Is playing the drums and singing at the same time particularly difficult?

I was watching a video on Youtube of “The Band” with a live performance of “The Weight”. The lead singer was the late Levon Helm who also played the drums. I was wondering whether musicians consider this particularly difficult compared to singing/playing the guitar or singing/playing keyboard.

WAG: Keeping your mouth up to the microphone restricts the freedom of movement you need on a drum kit.

I’m an amateur musician, and in my opinion playing any instrument and singing is difficult. In fact, it was surprising to me that once I felt proficient enough with the banjo to attempt singing along with my playing, my playing fell apart completely.

To me–and I can’t sing worth a damn–it’s a lot easier for me to sing along playing drums than the piano. I have more difficulty when I had to also keep track of piano melody and harmony. YMMV. At any rate, it doesn’t seem to me to be more difficult than singing along while playing any other instrument, but that will, of course, depend on the instrumental difficulty of individual pieces of course.

It is much easier to sing when you are playing drums than when you are playing the sax.

I am an amateur musician as well. I can play keyboards, but for Og’s sake don’t ask me to sing at the same time. I usually just sing when we are live. I can handle studio just fine, but somehow it just doesn’t work to do both simultaneously with me.

But… weirdly, hand drums (not a stick kit but something like a Djembe) I can manage and sing along with. Not sure why.

Apparently, the legendary bluesman, B.B. King, can’t play his signature guitar, “Lucille”, and sing at the same time. So, if this is true, even one of the absolute BEST musicians of the 20th/21th Century has a similar issue.

Really not much of a singer. Terrible, actually. But back in the days when I used to play with a band, I’d occasionally be asked to sing a harmony part. And I’d take one lead a set, just for fun.

I found playing bass, which is what I played in that band, and singing at the same time to be next to impossible. If the bass line was anything more than just playing alternating root and fifth, I couldn’t do it. I’d trade with the guitar player – I could play a simple rhythm part on the guitar OK.

Never played drums at all, let alone while singing, so I don’t know how hard that is.

I’ve done it while playing the Rock Band video game on a reasonably realistic Ion drumset, and it’s a bit tricky. You’ve already got your hands and foot doing different things, then to add voice to that makes it that much more complicated.

I don’t play the drums either, but I do play the piano and sing. Sometimes I can do both at the same time, sometimes it’s very difficult. At least for me, I think it depends on the complexity of the two. In the cases where it’s easy, the piano parts are either the same melody or not all that difficult of an accompaniment. For one difficult case, though the actual piano part is fairly easy, because the vocals are syncopated, it’s difficult to do both without one falling out of time. In another, the vocal melody contrasts the piano melody. In the former, I was able to get it with a bit of practice, but I’m still struggling with the latter.

For drumming, I imagine they’d have similar issues, that if it’s a fairly simple rhythm, they can probably do both, but if it’s fairly complex one would suffer. I have seen a few bands where the drummer is the lead singer, and in most cases, they’ll have a tour drummer and he’ll just sing live. In one case, I did see him do both live, which was quite impressive because they were fairly complex rhythms, but he was also using a microphone mounted to some kind of headpiece.

That all said, I think that’s why singers generally either don’t play an instrument, or they will just play something like rhythm guitar or simple chords on a keyboard or the like.

I learned to play Bass and sing while practicing scales/licks and talking on the phone as a teenager. There are some songs that I cannot do both on almost thirty years later. IME the sheer physical effort involved made doing two things at once almost impossible, IMHO the same applies to drums. I envy those who can do it well.

Sometimes understanding a tune better makes this easier. “Walking on the Moon” by the Police for example. I struggled to play and sing this tune for years, I just could not get the cadence of the verse correct, then I figured out that the Bass and Drums are doing a kind of call and response. Wham, while still not easy, understanding the Bassline as a Drum rhythm made it doable.

RIP Levon, I miss you

“It’s a time, I remember oh so well”


Many bands have a “front(wo)man” who is often but not always the singer, and is the center of attention. The drummer usually sits at the back of the stage and is often near-invisible. Thus except for certain bands, there is an impetus to have someone besides the drummer sing (even the bassist!), which might explain a lack of seeing them, technical issues aside.

Cupcakes manages it pretty well.

There is also a technical issue - drums are loud and nondirectional, so the mic for a drumming singer is going to have a lot of drum sound in it, giving the drums additional presence in the mix and reducing the ability to put effects on the drummers vocals (reverb in particular).

Some drummers who sing are listed in this old thread.

One other issue is that someone who starts out as a singer may well learn to play guitar or keyboards in order to provide themselves with an instrumental accompaniment. I’ve seen plenty of solo musicians who sing while accompanying themselves on the guitar or the piano. I can’t remember ever seeing anyone, performing solo, singing and accompanying him/herself on a drum kit.

I used to play drums and sing. Sometimes the tempo would drag a little but otherwise I don’t remember it being terribly difficult. It was easier for me than playing fingerstyle guitar and singing but I’m not as good a guitar player as I am a drummer. As mentioned upthread, there’s the logistical problem of having a microphone parked in front of me while I’m trying to move around the drum set. I always set up the boom so I could spin it behind me when I didn’t have to sing.

Phil Collins and Keith Moon were a couple guys who could sing and play drums at the same time.

Max Werner - Rain in May 1981

Karen Carpenter originally was the drummer for her brother, Richard’s, band until her vocal prowess moved her from behind the drum set to the front of the stage.

I used to sing and play guitar for years in a small-time bar band. For me (and, I project, for others :)) playing actually helps singing when it’s mindless and the rhythm of what you’re playing compliments (doesn’t counterpose) what you’re singing. If the strumming or riff’s cadence feels rhythmically in line with the melody–almost like it’s basic dancing to the tune–then it feels natural and helpful, like its all one, unified thing.

If the strum patter or riff has a cadence that is staccato or complex or (even if it’s simple) just deliberately out of straightforward sync with the melody, then it feels like “rubbing your tummy while patting your head,” only worse. Two different things, out of sync, that you need to concentrate on at once. That’s why John Lennon only played the rhythm guitar on “All My Loving” and George sang the verse with Paul in concert. He couldn’t do both at once.

I could practice some songs until it became automatic, but some tunes–nope, just could not sing and play a certain part. Somebody else would have to do one of them. And some people (e.g., my bass player) seemed really adept at it. He played and sang stuff all the time that would have thrown me. But I think this is true to some extent for everyone, drummers included.

Re: The Weight. Notice how the important lyrics fall on the heavy beat? Some drummers make pretty good back-up singers but most don’t even want to do that.

Phil Collins and his hit—he’s voicing the down beat.