Sometimes playing guitar isn’t enough. Banging out chords is way more fun when you can sing along. So let’s talk a bit about how to one and one together and get awesome. These are my best tips on how to play guitar and sing at the same time.
Caveat: While I do sing professionally, I’m not a formally trained singer. Plenty of bad habits in my throat. 🙂 So I will not be giving any actual vocal training here. If you’d like some solid basic vocal training, I suggest SingORama. I went through their program and it helped cure a lot of my bad habits and really improve my vocals.
What we will talk about here is the coordination issues that pop up when you start trying to sing along with your guitar.
1. Tackle something easy to start. You may want to dive right in and try to sing Megadeth’s “Hangar 18”, but that’s going to be pretty hard at first. Start with something strummy in the guitar and with a simple vocal melody. Try something like Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” or Green Day’s “Good Riddance”.
2. Learn the guitar part cold. If there’s one thing I’m not thinking about while singing and playing guitar, it’s the guitar part. You should have the guitar part down to the point where it’s no more difficult than tapping your foot.
A great way to develop the “brain independence” from your guitar is to play while your brain is distracted with something else. Try watching TV while you play the song. Or try reading a book (and remembering what you read). This disengages your brain from the process and lets your muscle memories take care of the guitar parts.
3. Work on one part at a time. Don’t try to tackle the whole thing at once. You might want to start with the chorus, since that’s the bulk of the song. Get that nailed down, then work out the verses and other sections.
4. Simplify the strum pattern. Once you’ve got the guitar part down and you’re going to try singing over it, you want to simplify what your picking hand is doing so you can feel where all the beats of the vocals go.
First try singing the song and just clapping your hands along. You’ll begin to see which words are on the beat and which are not. Then strum through the chords while singing, but just strum quarter notes. Be sure to match the right words with the downbeat.
5. Build up the strum pattern. This next step really depends on the rhythm of the song you’re playing. A lot of strum patterns are built with just quarter and eighth notes. Once you’ve got the quarter notes working, add in your eighths and you’ll be up to speed.
If you have a more complicated pattern, first add in the eighth notes, then any sixteenths that you need. If it’s a more arpeggiated pattern, start with strumming full chords, then picking eighth notes on the individual strings of the chord.
6. Don’t worry if you’re not singing completely on pitch at first. You want to get the rhythm of the vocal part down first. Then you can focus on nailing the right notes. Of course, you always want to try to hit the notes, but don’t stress out on it until you’ve got the rhythms together.
Remember… This can take some time to learn. Be patient with yourself.
When I was forced into becoming a singer (yes, forced), I already had an album full of songs ready to be recorded and a career to sustain. I’d only been the guitarist up until that point. I spend the next six months both learning how to sing, as well as sing and play. I sang and played for 3-4 hours a day for six months and then spent $10,000 recording an album that launched the next portion of my career as a performer. Why? Because I learn really damn slow.
You will probably get the hang of it faster than I did. But the moral of the story is that you won’t be awesome the first day. Keep working at it and be patient with yourself.
Now, go sing!
Learning how to read guitar notes will make learning songs easier…
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