Are you finding it difficult to sing and play guitar at the same time?
Many people that are learning to play guitar face this difficulty. You practice the guitar part for a long time and yet each time you try to add the words it all falls apart. Many of the most famous guitarists that we can think of can naturally sing and play at the same time. So, what is their secret?
Playing singing and playing the guitar at the same time makes a performance much more rounded and engaging. However, it’s more challenging because it requires focus on two tasks at the same time. Scientists believe that long-term muscle memory is created when a task is repeated over time, eventually allowing it to be performed with little to no conscious effort. Like many other everyday activities that benefit from it, playing and singing at the same time becomes automatic and improves with practice.
How to get better at singing while you play guitar
Here are 15 steps you can take to improve your ability to multitask as a guitarist. Start from the beginning and work your way through these tips. If you are already familiar with some, focus on those you haven’t tried yet.
1. Start with a simple song
Regardless of whether you are an experienced guitar player or not, it is important to pick a song that doesn’t go beyond your skill level. Start easy and work your way up, otherwise, you’ll likely end up feeling lost and frustrated.
A good starting song has just a few chords, a simple strum pattern and memorable lyrics like Wonderwall, Wish You Were Here or Let it Be. Here’s a playlist of songs that are easy to play and sing along to:
If you need some more suggestions, you can search for “famous songs with four chords or less” on Google or have a look at the easy guitar songs list on Ultimate Guitar.
Alternatively, incorporate song learning into your everyday music listening by using Guitar Scout to automatically search for chords when you’re listening to music online.
2. Listen to your song, a lot
You need to become best friends with the rhythm, the melody and the lyrics of a song to play and sing it well. Listen to the song over-and over, paying attention to its constituent parts and how they change.
How many beats are in a bar? What timing is it in? What’s the strumming patterns in each section?
Many people find it easier to absorb a song in this way by using headphones.
Easily find song lyrics while watching YouTube or listening to music on Spotify using Guitar Scout.
3. Learn the guitar part
Now that you know the song inside-out, develop muscle memory for guitar playing. This means listening, practicing and playing along with the original video recording. Play from start to finish as many times as you can and if you struggle with any particular part, focus on that part and practice it until you get it right.
Be honest with yourself and don’t get lazy.
It’s easy to bluff yourself here, but focussing on the difficult things will ensure that you are progressing your overall skill, and as long as you’ve not picked something that’s too far beyond your skill level, should keep you engaged and motivated to learn.
For more specific suggestions, you can read our other article on how to get better at playing guitar.
Try playing along with videos and Spotify by using Guitar Scout the next time you’re looking at a guitar tab online.
4. Practice with a metronome
As you learn to play and sing, you’ll probably struggle to match the beat of the lyrics with that of the strum pattern or tab. A metronome is a tool that keeps a constant beat at a given pace.
Although you might find that it just adds another layer of complexity initially, in the long run it will help you to understand when you’re out of time and to become a more consistent player. Keeping time is also a vital skill to learn if you ever plan on playing with other people.
Try practicing simple strumming patterns with a metronome for 10 minutes a day, and you’ll soon see major improvements. Other people find it useful to tap the foot to the beat of the song whilst playing. After some time, your foot will become your own metronome, helping you to always play in time.
Guitar Scout can automatically find and set a metronome for you when learning a song on the guitar.
5. Practice until it’s hunky-dory
By this time, you should have practiced the guitar part so many times to be able to play it without any problems. A way to tell if you have learned the part is to check whether you still need to think about what you’re playing. Try concentrating on tapping your foot while you play and see if this throws you off.
You should be able to think of the different components of a song as if you’re doing different tasks in your day-to-day life. You should be humming that melody as you do the dishes, dancing to the beat with your hoover, and serenading duckie with the melody in the bath.
6. Listen to your song a lot more
It’s time now to play the song even more. This time instead pay attention to the vocals: how is it sung? How does it flow? Are the notes going up or down? As with the guitar part, you should be able to instinctively play it in your head by the end of this step. Play the song more and more until you become familiar with any part of the guitar playing as well as the singing.
Use Guitar Scout’s dashboard to quickly jump to videos and lyrics that you have seen before to play the songs again.
