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How to Approach Singing and Playing at the Same Time pt1

For a lot of people this is the ultimate aim for learning guitar. Perhaps you’re already a singer and you want to be able to accompany yourself at home or on stage. Maybe you want to be able to write the music and the lyrics to your own songs. However whenever you try suddenly your fingers become a mess of useless meaty spaghetti and your usually smooth voice sounds like Popeye singing through a desk fan.

What’s happening is pretty much the same as when you first tried to learn guitar, or pat your head and rub your stomach. You’re adding a new motor function that doesn’t necessarily synchronise with the rhythm of the others you are trying to achieve (remember your two hands are already working independently from each other, as if that wasn’t hard enough to achieve on its own!). Fortunately you have been talking and singing for years, and so whilst encompassing this in to your playing will require taking a few steps back and a methodical approach, you should see good results much quicker than you did when you first learnt guitar.

For the purpose of this post I’m going to assume you’ve learnt some guitar already and can do the following with some degree of proficiency.

  • Play the basic open major and minor chords. Em, C, G etc.

  • Change between those chords fast enough to play along with a simple song without singing.

  • Maintain a steady strumming pattern across those chord changes.

Without those three things already in place I wouldn’t necessarily recommend trying to sing and play just yet. Whilst you may be able to get through some of the exercises, you’ll probably find that adding another task to the multiple functions you have yet to master will just make learning them a little harder.

With that in mind let’s look at the first step in improving your ability to strum and play.

To begin with I’d like you to have a go at I’m a Believer as an example song. I’ve picked this one for several reasons; It’s fairly well known, there aren’t a huge number of chord changes and the same strumming pattern can be used throughout the song. If you would rather practice with a different song try to make sure it’s one that meets these same requirements, we’ll deal with more complex songs another time.

Let’s first look at the chord changes and make sure you’re ok with them. Each / / represents one bar of four beats. Two chords within one / / means that you play each chord for half a bar. Make sure you can play along with the song without singing before moving on.

Verse - / G / D / G / G / X2

Pre Chorus – / C / G / C / G / C / G / D / D /

Chorus – / G C / G C / x 4

Turnaround – / G / C / G / F /

Now we’re going to work on the easier part of playing and singing, synchronising your fretting hand movements with your vocals. Take each section at a nice slow pace and sing through it, strumming each chord only once. Here you are trying to focus on two things. Singing whilst using only the chords you are playing to provide the backing, and timing your chord changes so that they fall exactly where they are supposed to in relation to the lyrics/melody.

This hopefully won’t take too long to achieve if you don’t try to go to fast too soon, and before you know it you’ll be able to change chords without even thinking about it as you sing through the song. With that mastered you’ll be able to move on to the next step. Part 2 - Building a Strumming Pattern Over Lyrics

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