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". 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.
Top Tips for Playing Guitar and Singing
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.
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.
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.
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
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