7. Sing along with the recording
Practice singing your song aloud as many times as you can. Try to replicate the pitch, beat, and pauses. It will be useful to play the song or the video and sing along to make sure you’re following the pitch and pacing.
8. Study the lyrics
Learn the lyrics by memory. Focusing on singing the melody and keeping the beat is easier if you don’t have to read the lyrics. One way to memorise lyrics is to write them down over-and-over again.
With this method, you can more easily recollect the vocals and melody of a word by seeing its position on a page. Studying the lyrics and their meaning is also important in order to develop an emotional attachment to the song. This will add authenticity to your performance later on. Learn the lyrics line by line and verse by verse, you’ll get there in no time.
9. Memorise where the chords change
By this time, you should be so familiar with the vocals of the song and know where the chords change. Not just what words, but which syllable within a word. Try writing down a sign or the strum name just above the lyrics to remember where to change chords while playing.
10. Sing and play muted strums on each beat
Now that you know the lyrics and vocals instinctively, grab your guitar! Don’t play chords yet, simply sing and play muted strums on each beat. To play a muted strum, gently place the fretting hand over all of the strings and strum as usual.
This technique helps you feel the rhythm and practice the singing without having to worry about the guitar too much. You’re not trying to make it sound great yet, you just want to get used to singing and playing at the same time.
11. Sing and play chords on a simple rhythm
Now that you have introduced into your muscle memory when to move the fretting hand along in the song, you can start playing chords. Still, keep it simple: play just 4 strums per bar (or 3, if the song is in 3:4 time). If you aren’t keeping the beat by tapping your foot yet, this is a great time to start.
12. Hum the melody while you play
Some people prefer to keep playing the guitar and instead learn how to sing along rather than the other way around. If you are one of those people, instead try to hum the melody over the strumming pattern. Just humming the vocals relieves you from having to recollect and articulate the words. This should cut you some slack so that you can focus on synchronising with the strumming.
13. Replace the humming with lyrics
If you followed the previous steps, you should have the guitar part, the lyrics and humming the melody over the strumming well ingrained in your muscle memory by now.
The next step is to bring it all together. This is the most difficult step to master, so do not despair if you still find it very difficult. Try to sing along and gradually play muted strums or chords on each beat as suggested earlier.
14. Slow down, if need be
The key to learn how to manage both of these activities at the same time is to progressively improve your skills as a guitar player and singer.
If you are still struggling a bit, don’t worry, it’s perfectly normal. You might find it helpful to slow down the pace of the song. Slow it down to a pace where you can get all the way through it without making errors.
Then gradually increase the speed as you gain confidence. If you’re still playing along to the song, you can use YouTube’s speed settings to slow it down so you can play along with it more easily.
15. Make it your own!
Now that you can play the song in the original format you will have learned a bunch of new skills and techniques from this artist. Decide what elements of the song you like or what you think would sound better and play around. Get creative and figure out how you want to play this song. This is where your individuality comes in.
- Keep practising the playing and singing you are struggling on for at least for 5 minutes a day
- Learn to keep playing the guitar when you make a mistake
- Make sure that the fingerstyle or the strumming patterns are fully automatic
- Keep shifting your attention between the vocals and the guitar until you’re equally skilled performing both
- Harder things like riffs, fingerpicking or even singing require more practice: consider working your way up to these elements in a song at first by substituting them with an easier alternative.
If you managed to progress through all the steps to this point, congratulations! You now know how to play the guitar and sing a song at the same time. Now is the time to take the next step and start performing for your friends and family. You’ll also find that learning your next piece is much easier thanks to the positive and conscious effort you’ve made this time around.
Being able to play the guitar and sing along is an amazing skill to have. It doesn’t matter what your motivation is – to perform the songs of your favourite artist, play for your friends, or even preparing for a gig – your audience will be much more engaged if you can both play and sing.
Good luck! ??
The next time you ask yourself…
“How do I sing and play guitar at the same time?”
Use the suggested frame to make it easier on yourself by learning using Guitar Scout, your own personal, online guitar assistant. Let it handle finding you the right tab and its lyrics for you, playing along to songs with you and keeping track of what you’ve learned so far. Start warming up your vocal cords by trying Guitar Scout today.