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Free-Handed Performer

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"Can the guitarist and the drummer do THIS ?"

In a band, there's one thing that differentiates singing and playing an instrument: your hands are free if you're singing (and if you don't have hands, you can still sing). Such convenience allows a singer to play an instrument while also providing vocals on stage (thanks to the mic being placed on a stand).

But some bands don't do that and prefer to have the singer do... the singing duties only. While you may think that those singers are lazy compared to other band members who play the instruments, this is wrong as it can give them a chance to provide more stage presence (and don't forget that singing is an acquired skill which the other band members don't necessarily have). Such a band dynamic showcases how the lead singer acts as the face of the band. Granted, you might see a singer who also plays the tambourine on stage, but such instrument is easy enough to master for anybody who can hold one.

While this is more common in bands, there are also cases of solo artists who are musically-gifted and prefer to leave the instrumental duties to a backing band when it comes to playing on stage.

A Free-Handed Performer could be a Singer-Songwriter. If their singing and songwriting skills save up for the rest of the band's performance, I Am the Band also overlaps. Contrast Lead Singer Plays Lead Guitar, Type B of Lead Bassist, and Lead Drummer.


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  • clipping. is pretty much Daveed Diggs being backed by producers William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes. This is reflected in their live performances which feature Daveed rapping while William and Hutson provide the music.
  • Death Grips' sole rapper MC Ride is known for his energetic stage presence while his bandmates Zach Hill and Flatlander handle the drumming and the keyboards respectively. He also doesn't provide instrumental output on the band's albums, focusing on lyrics instead.
  • The Roots are fronted by Black Thought who is the only member who doesn't have experience in playing instruments. He handles the rapping, whether it's on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon or on stage.

  • All of Anthrax's singers. This is best seen in the "Big Four" tour, where once all of said Thrash Metal bands get together on stage, Joey Belladonna is the only person without an instrument.
  • Bloodywood's Jayant Bhadula and Raoul Kerr trade off vocal duties: Bhadula mainly provides Harsh Vocals in Hindi, while Kerr raps in English. The band's other permanent member Karan Katiyar plays mainly guitar and flute.
  • Ronnie James Dio was a bassist on his first band (The Vegas Kings, a high school Rock & Roll act). Following his venture with the band Elf, he stuck to vocal performances for the rest of his career.
  • Dream Theater vocalist James LaBrie does not play an instrument. Even when the band goes into "Nightmare Cinema" mode (the band comes back out during encores under pseudonyms, switches up their instruments, and plays cover songs), LaBrie still only provides the vocals.
  • Tobias Forge both played guitar and sang in his Death Metal band Repugnant, but in Ghost, he plays the character Papa Emeritus, who only sings while the Nameless Ghouls do all the instrument playing.
  • Bruce Dickinson can play the guitar, but rarely did so, either solo or with Iron Maiden (the one song he usually contributed on stage, "Revelations", when it returned to setlists they had three guitarists and thus Bruce was not required).
  • Judas Priest's vocalist Rob Halford can play several instruments and is apparently a very good rhythm guitarist, but won't play any onstage due to a fear of messing up.
  • Limp Bizkit's notorious frontman Fred Durst is also unfortunately known for not being a good guitarist since he usually only writes and raps lyrics for the band. Rare footage of him playing solos on stage have been mocked, and he has stuck to the mic since.
  • Nevermore's Warrel Dane, known for his classical opera training and deep baritone voice, was exclusively a vocalist. He took full advantage of being free-handed, however, being very animated on stage, often slinking to the ground and even singing from his back.
  • Nightwish had three lead vocalists and all of them performed using only their mic during concerts.
  • Ozzy Osbourne, former lead singer of Black Sabbath, remains known for his distinctive voice and the fact that he rarely played any instrument in his career.
  • Zack de la Rocha was previously a guitarist for the Hardcore bands Farside and Hard Stance. Following those bands' split, he formed Rage Against the Machine and left guitar duties to Tom Morello while he focused on writing lyrics and rapping (as demonstrated by his exuberant stage presence).
  • Joakim Brodén of Sabaton originally joined the band as a keyboardist (his first instrument was the Hammond organ), but was asked to also be the temporary vocalist until they could find somebody to sing on a permanent basis. Come 2005, they instead hired Daniel Myhr to be the permanent keyboardist and Joakim became the permanent vocalist. He does still do keyboards in the studio since Myhr left the band in 2012, and plays third guitar on the song "Resist and Bite".

