5 tips to help you sing and play guitar…at the same time.
By Samantha Perren
Are you the kind of person who struggles to do more than one thing at a time? Always had trouble patting your head and rubbing your tummy instantaneously? Never fear. Here are some tips to get you singing and playing guitar at the same time.
Playing and singing is a bit like riding a bike. At first you feel very unsure, a little wobbly and very likely to lose your balance at any second, but you persevere and next thing you know, it’s second nature. You can’t remember a time when you couldn’t ride a bike. When at first you attempt to play and sing, those two things can seem like they are on opposite sides of the galaxy and your brain is trying so hard to focus on two things that require completely different techniques. With a little time, practice and these 5 tips, you’ll be able to bring them closer together until they are within each other’s orbit, where they will stay forever.
- Get your guitar part down pat.
Ok so, one thing at a time. When you first start playing guitar, your brain is already going in two different directions. Your left side (forming the chords shapes) and your right side (keeping the rhythm), or the opposite way if you are left-handed. I recommend taking some time to practice your chord changes and your strumming FIRST so that your brain doesn’t freak out when you try and add singing on top of that. When you feel like you are changing chords without thinking too much about where your fingers go and strumming your rhythm consistently in time, you’ve successfully passed the baton over to your muscle memory. Congratulations! that’s the biggest hurdle you will overcome as a rhythm guitarist and now your brain can start to focus on other things – like singing!
- Sing over single strums
Finding where your lyrics fit with the chords can be really tricky. When you download your chord charts off the internet, the chords don’t always sit directly on top of the correct words. You really need to use your ears and knowledge of the song to get the rhythm right. I recommend taking out the strumming pattern to start with and just doing “single strums” e.g. one strum for every chord you see in your song. This will help you focus on the timing of the lyrics and adjust your ears to the sound of the chords as an accompaniment. You can even try this along with a recording of the song to get used to the timing (just make sure you’ve got a capo ready if you need it to play in the same key as the original song).
- Have a chat while you’re strumming
So now you’re ready to add your strumming pattern into your song. If you’re still finding that you’re concentrating really hard on your strumming resulting in your singing not feeling quite right, you might be overthinking it. Try having a chat while keeping your strumming pattern consistent. It will be difficult at first, but it will train your brain to trust your strumming arm to just do its thing. Get someone to ask you a bunch of questions while you are strumming or even try following your parents/partner/housemate/friend/cat around the house, asking them questions while you just keep strumming. You’ll find before you know it, your strumming pattern will just happen and once again, your muscle memory has won.
- Line up where your lyrics go within your strumming pattern and slow it down.
Ok this is where the magic happens. Slow your strumming pattern right down and figure out exactly where the lyrics sit. Think about which beat the first word starts on. If it’s beat one, you can come in singing with your first strum, if it’s beat two – you’ll have to strum first then sing. I like to write this all out for my students when they first start playing and singing. Say we take the verse of the song “Shotgun” by George Ezra, and using a simple Down, Down, Up, Up, Down, Up strumming Pattern, it would look a little something like this:
This way you can see where the strums sit over the corresponding words. It can differ dramatically from line to line depending on the rhythm of the lyrics. Once you’ve got the hang of this, you won’t need to write it all out anymore. Your brain will just interpret the song for you.
- Stop thinking so much and enjoy yourself
For me, singing and playing guitar is something I do really well when I just let go and enjoy myself. It’s when I start thinking too much about the rhythm that I’m more likely to make a mistake. Now keep in mind, it’s important to get the previous four steps ingrained in your playing before you completely switch your brain off. However, when you feel that you are starting to really groove with your singing and your playing, it’s time to stop thinking so much and let your body do its thing. Then your brain can focus on the next big thing – your first live performance!
This may seem like a lot of work, but it’s something that can happen over the course of a couple of weeks! Both our guitar and singing teachers at Downtown Creative Studios can help you out and get you playing and singing at Open Mic Night before you know it.