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Singing and playing the guitar at the same time

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Though it is a recurring and popular topic, singing while playing the guitar is not such a huge mystery as it seems: it is just the ability to do two things at once. In order to succeed, it is best to split challenges between the guitar and the vocals. The more time you spend practising each element separately, the easier it is to put them together later on.

Basics required for this lesson : How to read and play chords for beginners, Introduction to rythm for beginners, How to play beautiful strumming patterns,
Practice this lesson : None

Before you begin, keep in mind that playing the guitar and singing are two completely different things. Each instrument has its own techniques, methods, etc. So do not expect to sing like a god unless you work on your voice. Do not expect to learn to sing by reading this lesson, either, as this is not the goal. First and foremost, this will be a question of vocals / guitar synchronization, and this is working on this assumption that you already know how to sing... at least a little. No need to cover several octaves, just singing will cover the bases for starters.

In the same sense, to be able to sing while playing, you have to master chords, their sequence and the strumming patterns. If you cannot play strumming pattern on the guitar, it is imperative that you cross this path. It is the guitar that will provide the pace and therefore, provide the necessary references to place the singing. If the base is unstable, the singing will be wobbly and the performance will be bad, it is as simple as that.

Learning to sing while playing


singing while playing the guitar, illustration

Choosing your first song is important: you must choose a song that is easy to play on the guitar (in 4/4, without syncopation, off-beats, etc.) and on vocals (acceptable lyrical flow, easy melody). Like any other work, you should choose a song that you like. Don't be too greedy, there is no need to unnecessarily complicate the task or to get forever turned off. In all cases, you must know the song you want to work on as if it is second nature.

There is no specific method to learn how to sing while playing, the basis of which is to work both of these elements independently, and then bring them together (which we will see a little later).

Some will tell you it is best to work the vocals first, others will say to work on the guitar before going any further. In fact, it depends entirely on the musical sphere from which you come from. If you are a singer, you will work on the element that you have the least mastery over so, the guitar, and vice versa if you're a guitarist. In our case, we'll begin by singing.


The song has a predetermined rhythm. From a technical standpoint, the lyrics are a succession of syllables to which we apply a melody. In fact, if the rhythm is changed, we simultaneously shift the placement of the syllables and the rendering becomes incorrect (although it is possible to recover if your skill level allows). Just as the guitar does not really have a specified rhythm and we cannot simplify the song, we will therefore learn by simplifying the guitar.

To begin, we'll select a portion of the song to work on (i.e. the verse) and analyze where the syllables are placed relative to the rhythm (the tabs from the site are very accurate from this point of view).

Remember to warm up your voice with specific exercises before going further.

When you're ready, start by singing acappella, without using your guitar but with the help of a metronome. As required, check the accuracy of your placement by listening to the piece at the same time. Once everything seems to be well put in place, note of the difficulty and take your guitar. Mute the strings from the left hand and play all the beats (the quarter note then if you follow) with the right hand. This will get you used to drowning the song in relation to the beat and will provide you with a first physical rhythm marker.

Once you're comfortable, keep the momentum by picking the right chords on every beat. The difficulty at this point will be to avoid bombing the song when you are changing chords.

If you are comfortable as far as the song is concerned, you can proceed to the next step, namely to establish a real rhythm.

The guitar

We just used our guitar as a support for learning to drown the song in rhythm; now, we will have to polish all of this at the guitar level. To do this, choose a strumming pattern and play the chords in the strumming pattern while concentrating closely to the guitar. Don't simplify the matter any longer by simply performing down strokes, as we saw, as this is no longer of interest here.

Note, however, that from a purely theoretical point of view, a more gradual approach that consists of cutting the strumming pattern from its simplest form to its final form, is also possible (it is then a matter of gradually complicating the strumming pattern by adding a stroke, then another, until you reach the final strumming pattern).

Mastering this part of rhythm guitar is an essential step because this is what you are most likely to forget when you are focused on singing during synchronization. When the mechanics are well-oiled, sing in your head, no sound should come out of your vocal cords. Depending on your level of knowledge of the song and / or your coordination skills, you should notice a slight, or you may see a big difference in the level of concentration necessary that you need to play in rhythm. If you experience difficulties, just continue moving forward until it all becomes more natural.

Note that you can obviously skip this step and just sing but know that mental focus is often more effective to your work, if you are having trouble.

Song/guitar coordination

Singing and playing with references

To facilitate the learning of coordination between the guitar and singing, it is useful to have your own benchmarks in order to keep rhythm in place. These marks may take different forms, and as there really are not any conventional methods that exist, but I will teach you the one I use, which have proven to be useful for many years. ;)

This technique is to tap your foot to the beat by alternating rhythmically alternating left / right (or vice versa). The idea is to have both a useful pulse to the beat (and to the groove) as well as a visual overview to help you, if you are lost. Moreover, in doing so, you should always find the first beat of a measure with the same foot, theorectically (in 4/4, as is the case with the vast majority of the pop / rock songs).

For songs whose rhythm structure and chord changes are simple, this also assumes that the changing of the chords and of the measure occur under the same foot. At the same time, you decrease significantly the risk of bombing the rhythm.

