I never intended to become a singer – I always considered myself a guitarist first.
However, I could never find a singer who had the ability to sing the songs I wrote or sing the cover songs I wanted to perform (which were vocally demanding songs by bands such as Queen and Led Zeppelin). The ones I met either couldn’t sing in tune or didn’t have the vocal range I was looking for. So I ended up teaching myself to sing so I could just do it on my own.
I was able to teach myself to sing much more easily than a non-instrumentalist because I had already developed an excellent sense of pitch and intonation through years of playing guitar. It’s gotten to a point where hearing someone sing out of tune is physically painful for me to listen to!
So I had the advantage of having “good ears” when developing my singing voice; I knew if I was singing out of tune and was able to adjust my singing accordingly. Also, as a lead guitarist, I also knew the importance of musical aspects such as tone and vibrato, both of which give a note its “flavour”. Accordingly, I applied this knowledge to my singing voice – in addition to singing in tune, I was able to develop my vocal vibrato and tone to a point where I didn’t want to throw up every time I heard myself sing 🙂
It’s no coincidence that some of the finest singers in popular music were also very accomplished instrumentalists. For example, Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin and Freddie Mercury were excellent pianists. My musical hero Jeff Buckley was a highly accomplished guitarist.
So to answer the question in the title of this blog post: no, you don’t have to play a musical instrument to become a singer, but it certainly helps!