by Scott Zimmerman

This article will show you how to sing and play guitar at the same time. To learn more about guitar playing, view our courses here.

Singing and playing guitar is a very satisfying musical experience. Everyone has a voice and can sing; in fact, we have had this instrument since birth. Now, let’s make sure we have the correct perspective on singing. We are not talking about professional singing; we are referring to the kind of singing that most of us do in private. It’s fun! Right? So, the next step is to learn how to sing and play guitar- even more fun!

When we are singing and playing, we are actually playing two instruments at the same time. The key to singing and playing is to learn each part individually, i.e. the vocal part and the guitar part, and then combine them together. There is a specific order to accomplish this task. Let’s explore a step-by-step method for singing and playing guitar.

So, how do you sing and play guitar at the same time?  To sing while playing the guitar: first, sing the vocal part without the guitar; next, sing or speak the vocal part in rhythm while strumming a steady beat on muted strings; lastly, add chords.

Vocal Leads and Guitar Accompanies

The key to singing and playing guitar is to understand that the vocal melody is the most important element, while the guitar accompaniment is a secondary element of the song. This is counter-intuitive for guitar players who are accustomed to only playing guitar. It is interesting to observe musicians who are lead singers and play guitar or bass. You will notice that singing the vocal melody is job #1, even if that means faltering on the instrument that they are using to accompany themselves.

So, this is instructive for us, as guitar players, to realize that we need to give the vocal melody primacy over the guitar accompaniment. Let’s take a look at five steps for learning a song to sing and play on the guitar. But first, let’s discuss some tips for choosing your first song to sing and play on the guitar.

Tips For Choosing Songs For Singing And Playing On The Guitar

In the beginning, choose songs that have only two chord changes and work your way up to three chord songs, then four, etc., (See a partial list of songs below). This will allow you to focus more on singing and less on the guitar. As you add songs with more chord changes, find songs that use a single progression through the whole song, i.e. for verse and chorus. Once you have gained experience singing and playing, you can learn songs with more challenging guitar parts.

VIDEO: How to sing and play guitar at the same time – part 1
VIDEO: How to sing and play guitar at the same time – part 2

5 Steps To Sing And Play Guitar

Step 1: Learn And Sing The Vocal Melody By Itself

After you have selected your two or three chord song, practice singing the vocal melody by itself, without your guitar. Start with the chorus. It is the most important part of the song and the part that is most repeated. (After the chorus is learned, and you are able to accompany yourself on the guitar while singing, learn the remaining parts of the song.) Sing to the best of your ability, but don’t get hung-up if it isn’t exactly like the recording. Your goal here is to be able to sing the chorus without accompaniment as best you can. This is good practice for putting our singing above our guitar playing in terms of importance. Note: Song suggestion: Deep In The Heart Of Texas, this is a two chord song. Use the first verse as a chorus.

Step 2: Add A Steady Beat While Singing

While you are singing add a steady beat by either snapping your fingers, tapping your foot, or patting your leg. (Also, speaking the song in rhythm is also an option.) This is a very important step to master as it will be a “place marker” for when the guitar is added in the next step. During this step, you will notice how the rhythm of the vocal melody fits over the steady beat; this is called phrasing. Sometimes the melody will be right on a beat, and sometimes it will be in between the beat.

However, the beat is always steady while the vocal melody sings over it. Keep in mind that it may take a while to master this skill; you are in effect now playing two different instruments at once. Your brain will need to organize two distinct operations and monitor them to make sure they are synchronized. In preparation for adding the guitar, have the guitar assume the role of beat keeper by muting the strings with the left hand and strumming a steady beat while singing or saying the words in time.

Step 3: Add Guitar Chords

Now we are ready to add chords. Remember, we are trying to maintain the primacy of the vocal melody over the guitar. Think of the chords as a substitute for the steady beat in the prior step. Don’t let a faulty chord placement or missed fingering stop the steady beat of your strumming. Keep the “job” of singing the most important. There are two new elements to add into the process during this step: chord formation and chord switching.

If you are using an easy song, chord formation should not be an issue: however, it is important to think through where the chord switching will occur relative to the vocal melody. Using the words of the lyrics is the easiest way to mark these chord changes. For example, Deep In The Heart Of Texas, which uses two chords, the I and the V chords, e.g. C and G; the chord change occurs on the word Texas. By analyzing where the chord changes are ahead of time and using your ear, you will be able to anticipate the chord change while maintaining a steady beat with your strumming hand.

Step 4: Add A Basic Strum Pattern

This step is not necessary for singing and playing the guitar; however, it will add variety and interest to your guitar accompaniment after you have mastered the above steps. By adding one upstrum to your steady beat strum pattern, you can create some variety, e.g strum pattern: Down – Down – Down/Up – Down. Practice the new strum pattern on muted strings, without chords, while singing, and then, add in the chords. By using this process, you can continue to make the rhythm accompaniment patterns more complex while maintaining the primacy of the vocal melody.

Step 5: Learn The Rest of The Song, i.e. Verses and Bridge

Once you have this basic process down, you can finish the song by learning the verses and the bridge, if one exists. Because the verses use different words, the rhythm of the verse may vary from the rhythm of the chorus. However, follow steps one through three, and then put the first verse together with the chorus, and then the second verse, etc.

Conclusion 

The most important part of learning to sing and play at the same time is to synchronize the vocal rhythm with the pulse or steady beat of the music. This is where you should spend the majority of your time before adding the chords. When you can sing, or speak in rhythm, the vocal part, while maintaining a steady beat, you are then ready for chords and chord switching. If you are having trouble singing and chord switching, go back to Step 2 and spend some more time reinforcing that skill before returning to playing with the chords. 

Two Chord Songs

Jambalaya

Memphis, Tennessee

Born in the USA

Paperback Writer

Achy Breaky Heart

Deep in the Heart of Texas

Down By The Riverside

A Horse With No Name

Tom Dooley

Pistol Packin’ Momma

Elenor Rigby

Three Chord Songs

Glory Days

For What It’s Worth

Bad Moon Rising

Dirt Road Anthem

Margaritaville

Folsom Prison BLues

You Are My Sunshine

In The Air Tonight

Barbara Ann

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

Mr. Tambourine Man

Leaving’ On A Jet Plane

Sweet Home Alabama

Free Fallin’

Ring Of Fire

Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door

The Joker

Blue Moon Of Kentucky

Down On The Corner

People Get Ready

I’ll Fly Away

Move It On Over

Will The Circle Be Unbroken

Blowin’ In The Wind

Simple Man

Four Chord Songs

Brown Eyed Girl

Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)

Fortunate Son

Let It Be

Have You Ever Seen The Rain

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

Wagon Wheel

Big Iron

Lights

Don’t Stop Believin’

With Or Without You

Down Under

Stand By Me

Wonderful Tonight

That’ll Be The Day

No Woman No Cry

Pink Houses

Learning To Fly

Heart Of Gold

Peaceful Easy Feeling

Turn The Page

About the author 

Scott Zimmerman

Scott Zimmerman is a professional music instructor with over twenty years of guitar performance and teaching experience. Scott holds a Masters Degree in Music Education from Peabody Conservatory.

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