Just Play: Confessions of a Multi-Instrumentalist Who Just Can't Sing

OK, first things first: We are NOT putting Justin Bieber in Guitar World. I put his picture on my last blog post in a cheeky attempt to provoke a discussion. And obviously, it worked.

But that’s it. I repeat: Justin Bieber will NOT be appearing in Guitar World.

Now that we have that straight ...

I can’t sing for shit. I play a lot of instruments (I like to think I play them well), I write what I like to think are pretty good songs, I have a good understanding of harmony, I have a good ear, I know a million cover songs ... but not being able to sing well has been my Achilles’ heel for as long as I can remember.

I was a band geek as a kid. Band, orchestra and jazz ensemble weren’t enough for me, so I joined the chorus as well. I could sight-read, and my sense of pitch has always been very good, so being in the chorus meant an easy A, which was much needed since all I ever did in math and science was doodle Ozzy and VH logos into my notebooks and stare longingly at Jenn or Liz. Or Melita. That positive choral experience, however, deluded me into thinking I’m a singer.

Singing among a sea of other voices is one thing. Putting your ass in front of a mic is quite another.

My singing voice is best described as sounding just like Neil Young, only worse. We both have this nasal warble, only when he does it, it sells the song and you feel something. With me, eh, not so much. I mean, I’m not tone-deaf. I was good enough to sing backup in whatever band I was playing in; the focal point wasn’t on me and harmonizing came pretty easily. But I could never sing lead well. My friends’ reactions, and even my own ears when I was being honest with myself, attested to that.

Still, I was convinced I had it. Everything else musical came to me easily, so why not this? After all, I have rhythm, phrasing, pitch. I’d make a great singer, right? You’d think.

Sometimes, a voice just sucks. Now, whenever I say this, people automatically point to Bob Dylan as a counterargument. But I ask: Was his voice really bad? Go back and listen honestly, especially to the early stuff. To my ears, Dylan’s voice is rich and weathered, and his pitch is dead-on.

Others offer Billy Corgan as an example. Would I hire Corgan to sing on a radio commercial selling fast food? No. But does he sing the shit out of his own songs with gut-wrenching conviction? You betcha. That's real power behind an otherwise thin voice.

More on my quest to be Geoff Tate next week!

Guitar World music editor Matt Scharfglass has performed around the country and internationally, playing virtually all types of music with a wide range of artists, including R&B with Ashford & Simpson, old-school swing with the Blue Saracens and gospel with Richard Hartley & Soul Resurrection. Matt appears on the original-cast recording of Evil Dead: The Musical and the Broadway Cares album Home for the Holidays. He has also worked in countless theater pits and plays guitar up in the organ booth to crowds of 18,000 at New York Rangers home games at Madison Square Garden. An accomplished guitar and bass transcriber, Matt has had more than 600 of his transcriptions appear in Guitar World magazine and in books by Warner Brothers, Music Sales and Hal Leonard. He has also authored more than a dozen bass and guitar instructional books, including the "You Can Do It...Play Bass!" and "…Play Guitar!" series. He is the bassist and one of the main songwriters for his rock band, The Border Cops.

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