Playing and Singing At The Same Time – How To Perform Your Favourite Songs Confidently
Many people who take up guitar look forward to being able to sing and play their favourite songs, with friends, at parties, at open mics and maybe on bigger stages. They go and buy a guitar, they enjoy the shimmering sound of the strings, they admire the colour, they take it home, and...
...and then they try to switch from a G chord to a C chord and it takes forever. Eventually, it gets a little easier, but trying to remember the words, sing the notes in tune and keep a steady rhythm, get to the next right chord all at the same time can make the whole thing fall to pieces. Can you relate to this? I'm going to explain why this happens (it's not just you...everyone who has not mastered the individual elements will struggle to play and sing well at the same time) and I'm going to give you a list of steps you can follow so that every time you practice, you're getting closer to that moment of freely playing and singing awesome songs.
You can only think about one conscious thing at once, and so in order to be able to play chords (which has a number of different processes: the left hand needs to change, the right hand needs to keep a steady strumming pattern, and you need to recall the sequence), and sing at the same time, all the playing aspects have to be sufficiently well known to be automatic. The best way to make each part automatic is to work on each element separately, and have a plan for continuing to develop your expertise on rhythm playing, chord vocabulary and singing individually. If the time you spend working on playing songs is made up of trying to play the song and sing at the same time without breaking it down, it's going to be a longer process to raise the level of the result, and if there's one tricky chord change or rhythm figure, that will continue to pose a problem and undermine your confidence in playing the whole song through.
Get really familiar with the song. Listen to it in a new way – not in the way you usually listen to music. Listen to everything about it-notice more deeply what's going on-dynamics, emphasis, how long each part is, you can count it out.
Learn the guitar part, strip it back, keep it simple. Extract any challenging bits and work on them separately.
Play the guitar part while talking! If you can play the guitar part automatically while talking to yourself or a friend. If so, you're ready to add singing.
Now listen back to the song for the singing and drill down into all the detail you can in terms of volume, dynamics, range, intensity etc.
Some people suggest writing out the lyrics-because that really reinforces the structure of the song and listening.
Work on the singing separately.
Make sure you know what syllable the chords change on. You can annotate the lyrics to be sure you know where the chord changes happen in relation to the beat.
Now strum downstrokes on the beat with a muted guitar, do it along with the original recording and sing along. This is the first part of automation.
Now play the chords four strums per bar and sing along.
Now combine whatever the rhythm of the song is with the chords. Voila!
Diana de Cabarrus is an educator, songwriter and performer based in Edinburgh. If you're interested in taking guitar lessons in Edinburgh, contact Diana