Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Singing and playing an instrument at the same time might look easy when done by some of your favorite popular artists, but it takes a lot of practice to get to where you’re doing both things well. Building skills on either your instrument or as a vocalist takes daily work!
Already knowing how to play guitar helps, but it is possible for anyone to learn both simultaneously. With that in mind, here are some tips to learn to sing and play guitar at the same time.
Sing as much as possible
Any time you have a chance to sing, do it! The more private the situation (online signing lessons could be an option), the more you can explore your range and limitations without being self-conscious. Sing along with songs you love and challenge yourself with genres and styles you have never heard of. When you find a song that suits your voice, write it down and analyze it. Look up the song’s key and chords to get an idea of its structure and eventually you will start to identify keys that suit your voice.
Use a chromatic tuner or sit at a piano to see what notes you are singing. Try holding your notes and keeping them in tune, practice singing as much as possible, whether playing guitar or not.
Play a chord progression
But, even before you embark on finding the best key for your voice, start by playing a simple 1-4-5 chord progression! Guitars are chordophones, and most songs you play on them will come in the form of common sequences. Thousands of songs feature 1-4-5 progressions (or I-IV-V), and the easiest is the key of G, which is G-C-D.
Start slowly counting and play four quarter-note downstrokes of G, then C, then D, and then back to G again. Notice how the tension rises as you move through G-C-D and then resolves at the G. Hum or sing nonsense syllables along with this as you play it over and over. If you find your voice doesn’t fit G that easily, try a 1-4-5 in other keys.
Change your rhythm
As you play these chord progressions, keep humming, scatting, or bebopping random words — or go ahead and write some lyrics. Initially, we were singing along with downstrokes, but soon you will need to add more strums and upstrokes. Use these extra strokes to add more notes to your humming melody.
The whole point of humming along to chord progressions is to get an idea of when to change your vocal melody along with the chords or beat. It’s OK to noodle around and just get the vibe of playing guitar and singing at the same time — in fact, the more comfortable you are noodling around, the better you’ll be when you’re ready to execute a “real” part.
Try new chord progressions
Keep experimenting — move onto minor keys, like Am-Dm-Em, to explore a different vocal approach. A lot of rock, metal, and funk uses minor movements, so it might sound and feel familiar. Also try power chords and the barre chord shapes of these major and minor chord progressions to get an idea of different low and high registers.
Eventually you can start to mix major and minor chords in your progressions. Always pay attention and listen closely to the way your singing changes as you do. Another common chord sequence is G-D-Em-C, which has an epic quality because it moves from the root to the 5th and then the relative minor to the 4th. Even if these are not familiar concepts, your ear will begin to pick up on the changes and that will influence your vocal melody.
Start singing easy songs
Now that you have some of the basics down for how common chord changes occur, begin to look up as many easy guitar songs as you can. Kids tunes, public domain, traditional numbers, and easy pop songs are great places to start to find songs that have simple strumming patterns and lyrics. The closer the syllable or word changes are to each new chord, the better the song is for beginners.
When you find a song that works well for your vocal range and key, keep it for future practice and reference for finding other pieces. If you find a particular artist that your voice is suited for, look up other songs from the same artist. Because everyone has a unique voice, there is no one genre or style fitting that works for everyone — it takes a lot of trial and error to find your perfect practice tunes.
Sing and play guitar all the time
Once you are at the stage where you can sing and play simple lyrics with basic chord changes, it’s time to start recording and measuring your progress. Warning: listening to your own voice takes some getting used to. Bear in mind, you will be more critical than most, and the point of these recordings is not to share them with the world — you’re just trying to measure and improve on what you are doing. If your timing is off or your vocals are flat or sharp, slow down and work at it again.
There are many specific exercises and practice routines for singing and playing guitar together successfully, but ultimately it comes down to how much you work at it. Your voice is an instrument, and it needs to be honed and refined to be able to sustain and hold musical notes. Continue to work on common chord progressions and songs you’re familiar with and you’ll find singing and playing becomes easier if you keep a consistent practice schedule.
The best tip for singing and playing guitar at the same time is to work on your vocal and instrumental skills both separately and concurrently. Anytime you start idly strumming on the guitar, add a vocal line, whether it is real lyrics or just nonsense. With time, your control over both will increase and you’ll be able to separate your vocalization and rhythmic playing and master this musical skill!