  • Boy Band and Girl Group acts are known for featuring singers who focus on stage performance and would rarely provide instrument-playing or songwriting. Notably inverted by Robbie Williams, former Take That member, and One Direction members Harry Styles and Niall Horan, who all have guitar-playing skills.
  • While he contributed conga, tambourine, and percussion parts as a member of The Jackson 5, Michael Jackson spent his solo career focusing entirely on singing and dancing (ironically while also dealing with respiratory problems caused by lupus).
  • Lorde has admitted to focusing on her stage presence and songwriting rather than taking up any instruments. "I'm hyper-musical, but I don't really play anything."
  • Barbra Streisand's song "Piano Practicing" is about a little girl who wants to be a soprano while her mother wants her to learn the piano. She hates playing it, gives up, and becomes a singer, just like Barbra.
  • Florence Welsh, lead vocalist of Florence + the Machine, has previously claimed in an interview that she can't play any instrument. However, she has been credited as a percussionist and a piano performer on albums of the band (starting with their album How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful and continuing since).

  • John Lydon, better known under his Sex Pistols pseudonym Johnny Rotten, generally performs as an animated instrument-free singer on stage, whether it be with the Pistols or with Public Image Ltd.. On albums, however, he performs keyboards, guitars, and various percussion instruments. His first solo album, Psycho's Path, was mainly recorded by him.
  • Joey Ramone learned to play drums during his youth but was solely a lead singer and songwriter for The Ramones.
  • Henry Rollins remains mostly known for his vocal performance as part of Black Flag, as well as his spoken-word performances. He hasn't been credited as an instrumentalist during his career.

