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FDP Forum / Performer's Corner / Starting a duo with a vocalist--suggestions?

Contributing Member

Washington DC

Nov 15th, 2016 07:59 AM   Edit   Profile  

I have plans to work up some songs with a female singer, with the goal of playing some open-mics.
This would be a challenging, exciting step for me, basically an intermediate-level living-room guitar player (and decent singer/harmonizer).

The female singer has a great set of pipes and can sing in any style--we will are mostly interested in soul, jazz, rock, and country-tinged folk. She can use a shaker or tambourine. She also happens to be good looking with a great stage presence. My concern is that I can hold up my end of the duo! Several questions:

What are tradeoffs in playing electric vs acoustic guitar as the only backing instrument for a singer? I think of acoustic as the "default" but I'd be more comfortable playing a Telecaster, Strat, or Les Paul.

What arrangement approaches might help fill out the guitar sound: arpeggiated chords? Chord-melody (I am starting to mix chords and licks but it's a work in progress)?

Is it worth trying to incorporate a looper (I have one but am not facile with it)?

Thanks for your thoughts!

Contributing Member

San Francisco, CA

Nov 15th, 2016 08:04 AM   Edit   Profile  

My $0.02 worth:

Keep it simple.

Forget the looper, play an acoustic guitar that you can plug into the PA, and get a few songs down that you can do in your sleep.

Once you've done that and have some performances under your belt, stretch out from there.


(This message was last edited by 6L6 at 10:05 AM, Nov 15th, 2016)


It's not just good..

...it's good enough.
Nov 15th, 2016 08:40 AM   Edit   Profile  

I agree with 6L6 on the "keep it simple" plan.

If you're not comfortable with the looper, don't bother. That can get pretty messy if you're not careful with it. Hold off on that until you can come in and out of it seamlessly.

The acoustic vs. electric choice is one that I'm struggling with, myself. I've been building up some material for a solo gig and I'm thinking I might go electric. I know acoustic is the "default choice," but I'm thinking a nice, clean, full-sounding electric backing would work - and be a little different than the usual "solo act."

And if you're featuring a good vocalist (which it sounds like you are), keeping it simple is still solid advice. Don't worry about filling in with licks and chord-melodies, etc. Let the vocals carry it, especially if you can add some harmonies. That's what most folks in an audience are hearing, anyway.

Good luck - and have fun with it!

Contributing Member

Willie Nelson

Mandela Fitzgerald
Nov 15th, 2016 03:38 PM   Edit   Profile  

Good advice. Keep it simple.

You are an accompanist in this sort of situation.

Focus on rock-solid guitar playing (strumming, fingerpicking, etc.). You are providing the harmony and rhythm to the vocals, which are primarily the melody.

The best thing you can do is maintain good rhythm and use dynamics (have the best sound possible, use different strum patterns on successive tunes, play louder sometimes, and play softer other times, etc.) to keep things interesting.


LA-la-land, CA

Insert clever comment here
Nov 15th, 2016 05:22 PM   Edit   Profile  

I have a female singer who I write and perform with as a duo. People really love when we harmonize. Work on blending your vocals. She's the main vocalist, but sometimes we trade off the melody, and she harmonizes or vamps over the top.

I've tried electric a few times, but it just doesn't sound as full by itself as an acoustic. But yes, my hands are really tired after a gig playing the acoustic all night!

I'm pretty good at a looper, but was kind of a disaster when we tried it. Too much to think about.

Contributing Member

South Florida

Nov 15th, 2016 06:56 PM   Edit   Profile  

Getting back to the question of acoustic vs electric...

Definitely acoustic is the default. But if there is any doubt whether electric can work I give you the following:

snow angel


It's not just good..

...it's good enough.
Nov 16th, 2016 07:24 AM   Edit   Profile  

Thanks for posting that, Larry.

That's the kind of sound I have in my head - very Jeff Buckley-esque. Just the right amount of reverb and/or delay to add some space and keep it sounding "full."

Tony Wright

Stillwater, OK

I never met a calorie I didn't like.
Nov 16th, 2016 07:39 AM   Edit   Profile  

I saw a duo that both played acoustic/electric and both she and he sang. The act was billed under her name. She plays with a full band, a trio, solo and apparently, as a duo act. He was stronger on guitar and used a looper. She did all the vocal leads and played chords on all songs.

He laid down each component of the song individually starting with using the body as a percussion instrument, then the bass line then layering the chords and then she came in while he played fills.

It was nice for a song or two...then the novelty wore off and their talent and craftsmanship was buried in the ritual of building the song.

Most of the music was original. Full, intricate, dynamic, well worth the time invested to listen. But the start and end of each song was just too much for the audience. There was around 50 in the room when we went in...less than 5 when they ended their 2 hour show...

Admission was free, but I did not go back the next time she played there. It is a 75 mile drive.

Contributing Member

Washington DC

Nov 16th, 2016 09:46 AM   Edit   Profile  

Thank you all for the good input.

larryguitar19 - great clip, though having two electrics is gonna be a fuller sound than just one!

I'm taking to heart the advice to keep it simple, be rock-solid, support her voice primarily, create good harmonies, and add variety in rhythm and dynamics, as I can.

And let the looper continue to gather dust.

For any of you who were at the FDP jam in DC last March, the singer is Kim, who sang some leads and that great descant on Gimme Shelter.

M Tracy
Contributing Member

Lafayette IN

Nov 16th, 2016 09:55 AM   Edit   Profile  

I do the male female duo thing sometimes. I'm more comfortable on electric so that's usually what I play. You'll sound better playing what you're better at IMO. Learn Bang Bang by Nancy Sinatra, people seem to love that one when we play it.

Contributing Member

Philly, B-3 Capital

don't dream it be it
Nov 16th, 2016 01:08 PM   Edit   Profile  

the good part of using an electric is you can play bass lines in addition to chords which will give a fuller sound.

of course you can play bass lines w/an acoustic as well, but it'll sound closer to a 3 piece band w/electric.

Contributing Member


Nov 16th, 2016 08:00 PM   Edit   Profile  

Kim is awesome and her vocals certainly can carry the melody. She is the kind of vocalist who can sing with a strumming guitar and make the song sound incredible.

You might want to work on chord arrangements with a subtle underlying lead type picking. With Kim you dont need to worry about augmenting the melody, You can also work in a bass line. If you are looking at acoustic then a finger picking style would work fine.

I am sure it will be a memorable set
let me know when you play out and I will take the ride to DC to support!


San Clemente, CA

Happy Sunsets, tahitijack
Nov 17th, 2016 03:07 PM   Edit   Profile  

I'll go with the mob and say keep it simple with acoustic guitar. Too bad Kim does not also play rhythm guitar allowing you to play melody, riffs and fills behind her beautiful voice. Back in the 90s a similar duo was very hot. Check Everything But The Girl on YouTube. Good luck this sounds like a great project.

Contributing Member

Washington DC

Nov 17th, 2016 08:19 PM   Edit   Profile  

Thanks guys. We're just starting, so I won't get ahead of myself, but I will let you know how the project goes! Cheers.

Contributing Member

So. Cal. USA

Nov 18th, 2016 12:56 PM   Edit   Profile  

Sounds like a lot of fun. The acoustic works best IMO as I've done this in the past. I did play electric on a few songs but it was still mostly solid backup strumming.

As time went on we expanded to using some backing tracks that I built. Bass and percussion mostly. I liked the plain acoustic the best.

FDP Forum / Performer's Corner / Starting a duo with a vocalist--suggestions?

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