!

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