When I decided to play guitar, what I had in mind was playing and singing at the same time. Doing both at the same time is not an easy thing. There are so many moving parts. You have the rhythm part playing with your right hand. You then have the chording happening in your left hand. And finally you have the melody part that you sing with your voice. And that doesn’t even take into account reading the chord sheet as well as reading the lyrics. Each of these parts can range in complexity from the simple to the extremely difficult.
So how do you do it? I’m gonna give you 6 steps to follow so that you can play and sing at the same time.
Before we begin we must recognize that even though you are accomplishing a lot of things at the same time when you play and sing at the same time, your mind can only actively think about a limited number of things at once. And those of us who are new to “Singing and Strumming” can only actively do ONE thing at a time. This brings us to our first and most important step:
Step 1) Choose that One Aspect of Playing that will be more Complex.
So even though my right hand is doing things and my left hand is doing things and my voice is doing things, I can only actively think about ONE of these things.
Now technically your mind has to think about everything you are doing, but the key is that they are not actively in your mind. They are being done on autopilot.
So choose the one aspect of playing that will not be on autopilot. Now as we get better our “autopilot playing” will get better. So maybe your “autopilot right hand” is going to begin as just one down-stroke on every beat, but as we get better and learn more strumming patterns, our “autopilot right hand playing” will get more complex. But in the beginning the very first thing you should do is figure out where is your complexity going to be.
Simplicity versus Complexity. Simplicity for everything but one aspect.
Will you work on a more complex rhythm of your right hand? If so, then your singing and your chording of your left hand should be very simplistic.
Will you work on some difficult for you chords of your left hand? If so, then your singing and your rhythm in your right hand should be very simple.
Step 2) Choose a Song You Know the Chords and Lyrics.
Your first forays into playing and singing should be to sing songs that you already know. So you know the chords A, E, and D. OK, then play a song that only uses A, E, and D. It is not as difficult to find as you might imagine. Go grab an old blues song. Or perhaps an Christian hymn..
You can also go hit YouTube and search for, “3 chord songs”. You will find a large number of them. Now select one that you already know the lyrics to.
Another thing you might do is search Google or even one of those Tablature sites. You will find a number of songs that are not too complex. Grab one that you already know the chords and the lyrics to.
Step 3) Simplify Everything
OK, we chose to keep our complexity in our singing. So that means that we gonna add in a little vocal run here and there and maybe add in some improvisation. That’s cool.
But before we add in those elements we are gonna simplify the song all down and then slowly add in the complexity to one aspect. So get a very simple strumming pattern for the right hand. Maybe one down stroke on every beat.
Now in simplifying everything you gonna simplify the chords. You see some A7 or Asus4 or Asus2. Simplify them by just playing A.
So that A->A7 chord transition becomes just an A
And that A->Asus2->A->Asus4->A transition becomes just an A
In your vocal you will simplify things as well. Cut out all improvisations in the melody. Sing it straight. Remember we are looking to simplify it so we don’t have to think about it. Remember the key to singing and playing is to place everything into the background.
So now you have simplified everything and that brings us to the next step.
Step 4 – Write Down Everything
OK write out the lyrics. You will forget them. I don’t care if you singing an old hymn you have sung millions of times or a pop song your brother knows word for word cuase you have sung it so many times, if you get in front of folks, you will forget it.
Write out the lyrics and then write in the “simplified chords.”
Go head and write down the strumming pattern.
Step 5 – Memorize Everything
Well..Step 4 and 5 are an iterative process. Yep, you must memorize everything. You need to know the chords you will play (that you have simplified above). You must know the lyrics. And you must know the pattern you will use.
It will be very difficult for you to sing, play both hands, and also read the lyrics or the chords.
Remember. You can only actively do ONE thing at a time, so that means that 2/3rds of the Musical Triad (Voice, Left Hand, Right Hand), must be on autpilot.
Step 6 – Start Playing
To get things on autopilot we gonna have to play it repeatedly. First play it simple. Once you got that simple approach going, then start playing around with that one aspect. Start adding complexity to that one aspect of playing that you chose in point 1.
Follow this step by step.
- add a little more complexity to one aspect
- Play it
- Make mistakes
Keep doing that and eventually you will not be making mistakes.
Get it going well and then add another song
Playing and singing is not easy, but it can be done. You just have to put a number of aspects of your playing on autopilot. So simplify everything. And then practice. Only adding in a little complexity. Then master that. Now add in a little more. You will get better and then you will be able to go grab another song.
Now it is time for me to pull out my acoustic and put in my time for today.
Till next time.