Best Tips for Singing While Playing Guitar at the Same Time

singing and playing guitar Best Tips for Singing While Playing Guitar at the Same Time

You know and I know playing guitar can be a beautiful thing.

Some melody and rhythm can bring about the best of the human spirit and put it on display musically. There are also genres that sound great when all you hear is the instrument, stripped of the special effects, and the distortion; a lot of you like fingerstyle acoustic or classical guitar for that reason, I'd bet.

However there's one thing you can add that can just take your playing over the edge and give it powerful soul, and that's your voice. Probably every guitarist has tried singing while playing, I'm sure with varying degrees of success. For most of us singing can be very tricky. So, what's the reason for the difficulty, and what can you do that helps to overcome it?

So is Singing and Playing Guitar Really That Difficult to Do at the Same Time?

Before we get into the tips. Here's some important points to keep in mind:

  • Syncopating your singing voice to a piece of music can can range in difficulty from "piece 'o cake" to "friggin' near impossible". The difficulty will be due in large part to your skill level and comfort with the guitar, and in part due to the complexity of the piece of music you're working on. For example if your strumming a simple 1-2-3-4 chord pattern on your guitar, it's pretty easy to sing over that because your strumming hand isn't doing much more than keeping beat like tapping your foot or tapping your finger on a table–1-2-3-4. But… What gets tricky is when your strumming hand is doing something much more rhythmic, and add to that some complicated fingerings and you'll have the formula for "how the hell do I sing over that". icon smile Best Tips for Singing While Playing Guitar at the Same Time Don't worry, you're not the only one.
     
  • The majority of radio friendly songs aren't going too be too difficult to play, but certainly some will be, and if you're into a demanding genre like thrash metal it's time to think about a strategy for approaching the vocals. Simply playing riffs up to speed and trying to force yourself to sing along with a recorded song can lead to frustration quickly.  
     
  • KEY POINT: One of the biggest keys to your success will be your ability and desire to start SLOWLY. Sorry, I can't stress that enough.

Here are 4 more tips for successful vocals, whether your just starting to play, or you’re playing advanced riffage.

istock 000002812781xsmall02 Best Tips for Singing While Playing Guitar at the Same TimeTop Tips for Playing Guitar and Singing

  1. Practice the riff, then practice it again.
    Know the riff so well, and have it ingrained in your brain to the nth degree. You need to be able to play the riff and have a conversation with someone else in the room without skipping a beat. The riff should become almost involuntary like a heartbeat. This is especially important for complicated music.
     
  2. Listen carefully.
    Okay, you might think this is obvious, but I've found it's easy NOT to listen carefully, and it's easy to want to rush into playing and singing. If you don't take your time and listen to the music you're trying to sing–and I'm assuming here for many of you you're working on singing something that you didn't write yourself–then you may be practicing mistakes. Unfortunately when you practice mistakes you train yourself to sing it the wrong way. Slow down and take time to listen carefully to each bar of the music. If you have an MP3 player or CD player put on some headphones so you can tune the world out and get intimate with the music. You might find after careful listing that some singers come in just before or after the beat, or during mid measure. It's hard to pick up on details like this without a careful listen.
     
  3. Slow it down, and break it down.
    Break the riff into parts and practice rhythmically vocalizing the lyrics over the riff slowly. Take it a measure at a time. Don't worry about sounding good at this point, singing is rhythmic and the challenge here is to make sure you're saying the right words at the right time.
     
  4. Put down the guitar and come back.
    If you find a part of the song that is very tricky and you're getting frustrated–stop! Take a break and come back. Often with a refreshed ear your vocals will click in to place and you'll hear the music more clearly.

I'm sure these aren't the only tips that are helpful learn to sing and play guitar, but these are the tips that have worked for me and some of my students. If you've got some of your own tips, I'd really like to hear about them.

Other Good Resources for Learning Singing While Playing

Got a question or comment about singing while playing guitar? Please leave your comment below. 

Next Page: Tips to Fix Your Singing Mistakes

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 Best Tips for Singing While Playing Guitar at the Same Time

About Michael Jae

Michael is a guitarist of over 18 years and has taught lessons, played in front of live audiences, and wrote and recorded his own acoustic fingerstyle albums. He’s especially fond of playing classic rock, heavy metal, classical guitar, and fingerstyle acoustic guitar in the style of Leo Kottke and John Fahey.