  • Enforced by Audioslave. Chris Cornell can play the guitar, as showcased by his other band Soundgarden. However, his guitar parts clashed with Tom Morello's guitar sound, thus it was decided by the band that Chris would only do the vocals.
  • Matt Berninger, of The National fame, claimed in an interview that he has no knowledge of music theory and can't even play the tambourine right.
  • Blackmore's Night, a Celtic rock/pop group, was founded by guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, formerly of Deep Purple and Candice Night, who provides vocals and dancing for the group's performances.
  • Blondie's frontwoman Debbie Harry remains the sole singer of the band and has stated that she doesn't know how to play any instruments.
  • Eric Burdon is known for his work as the lead singer of The Animals and still performs solely as a singer.
  • Alice Cooper is known for his stage presence as a singer. He did play the guitar early in his career (as a member of Alice Cooper, the band) but stuck to vocals only later on, saying: "I'm always totally surrounded myself with really accomplished guitarists, there was no reason for me to play.".
  • The Doors: Jim Morrison is the only member of the band that didn't play any instruments, relying instead on his distinctive voice.
  • Fleetwood Mac has had many iterations over the years but perhaps their best-recognized member is Stevie Nicks, who was solely a lead vocalist for the group despite being self-taught on the piano and guitar.
  • Joel Gion is a backing vocalist and the official tambourine player for The Brian Jonestown Massacre (since we apply the tambourine rule, we might as well include him). Outside of his minor ventures into percussion playing, he also plays guitar on solo releases.
  • Mick Jagger exceptionally played guitar on The Rolling Stones' Sticky Fingers, but remains known as a mic-exclusive singer with an energetic stage presence.
  • Anthony Kiedis, though he had training in guitar and drums, has rarely played any instrument in the discography of The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Mostly known as a hands-free energetic singer on stage, he eventually played bass during an encore performance of the band in 2016.
  • Mike Love of The Beach Boys is a slight subversion of the trope. Early in the band's career, he provided (very limited) saxophone input on songs such as "Ten Little Indians" and "Shut Down" and would later play a simplified version of the theremin during on-stage presentations of "Good Vibrations." Following the mid-'70s, he went back to being the band's regular tambourine-shaking lead singer (something he still does, 60 years into his career).
  • Shirley Manson provided backing vocals and keyboards for the band Goodbye Mr. Mackenzie. Following that, the founding members of Garbage were looking for a female lead vocalist and she took on the role. Despite playing guitar on some of the band's albums, she only sings on stage.
  • Morrissey is seen playing guitar in the music video for "How Soon is Now?" but in reality, the lead singer of The Smiths didn't master any instrument (blaming it on a lack of patience when it comes to learning how to play).
  • Our page image is Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, who is not a full time version because he plays the guitar. But when he's hands free, there will be antics like climbing the stages, as late as 2014!
  • Michael Stipe, during the 31-year career of R.E.M., stuck to vocal and songwriting duties, stating that he couldn't "play an instrument to save his life"; the sole exception to this was a brief stint playing guitar on the Hidden Track "I'm Not Over You". However, after the band's dissolution, he played keyboards on the soundtrack to the 2014 film The Cold Lands.
  • Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots and later Velvet Revolver had never played any instruments in his bands' songs, but he still was the main songwriter and had a very energetic presence during live show and some music videos.
  • Bono of U2, aside from one song in each concert (usually "One") where he took out a guitar. At least until a 2014 cycling accident where his arm was broken and required a titanium elbow replacement, making him give up on playing altogether.

  • Crystal Castles featured Alice Glass performing as the singer while Ethan Kath managed the production. They also applied that formula on stage, even after Alice left and got replaced by Edith Frances.
  • Deee-Lite was fronted by vocalist Lady Miss Kier while members Towa Tei and DJ Dmitry handled the production.
  • Denki Groove is notorious for Pierre Taki and his humorous stage antics. Even though he is credited as a producer of the band along with Takkyu Ishino, he exclusively dances and sings during concerts.

Fictional Examples:

    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • Scott Pilgrim: The band Clash at the Demonhead is led by Envy Adams, who only provides vocals.

    Film — Animation 

    Film — Live-Action 

    Video Games 
  • EarthBound features a jazz band called the Runaway Five, inspired by The Blues Brothers. Like their inspiration, the two frontmen of the Runaway Five only sing and dance.
  • Splatoon:
    • The first game features the Squid Sisters, an idol duo whose members, Callie and Marie, sing and dance without playing any instruments. The duo both serve as the game's hosts and perform on part of the soundtrack.
    • Splatoon 2 has idol duo Off the Hook take over the Squid Sisters' duties. Unlike the Squid Sisters, they actually do incorporate instruments into their performances, with Marina handling keyboard and DJing duties in addition to singing, but Pearl still just sings and dances. For the duo's real-world hologram performances, meanwhile, both members just sing and dance for most of their songs.
    • Splatoon 3 features Deep Cut, the idol trio who are Splatsville's counterpart to the Inkopolis idol duos mentioned above. Like the Squid Sisters, none of Deep Cut's members play instruments on stage.
  • In PaRappa the Rapper 2, the rock band MilkCan reappear with an extended lineup. One of the extra members, Sunny Funny, takes over as frontwoman without playing an instrument.

    Western Animation 
  • In Metalocalypse, Nathan Explosion is the vocalist and unofficial leader of Dethklok but has never been shown playing an instrument. He is skilled in other areas of creating music beyond his vocals, including serving as the main producer of Dethklok's albums with apparent mixing responsibilities and final say.
  • Scooby-Doo: