I have noticed one thing when watching opera singers perform in concerts. Most of them don't accompany themselves when singing. Here I am talking about piano and vocals. I am not sure I have seen anyone do this, ie accompanying themsleves when singing. All I could fids is Richard Tauber doing it in a video:

Why is this? Is it really that difficult to play the piano when you sing?

  • What does 'difficult' mean in these circumstances? Some people find it difficult to stand on one leg. Others don't. So is that difficult or not? Most opera singers don't play to the standard that's needed. So they have accompanists. – Tim Nov 21 '20 at 11:29
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    One part of this could be that opera singers usually sing standing up (presumable to maximise lung capacity and thus the volume of the sound) while piano is usually played sitting. Pop/rock can adjust the volume by amplification so this applies less. – DavidW Nov 21 '20 at 11:49
  • depends on the music – Michael Curtis Nov 25 '20 at 17:12

It's really not so much the difficulty, it's the expectation of the genre.

Opera singers sing, pianists play.

Pop & rock musicians frequently do both at once.
The list of those more than reasonably accomplished at this is colossal - start with just Paul McCartney, Elton John & Stevie Wonder & go on from there...

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    Downvote with no comment - well, that's your prerogative, but if you've a better idea, why not post it as an answer? – Tetsujin Nov 21 '20 at 11:48
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    Er, like, I did and stuff. – Bob says reinstate Monica Nov 21 '20 at 12:04
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    I agree, because Opera is theater as well as music. They're already acting and singing, acting through singing, and accompanying themselves would make it that much more complex without communicating more meaning to the audience. – Dave Jacoby Nov 21 '20 at 19:05

It's quite possible to sing and play at the same time but there are sound physiological reasons why singing in an operatic style while sitting at the piano isn't a great idea. Good singing technique, particularly when projecting or singing at volume, has at its foundation an open, upright posture. Sitting down hunched over a keyboard with your hands together pronated over the keys is almost the exact opposite of how classical singers are taught to hold their bodies.

Pop/rock musicians often sing while playing keys, but they are not generally singing in an operatic style or at anything like the same volume. If you're singing into a microphone you can get away with a lot of poor technique which will really show up if the power goes down and you suddenly have to fill a concert hall on your own.

  • Oh, and just in case my piano teacher is reading no, I definitely don't hunch over the piano. – Bob says reinstate Monica Nov 21 '20 at 12:10
  • hunched? Sounds like bad piano posture to me. Perhaps singing with a piano requires one to never really look at the keys when playing. Is this why singing and playing the piano can be a bit uncomfortable for some people? – user20754 Nov 21 '20 at 15:29

Tauber was definitely 'showbiz' by upbringing and by inclination! He was notorious for being able to do everyone else's job as well as his own. Apparently, during the London run of 'Old Chelsea' he would sometimes decide to conduct the pit orchestra - doubtless favouring the audience with frequent winning smiles over his shoulder as in the video!

An operatic singer normally prefers to stand and face fully forward towards their audience. But it's not hard to play and sing simultaneously (at least when it's not a virtuoso piano part - I wouldn't fancy trying it on 'Erlkönig') and arguably it can give the most responsive, musically integrated performance.

Singers have a reputation for only caring about voice and being musically illiterate. There's an atom of truth in this - you CAN become a fine singer without reading a note of music. But many are also accomplished musicians. Remember that Tauber WROTE the music for 'Old Chelsea', including his big hit 'My Heart and I'.

  • my guess is that most opera singers see piano as a second instrument. The voice would be their main instrument. Perhaps they aren't as good at playing the piano as the accompanists who see piano as their main instrument. Could this be the reason why they never play the piano at concerts? – user20754 Nov 21 '20 at 15:43

It's not hard to sing while playing an accompaniment, chords, bass, strum patterns, arpeggios.... It's a bit difficult is to sing while playing a counter melody or something rather complex. It's not too hard to sing and play from music at the same time. One can play the piano and converse if the music is there (seems as if one reads the music and plays using two brain channels and converse using another) but it's hard to play from memory and converse at the same time.

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    Depends on how well your fingers know the piano part! On a background music gig, I'm quite capable of holding a conversation with a punter while continuing to play a selection of 'standards'. – Laurence Payne Nov 21 '20 at 15:30

"Is it really that difficult to play the piano when you sing?"

I would answer that you could learn a skill by practicing it every day. I learned pop singing + pop piano at the same time when I was 19 years old, and it didn't take me very long. Maybe only a couple of months, because I already knew how to do both independently (and it is easier to learn things when you are younger, I think).

Nowadays I can, for example, play the piano in a band and sing harmonies to the lead singer at the same time. But if I have to concentrate on singing lead and accompanying myself at the same time, I usually make the accompaniment very simple and have to leave the "more fancy" playing out to succeed in the singing well. And that is simply because I don't practice them together often enough (I usually concentrate on practicing singing only, I want to practice opera singing specifically and in that piano accompaniment is provided by somebody else, like previous replies have indicated)

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