Two Things at Once: Sing While Playing Guitar
One of the most frustrating things when learning the guitar can be learning to sing while playing guitar. (Which can be even more difficult for beginner students). Hopefully, this article can offer some words of inspiration. Singing while playing may seem like a skill that you wouldn’t have to work on independently, but it can actually do a lot to improve every aspect of your playing. (And for some, by singing, I mean humming.)
Being able to strum (or play) one rhythm on the guitar and sing another will help you understand how certain rhythms can work together to create certain movements. Singing while playing can also help you to understand note choice, especially during improvisation or writing. It is also a test to see how well you actually know the instrument while only paying attention to it fifty percent of the time!
Here are a few tips I find to be super helpful:
- Start with simple rhythms
Start with the basics! Try singing the same rhythm as the guitar. For instance, write a sentence with one syllable words like, “No, I don’t know you.” Strum quarter notes and either hum or sing the sentence at the same time. Each word should fall with each strum. Once comfortable, try changing up the rhythm with the same sentence. Maybe try singing triplets while strumming quarter notes and vice versa. Eventually, try a chord progression, starting simple while simultaneously singing along. Try changing up the melodic movement of both the guitar and the voice. You’ve officially begun your first step to composition!
- Start slowly
Just like learning anything new, starting slow helps a ton. Start incorporating chord changes with different melodies – playing them slowly and increasing your speed as you get more comfortable. Sometimes playing along to a metronome can help you keep a good center of rhythm. It’s better to sing and play rhythms correctly than to be making mistakes while trying to play at full speed.
- Choose a song
Once you’ve done the basics, steps one and two, try choosing a song (the fun part). Listen to the song and identify the rhythm of the strum and melody. First learn the strum on the guitar and repeatedly play it until you feel comfortable. Learn the chord progression and learn how to sing the melody while concentrating on the rhythm of it. Don’t be afraid to change the key if it feels uncomfortable. Then, try playing the two together. It helps to play along with the song. (Unless you’ve changed the key of course.)
If you find yourself speeding up and slowing down, missing chords, and stumbling to the next note, it is most likely due to a lack of focus. Focus is the key here. Close your eyes and envision yourself playing and singing simultaneously. I find envisioning doing it helps immensely. Though keeping focus may be difficult, the idea is that your focus becomes secondary to strumming and come without thought, then for singing to follow. Eventually, it feels like meditating.
At first, singing while playing guitar may feel unnatural. This can make it very frustrating, but it is totally achievable for anyone! Even after years of playing, I can still struggle with it, and I find myself going back to the basics frequently. Listening to the song, isolating the strum from the melody over and over again. Of course, sometimes the most helpful thing is to have someone with you to coach you through doing two different things at once! Our guitar teachers come from all corners of the music world, so take a look to see if any of them seem like they might be a good fit for your favorite style of music!
Eventually, singing and playing will feel natural, and you will use it more than you ever imagined. Whether playing a chordal motive and humming the melody, learning a solo while humming along (maybe just the root notes, or anticipating where the solo is going next), or performing, the best advice is to have fun with it! As long you keep moving, you’ll keep getting better!