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11 Tricks to Singing and Playing Guitar at the Same Time

11 Tricks to Singing and Playing Guitar at the Same Time Madonna performs in 2008.

Are you one of the many guitarists who struggle with coordinating their hands and vocals? You know, you can play the song. You can sing the song. But it all goes to pot when you try to do both simultaneously.

Singing while playing guitar can be a daunting challenge for a beginner. A good sense of timing and rhythm and the ability to synthesize two different actions is necessary to pull it off. But like everything else you've learned to do on the guitar, it can be mastered.

Here are 11 tips to help get you started:

01. Apples and…apples! Like a pianist who uses both hands to play two different rhythms concurrently, or a drummer who uses all four limbs working independently, you need to meld your strumming and singing rhythms so that they sound seamless. Playing and singing aren't two separate things.

02. Simple rhythms, simple rhymes. Don't complicate the task unnecessarily by choosing songs that exceed your skill level. This will only leave you feeling frustrated and defeated. Start off learning easy songs that you like and know well. Songs that only have a few chords, a simple strum pattern and lyrics you can easily remember, like "Happy Birthday." Or you might like to learn a song or two from 10 Famous Songs with Three Chords or Less.

03. Know your guitar basics. Trying to remember how to finger a B7 chord while playing is going to make singing at the same time virtually impossible. Your guitar playing must be at a level where chord changes are effortless. You need to be so comfortable with your strumming that you don't even have to think about it. This will free you up to concentrate singing.

04. Practice strumming with a metronome. For better timing and rhythm, practice with a metronome. Although it will feel a bit restrictive at first, a metronome will make you a more consistent player. Spend 10 minutes a day practicing a simple strumming pattern with a metronome, and you'll notice significant improvements in your timing within a few weeks.

05. Know how to play the song. Play the music on your guitar until you have it memorized and can perform it fluently. One way to tell if you've mastered a song is to play it while reading aloud from a book lying open in front of you, or playing it flawlessly while watching television or carrying on a conversation.

06. Know how to sing the song. In addition to getting all chord changes down pat, you have to know the tune and lyrics. This may require putting the guitar down for a time in order to focus purely on the singing. Pick a song and memorize the words. Sing it out loud. Sing along with a recording. Sing it in the shower. Sing it to your cat. When you can sing the song without a hitch it's time to sync things up.

07. Hum first. You may find it helpful to first hum the parts of the melody over your strumming pattern before actually singing them. This will allow you the chance to get used to any chord changes without having to concern yourself with lyrics straight off. Once you get used to humming different parts of the melodies, you'll gradually become comfortable singing it.

08. Slow down. It's far better to sing and play correctly, albeit slowly, than to be fudging rhythms at full speed. Go through the song measure by measure, line by line, until you can play and sing it all the way through without errors. Speed will come once you iron out all the kinks.

09. A note on fingerpicking. If you're playing a song that uses fingerpicking, you might find it helpful to take a few steps back to start. First, sing using a simple strum pattern to play the chords. Once you got the song down perfectly this way, move on to a more complex strum pattern, and then ultimately to the original picking pattern.

10. Changing key. If you find yourself straining to hit a song's notes, try changing the key so that the guitar's tones adapt to your voice. Move the chords up a fret or two. You can transpose a piece to either a lower or a higher pitch. Try singing again until you find a key that suits your voice. You can also change the key by using a capo. This allows you to keep the same fingering as the original.

11. Practice. Learning to incorporate vocals into your guitar playing takes practice. Even once you have acquired the basic skill, you will be adding more and more songs to your repertoire, some of which may contain awkward combinations of rhythms that can trip you up. When this happens, break the song down into parts and work through the problem areas just like you did when you first learned how to synchronize your playing with your vocals.

Kathy Dickson writes for the online guitar lesson site GuitarTricks.com.

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