How to sing and play guitar at the same time (Part 1)

So whether you’re a guitar player who wants to sing along, or a singer looking for accompaniment, the process is the same (considering that you’re already at least at decent level in both).

First off for people who know little about me I am a singer who originally started as a guitar player but ended up having a pretty wide vocal range and control. So now I sing and play my guitar and do it unconsciously almost all the time!

Why people struggle so much with singing and playing guitar at the same time? (I still struggle at first hand when I encounter a very complex passage) but every pattern can be learned no matter how complex it is.

Singing and Playing Guitar

The inability to sing and play at the same time comes from synchronization issues between what you are singing and playing. So you guessed it ... the next thing to do is to learn how to coordinate playing the guitar and singing at the same time.

It’s not easy, but it’s probably easier than what you think, for some people it might even come naturally, them being able to perform easy songs such as campfire sing-alongs and other easy tunes in 4/4.

The way I see it, it is generally the same way when you first started out on the guitar. You were all nervous about it and not really sure on which frets to put your fingers, making excessive useless tension on the fingerboard, nearly fainting from pain. All of this while trying to look at your picking/strumming hand, trying to keep the rhythm, trying to hit the right notes and strings, and the list goes on… I think you got the idea … basically you had to coordinate your hands to do two different things at the same time.

Now imagine that singing and playing guitar at the same time has the same concept, each thing is running on its own and on the surface, at least, they seem to be totally disconnected.

So for now in the part 1 of “how to sing and play guitar at the same time”, I’ve decided to divide the process of learning a new EASY song in 4/4(not containing lots of syncopation, singing while soloing or melody playing or any of that stuff) in 4 steps, you will need to do the following:

Step 1

Do the exact same thing you’re used to do when learning a new song on the guitar, if you’re one of my students then you’ve probably been taught how to do it, if you’re not then you can do it the way it suits you for now.

- The primary objective in step one is to memorize all the parts of the song, all the patterns, the chord progressions and the melody. If you’re working on a particular section, then learn that section only.

- Second objective is practice it enough to be able to run on autopilot. Play it without even thinking about it, let it become your second nature. The learning process might vary depending on your level of course, but I would recommend for you to play the WHOLE song (or section) at least 5-6 times before even thinking about hitting step 2.

Step 2

As you noticed we are isolating the learning process into small parts, at the end this will all make sense together and will go smooth like peanut butter on bread. Now in step 2:

- Before attempting to sing, LEARN THE LYRICS, I can’t emphasize enough on that. Read the text a couple times before singing it and try to understand the meaning as well, studies have shown that if someone understands the meaning of something they can memorize it faster! Once the lyrics are mastered and the vowels perfectly spelled tricky notes falling on hard vowel will be picked up faster. After all we don’t want to spend the whole day going through the lyrics to fix this and that.

- By now you should have a mere idea of how the singing is going to sound, you already listened to the song a couple of times, played it a couple more and understood its lyrics.

Step 3

Time to sing !

- Also like step 1, I would recommend to sing the whole song (or section) at least 5-6 times until you start running on autopilot, you should hit the notes without thinking about them and guessing before attempting to hold your guitar again.

- You need to learn how singing relates to the rhythm. I recommend that you try out your vocal parts using a quarter note beat, and find out which words fall on the beat and which fall off beat. You can strum in quarter notes (meaning strum on 1,2,3,4 only) with your guitar or use a metronome.

Step 4

At first I told you to separate the singing and the playing. Well forget about that now. There is one thing I want you to realize at this point: both guitar and vocal parts rely on the groove therefore you shouldn't be thinking about them as two different things. I want you instead to think how singing parts can help your guitar playing and how your guitar playing could support your singing.

Now its time to sing and play ! Try it out a couple times, record yourself and see where the mistakes are happening. Is it in your stumming? Or is it in your singing? is it both? Where are the mistakes falling? Fix them then record again and compare.

Rinse and repeat until it gets nearly perfect.

Keep in mind we’ve only scratched the surface in Part 1 and more tricks and techniques will be talked about in the next articles of this series.

One last word

It’s not magic; it takes patience and a lot of it. Singing and playing guitar Is like any other multitask activity, except it’s an art and not some random stuff!

It might take you some time, but like anything else and like your guitar playing it will become soon enough a second nature to you to perform both simultaneously. Once you’ve conquered that skill consider yourself lucky enough to be part of only a small chunk of guitarists worldwide that can do that on a professional level.

About the Author:

Jack Haddad is a guitarist, singer/songwriter, performer and guitar instructor. He is the director of JHGuitarSchool in Kaslik-Beirut, Lebanon. Anyone in Lebanon interested in becoming a better guitarist, click here for the best guitar lessons in Lebanon.