Learning how to sing and play guitar is hard, even for the most experienced performers. Getting better at may seem challenging but it is very rewarding.
You can sing and play guitar by practising your skills as a singer and guitarist. You should begin by working with both individually so you’re comfortable with the respective parts. Then you can start bringing the two skills together for performances.
Singing while playing the guitar is not an essential skill. However, think of how many more doors it could unlock if you can show that you are able to master new skills and continue improving.
Why can’t I sing and play the guitar at the same time?
If you can’t sing and play the guitar at the same time, it’s likely either because of a lack of practice of ineffective practice. For beginners, trying to split that concentration between two tasks often ends in disaster.
Going straight into singing and playing usually isn’t the best way to go if you’re struggling. We’ll show you how you can break down your practice to help you play well while you’re singing.
Playing guitar and singing exercises
To help you get to grips with combining these two elements, try singing the song but clapping the strumming pattern. This simplified version should get you thinking about the differences between the two parts and begin creating the separation you need to achieve to have your arms and vocals working independently.
Conversely, to improve the singing element while playing the full song on guitar, try humming the melody first. This simplification will again lead you towards separating the two elements and trying to be independent and yet in sync.
Also, follow our exercises below to help you improve your skills.
- Pick a simple song to sing or play
- Learn guitar and vocal parts separately
- Break it down
- Slow it down
- Build it up
- Try talking while playing
- Sing and play to recordings
- Practice transitions
- Strum without playing the chords
- Add in the chords
- Split your focus
- Play through the whole song
- Don’t give up
#1 Pick a simple song to sing or play
Start with a simple song, ideally one that you are already familiar with. The more natural it is to sing, the easier it will be to add the guitar part. Likewise, if there is a song you know inside and backwards on the guitar, begin learning the words to bring the two elements together.
You could start looking at songs with simple chord progressions that aren’t challenging to play on guitar. On the other hand, you could find songs with easy melodies and lyrics that you can remember easily.
#2 Learn guitar and vocal parts separately
Practice parts of a song individually until your singing and playing are at the same level. It’s a good idea to learn one part really well before you start learning the other part your next task. There’s no point trying to merge the two together until you feel comfortable with both parts individually.
It should be obvious that playing a guitar part will not help your voice stay in tune. Likewise, singing while playing guitar won’t make your chord changes more seamless. Once you’ve mastered both parts individually, expect as much practice time to play them both together.
#3 Break it down
To begin with, you should be singing and playing a broken down version of the song. That might mean dropping some chords and only strumming once per bar. It might mean reducing the melody to something more manageable. A song simplified but played perfectly is much better than a complex car crash.
In a lot of cases, less is more anyway – if you are trying to emulate a fully recorded hit song, there’s no way you can replicate the studio production all on your own. Take the opportunity to fully understand the song by reducing it to its constituent parts and then you can build it back up piece by piece if you need to. Think of it like your own live lounge performance.
#4 Slow it down
There’s also no virtue in trying to keep pace with a song if it hampers your ability to play it. Don’t be afraid to play it at half time and make sure you can really nail the transitions and the melody. Once again, a considered but beautifully performed song far exceeds a fast-paced pile of missed notes and off-key singing.
Some songs really benefit from being slowed down. Something magical happens when a great song is reworked to a new timing. Once again, it’s a huge opportunity for you to create a version of a song that has your own stamp on it. One where your qualities can shine through the material.
#5 Build it up
Once you begin to see progress, you can begin to build things up. But be mindful not to run before you can walk. Also, remember that complexity does not equal quality. The parts you should add in should be of sufficient quality that they significantly add to the performance.
Don’t be afraid to get some new ears on your version too. If you want to be a professional at some point you need to get used to playing for an audience and getting feedback.
#6 Try talking while playing guitar
If you find yourself struggling to get the rhythm on the guitar and the words out, try just talking instead. Practice playing a song, any song, and just speak the lyrics or have a conversation. The trick here is to disassociate your playing hand and the control of your vocal cords.
