Frequently asked question:

I find it hard to sing and play at the same time. What do you suggest.

The topic of playing while singing comes up pretty regularly at my camps, and I’ve learned important lessons about it from Scruggs and also from playing in Hot Rize. Before Hot Rize started, I was proud of my ability to roll while I sing. In Hot Rize, I was encouraged to not roll. When I said, OK, I’ll vamp, the suggestion was, don’t even vamp. This was startling at first (what will I *do*?). They said, just hold it. I was a bit peeved at first, but the wisdom of the idea came through after a while.

By my not playing, I could hear myself sing that much better. They could also hear their own singing better, so we all could really zero in on the harmony blend (we always sang on a single mic, and still do). Another, sort of hidden result, is that the listeners get a vacation from the sound of the rolling banjo at least a few times per song (at least those with a trio). So when you start up again, it’s more refreshing than when you always hear the banjo, and sometimes it’s louder.

Listening to Flatt and Scruggs records, you often don’t even hear the banjo. He’s often vamping off-mic, keeping the band rhythm together. Then when you hear him start his solo, he’s ALL THERE, and the contrast is pretty exciting. Maybe one verse per song has clearly audible banjo backup (the lead instruments took turns doing that). Sometimes in their show, Earl was not even on stage, or playing guitar. I started remarking on that after Hot Rize added the Red Knuckles part of the show. When Hot Rize would return after Red, the audience was good and ready for more bluegrass, and banjo. Watching out for the audience’s sound-fatigue factor is pretty major in my book.

Last point: Listening to recordings of your shows is the best way to find out what’s working and what’s not.

Pete Wernick