Comments

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Comments

  1. One thing that helps for me is to think of the overall melody line – which starts with the first note of the song and finishes with the last, and is passed back and forth between the voice and all the other instruments in the band including your guitar. Your contribution to the melody line is your voice and your guitar – just play and sing the notes one after another as they come, thinking all the time of the *whole* sound you’re trying to make.

    When you’ve got used to thinking like that, you can expand it to thinking harmonically, too. Multi-string harmonic leads or voice and guitar in harmony can also be thought of as following the line, except you have to think of the tonal colour of the harmonic combination replacing the simple pitch of a single note.

    Does that sound like gobbledygook? Read it again, and think about it next time you’re listening to a piece of music. It will come right.

  2. yeah, it gets hard for me too. i mean playing something like the scientist or dare you to move isnt tough but something like dirty second hands or meant to live…i have to stop and go away and come back to not get frusterated…and then you have picking riffs like One or sliding down from 9-6-3 while shouting Stars at the top of your lungs…
    its all about practice, like you said. know them well so you dont freak out.

  3. “…you’ll here the music more clearly.”
    I tend to lose a lot of respect for people who can’t spell anyway but a site about music that can’t even spell the word “hear” correctly, that’s unforgivable.

  4. Hey Yahweh, I fixed the typo. Thanks. I know you can’t forgive me, but look on the bright side, I didn’t spell it correctly in the next to last sentence.

  5. Hey Palmyrah thanks for your ideas.

    I like your point about thinking of the whole sound. I think I sometimes tend to focus so much on one aspect of a sound that I forget and neglect the rest. I’ve gotten better about this over the years, but it’s something I find I have to remember to remind myself about.

    Singing and playing a new song (especially complicated rhythm like metal) is often like tapping your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time. At first it’s awkward as hell but you catch on after doing it a while.

  6. WHERE IS THE FIFTH TIP?!?

  7. This is something I talk about all the time with guitar players and beginners who want to do both.  Thanks so much for the article.  I will certainly recommend it.  I'm sure they'll find it a big help.

  8. I've been browsing around and this title got my attention 'cos I was feeling some frustration about not being able to sing and play one song out of a set we were working on in our last band practice..
    But it's really "right on" common sense that you've listed here. I'm just going to boil it down to practise and be patient. Not really any shortcuts. If I don't have to think about the riffs and my fingers know where to go on their own I can remember to sing… :)
    Thanks…
    Bree

    • Hey Bree, thanks for your comment. Yeah, I think it is common sense. There isn’t anything magical really, you just have to practice it. The difficulty of the material is really what is going to determine how much practice you need. Glad this was helpful to you. Best!

  9. Thanks for these tips.  I know that for some people, playing and singing at the same time is like rubbing their belly and patting their head.  
    The first three tips are important, because that's what will help to develop the technique.  I particularly like the last tip, though.  Sometimes stepping away before getting frustrated to let the techniques sink in will help immensely.

  10. Great tips…I don't play the guitar myself but I have a few friends that do. These are some really simple tips that can be applied to just about any instument. I wish Dean (one of my friends who plays) could read this earlier in his "career" especially the last tip. I've seen him destroy a couple of guitars out of frustration….lol. Great writing.

  11. I would recommend practicing with songs where the guitar part is a simple rhythm, especially one where the strumming isn't too syncopated.  Then, you can get used to singing over your second-nature accompaniment.
     

  12. My ex-roommate was one of the best guitarists I've ever seen in person.  He was also a fantastic singer, but for whatever reason, he just couldn't put the two together.  I guess it's like a drummer who has great rhythm, but only one hand at a time.  Anyway, I will send him a link to this article.

  13. I find that what works best for me when I'm learning to play a song is to play along with the song, like you mentioned.  That's one of the best things about learning music, as opposed to other art forms: you can participate with the original artist in the moment by playing along.

  14. Patricia Worth says:

    I believe patience is a very significant element when learning to sing with the rhythm of the guitar. At first you may think that it is hard but with hard-work, perseverance and the love of music, I think the efforts that you have given will be a success and you will have the feeling of fulfillment. Now what I’m learning is how to sing while playing the guitar. I think that these tips would be quite useful. Thank you very much for sharing this advise to everybody!

    Patricia’s Last Post: Perfect Gift

  15. I would recommend this tip: have fun! No matter what, it should be enjoyable. And the more you are interested in learning, the easier it will come.

    • Thanks Scott. That’s a good tip and one I tell all my students. Learning should be fun! If you’re a pro you may have to do more along the lines of “not so fun stuff” like learning to read music, knowing your scales in and out, and deeper theory, but for an average guitarist fun I believe is the key.