Over time, your voice won’t try and follow the strumming pattern. Your muscle memory should develop in such a way that the two become mutually exclusive. At this point, you can begin to sing again. Start by interrupting your normal conversation with a couple of sung lines. Then add more and more.
#7 Sing and play to recordings
Another great way to build autonomy of playing and singing together is to play along with the tune. This can either be through speakers or headphones. When you are learning this can be the easiest way to bluff through your mistakes and keep going.
Keep playing the song over and over and you will make small gains each time. Eventually, you will get to that all-important milestone of having a song in the bag.
#8 Practice transitions
It is quite common to get individual sections well rehearsed but the transitions can be more challenging. You might have your verse and chorus down but make mistakes going from one to the other. These transitions require more attention so that you don’t stumble while performing.
Try and identify which element is tripping you up and concentrate on those transitions in particular. Orchestras do this a lot when they rehearse to make sure that when there are sudden changes in the music, the whole group knows what to do. Simply play the bar before, master the change and then keep repeating until it becomes automatic.
#9 Strum without playing chords
For a lot of players, the difficulty arises because of the contrasting rhythms of the strumming hand and the melody. You will often find yourself singing to the strumming pattern. To train this out, try muting the strings on the guitar and then practising the guitar rhythm and the melody.
This should help you concentrate more on differentiating the two elements. Again, this will need to be practised over and over to develop that muscle memory which will enable you to master the two disciplines as one.
#10 Add in the chords
When you have successfully managed to create that all-important distance between melody and strumming, you can begin to add in the chords. Having the alternate music coming in may be off-putting, to begin with, but persevere and you will see results pretty quickly.
#11 Split your focus
As you become more proficient you should be able to notice that you can give either the singing or your guitar playing your attention as you perform. This is a vital step on the way to mastery as it shows that there is some autonomy built up on both disciplines, allowing you to pull your focus and make minor adjustments to one discipline without affecting the other.
#12 Play through the whole song
In the early stages, you are bound to mess up. Rather than stop playing at each of these junctions and going back to the start, try pushing through. There’s a vital feedback mechanism that comes with getting to the end of a song that helps iron out mistakes. Try playing the whole song start to finish over and over rather than stopping each time there is a bump in the song.
#13 Don’t give up
We’ve said this a lot in our instructional posts, but perseverance is as important as any natural talent you have. Any performer will tell you there were times when they wanted to jack it all in but they just kept going and going. It’s this quality that will see you get to your desired standard and push beyond.
If you are struggling, take a break and remind yourself why you love music and how important this skill is to your success. You got this!
Easy songs to sing and play the guitar at the same time
What you will enjoy playing and can learn quickly will depend on your current skill level and musical taste, however, here is a quick list of songs that can be simplified so you can try your hand at singing while playing guitar.
- Hey Joe by Jimi Hendrix
- Let It Be by the Beatles
- Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash
- Free Falling by Tom Petty
- The Passenger by Iggy Pop
- House of the Rising Sun by The Animals
- Polly By Nirvana
I can play the guitar but I can’t sing
It’s really important to remember that if you put your mind to it, you can achieve anything. At one time you couldn’t play the guitar either. Rather than try to learn to play and sing at the same time, put the guitar down and concentrate on those vocals. Then come back to the guitar. Once you have mastery of both, you are in a better position to combine the two.
Does playing guitar make you sing better?
When you are learning to sing and play together, the chances are your vocal performance is going to take a hit, while you master the skill. That being said, having a guitar accompaniment is likely to help you stay in key and guide your vocal performances. It should certainly help you spot flat notes and any drifting out of key that may occur.
How do I keep my guitar rhythm while singing?
This really is the crux of the problem when it comes to combining singing and playing the guitar for the first time. You find that you immediately change your vocal pattern to suit the guitar, or your strumming hand just gets confused and does its own thing.
Overcoming this is the secret to success. Look back over our 13 exercises and you’ll be able to improve in no time. Start as simply as you can, perhaps clapping your strumming rhythm while singing, then move back to the guitar and try with muted strings. Once you have mastered that, add the chords back in.
Do you sing with a guitar? Tell us your best tips to learn how to sing and play guitar at the same time.