The choice of which foot to start with is therefore important since it is your physical point of reference throughout the song. In summary: you tap your feet on the blacks, here is what happens in a more visual way.

1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &
L   R   L   R

G = pied gauche, D = pied droit

Of course, this is a general rule to help you get started and not an absolute truth (even in 4/4, this can change depending on the structure of the songs).

In my case, I start with the left foot (which is not without its own problems with my cajon where I have a tendency to play my points of reference with my right hand, but that's another story). With practice, you will find that this will come naturally, you will start to see repetitive structures and instinctively, you will play according to the same patterns structures.

Particular cases

To fill your repertory up, you will need to master various special cases that you will find accompanying some songs.

A non-exhaustive list of festivities that await you:


They can be quite mind-boggling if you are not in the habit of playing them. You'll find regular ones which exist as an integral part of the rhythm, but you will also have irregular ones which serve to enrich a piece. If I refer to my technique of left foot / right foot, you must therefore change the chord between two beats of the foot:

1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &L   R   L   R

To train, Mr Jones or Talking about a revolution are excellent choices.

Complex structures

All of the chords do not necessarily have the same number of beats so you must know these particulars before quickly having to step up to the plate (on the site you will find '-' to indicate that the duration of a chord is halved compared to the base period - often 4 or 2 beats)

Effects of style

The most often that you will find these arrangements (slides, hammer-on, ...) are at times when the singing is absent but it is also possible to find them with the words (i.e. Sex and candy). In this case, prepare these riches well, effects are guaranteed!

Irregular beats

If you're used to chaining rhythms in 4/4, switch to 6/8, 3/4 or others, perhaps for the least disruption. Here, it is more a case of automation compared to what we listen to or what we used to playing. In all cases, these are worked separately.

Once you have more or less mastered these special case, multiply the fun by trying new strumming patterns on other pieces that you are working on. Even if the ¾ base strumming patterns (such as the famous campfire strumming) allow you to play 90% of the songs, working several strumming patterns will help make you more comfortable and will allow you to stick a lot more closely to the spirit of the songs that you will find.

Tuning, arpeggios an interpretation

Capos and tone

Tone, arpeggios and interpretation

If the capo is used to finding new sounds during the process of composition, it will also be especially useful to vocals since it allows you to change the tone of a song, and will therefore adapt to your voice.

Do not hesitate to put a capo in the songs that are composed without them, or even to try different placements as a means to adjust your tone to your voice. If playing with a capo mechanically increases the pitch of notes played on the guitar, singing the reciprocal equivalent is not always true: it is possible to facilitate the singing of your deep voice while placing a capo on the neck.

According to the same principle, do not hesitate to lower the tone of an arrangement to suit your voice (i.e. what's up). Singing and playing while trying to maintain the original key of a song is nonsense, it's all about adapting to your voice and arrangement.

If the original piece is available, do not change anything (unless you are trying to produce a more personal interpretation); if you have any difficulties, do not hesitate to try different transpositions.

In the end, you find the ideal compromise between vocal range, power and general control.

Singing while playing arpeggios

When you have practiced coordinating your guitar / vocals with different types of strumming patterns and have taken on various special cases, you are ready to move to the ultimate challenge: arpeggios (and riffs) while singing.

As it is a different application from the concept that we have learned, there is nothing special to add here, except that it is better to start by playing the guitar, then gradually adding in the singing.

Just as we saw with the cutting of the strumming patterns in the song (the first part), it will be necessary here to cut the line of the song in order to gradually adapt to the complexity of the arpeggio.

The only real advice to follow is in terms of to the selection of your songs: most of all, start slowly. Train again and again...

To help you, here are some ideas :

  1. Everybody Hurts (REM) : The arpeggios are regular. In fact, we instinctively take the pace on more easily.

  2. Don't Cry (Guns N' Roses) : A little more difficult than the REM song, this arpeggio allows you to address changes/rhythm breaks with more flexibility. Apart from the black before the Dm, there isn't any major difficulty to point out, aside from an increased speed for the notes.

  3. Something in the Way & Come as you are : If the arpeggios of these two songs are super-simple, coordinating it with singing is much more complicated than it seems. These are good for training!

  1. One of Us : Fairly regular arpeggio, a little more complex and a little finger picking. A good step for learning and refining your skills.

  2. Tears in Heaven : A fairly difficult song in terms of vocals / guitar coordination, mastering this will open many doors.

Groove and interpretation

The groove is the finishing touch by which you can print your own style to a song. There is no such thing as learning text or chord from a technical point of view that is not also the culmination of the creative act. Rather, it is only the beginning.

The important thing to note is the interpretation and the aesthetic choices, the emotion; for this, it is essential to master the technique and the rhythm. A song is mastered when it is automated and it is only from there that the real work of interpretation can begin.

Singing while playing, conclusion

You will see that from memorisation to automated storage, it is but one step but it requires a lot of training and perseverance.

One last little thing: if you are wondering how some artists manage to sing complex melodies while playing riffs that are a bit complicated, do not forget one thing: they are the ones who created it​​! It makes sense that they would have no difficulty in synchronizing something that probably came to them naturally.