  16. I've been wanting to sing while I play bass for years, and very rarely I'll find something I can work out and play, but it's always been very basic.  These tips, which I already sorta know vaguely, are explained in such a way that I no longer think about how I'm going to figure out how to control all the craziness in both hands and sing at the same time.  You have made me understand better what I already sorta knew: it's not my skill level, but my approach and amount of patience that has been the problem.  Thanks!

  17. Another good thing to do would be to simplify the riff at first.  Just play the rhythm of the riff, or perhaps a simpler version (like maybe just downstrokes with simple fretting), until the balance of singing and playing is more comfortable.

    Great post!

  18. Learning how to play the guitar has always been my dream since elementary. Until now, that I am already a college graduate, I still did not find time to fulfill this dream.

  19. Surely, these tips are very great in giving me some helpful insights on how to reach my dream of playing the guitar.

  20. I’ve been wanting to play a guitar since i was 12, now im on my 20s, I think I find the love again of playing a guitar.

  21. Guitar is my first love, but really having a hard time singing with it. Excited to try this tips!

  22. hey. im trying to learn how to sing and play guitar to more technical guitar riffs. like waking the demon by bfmv

    • There are 3 basic approaches to really hard material which I think are best. 1) Know the riff so well you can play it while having a conversation, 2) slow it way down and practice singing 3) simplify or modify the riff so it’s easier to sing over, then once you get the hang of it, try the harder riff again. The KEY to all of this is to practice your ass off until you get it. You’re brain just needs to train, but if will get easier once you get the hang of it.

  23. is it just too damn impossible to try and do this. if anything i would just like to learn how to do the backup screams

  24. These are really good tips but I think some people are just naturally talented and some are not, for some there is no help out there.

  25. Have to compliment you on a very well-presented article and attractive website too. To be honest, I don’t think singing is my strong suit but maybe I can be persuaded to give it a try with the tips you have provided. I pity my neighbours though lol.

  26. I always just assumed that playing guitar was no more difficult that singing by itself, but now that this article has raised this fact, I realize that it could be a bit awkward to do both simultaneously – sort of like drawing a circle with one hand and a square with the other at the same time. It’s not impossible, but it can be awkward to some people. These tips do make a lot of sense though. Tip number two raised a question for me. Why do some singers wear earplugs on stage during a live performance? I have always thought it is to listen to the music better or for cue points embedded in the music to help their timing. I really do not know.

  27. Well if I had a voice to put with a guitar I would certainly try your advice but I am afraid that wouldn’t be a good idea. I do know this guy that is very talented when it comes to singing and playing the guitar though I will share this site with him, maybe he will find some pointers that can help him.

  28. When I first encountered this article, I wondered what could be so difficult about playing a guitar and belting out some vocals. I do not have any experience playing guitar so I needed this explanation to clarify why it can be challenging. And I did not need to better understand this to be able to agree with the first pointer to start slowly. That is because this is a universal technique that is used to get the hang of anything, whether it be playing the piano or learning a complicated dance routine or a complex karate form routine, the first thing that should be done is embed the movements into your head and to a lesser extent, In your muscle memory. Once you can do it without thinking too much, you can speed up.

  29. I found countless interesting in your blog especially its discussion. Keep your blog updating and enjoy!

  30. Thanks for this article.  I totally agree with you in that I've found it's all about practice and the difficulty of the material.  The more difficult the material, the more practice will be required to sing along with it. 

  31. Now i am a good singer.This article is very helpful to the beginners. I think, with a mini karaoke player(http://www.mini-karaoke.com) to practisee anywhere at anytime it will be quicker to be a good singer:-)

    • Michael Jae says:

      Karaoke, is cool. But heck you can sing in the car, in the shower with the radio on or off. I think one of the most important things is being able to listen to your singing carefully while you’re singing, or recorded, and make adjustments based on the tips I provided above. It’s not enough to sing, you have to sing and listen too.

  32. I am extremely impressed with your writing abilities and also with the layout for your blog. Is that this a paid subject matter or did you customize it yourself? Anyway keep up the excellent high quality writing, it is rare to see a great blog like this one these days..

  33. Thanks for the stuff above …. I feel like i am a few steps closer of fulfilling my dream of becoming a pop star… Thanks dude…that was some work

  34. Some guitar players are having difficulties singing while playing the instrument. These tips that you have shared to address this concern are truly helpful. Thanks for sharing. 

  35. Really Nice Tips On How To Sing Well. I liked Them all. It helped me..

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