Playing Guitar While Singing. Part 1

author: RussellNelson date: 02/13/2014 category: guitar techniques
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Playing Guitar While Singing. Part 1
Are you an exceptional guitarist with a great voice but can't understand how to coordinate them both at the same time? No matter how many times you try you're out of time, out of breath, and it feels as if your head is going to explode from the excessive multitasking. I agree this is an extremely difficult task that is made look effortless by artists like Claudio Sanchez (Coheed and Cambria), Johnny Rzeznik (Goo Goo Dolls), Dave Matthews (Dave Matthew's Band), and countless others.  

I may be able to help. I got started singing and accompanying myself with the guitar at 9 years olds. My teacher was my uncle, John Montoya. He is a great guitarist, has an amazing voice, and can sing while playing just about anything. Being only nine years of age, I automatically thought that anything I learned to play I also had to learn to sing while I was playing it. That way I'd be cool like Uncle John, right? (laughs) That's how I got started. Later in life I attended a class at the Musicians Institute on playing and singing very rhythmically complicated songs taught by Dale Turner. This is what refined my skills at this art form. Here are steps to developing guitar/vocal rhythmic independence, similar to what I learned in his class.

Step 1

Learn the guitar part thoroughly. As in not having to look at your hands and be able to watch "American Idol" and judge the singers while you play the song (just kidding but seriously know the song very well).

Step 2

Learn to sing the song like you would learn to sing any song to the very best of your ability. Pay special attention to the rhythms and pitches of the vocal line.

Step 3

Write out the guitar part and vocal rhythm with the vocal lined up underneath the guitar line. You can use guitar tab or standard music notation for the guitar and rhythmic notation for the vocal.

Step 4

Circle the words that don't line up with a guitar strum or guitar note. If all the notes line up with the guitar part, this particular song should not be as difficult to play and sing. However, songs that simple are rare because very often the singer and guitarist are 2 different people with no regard for rhythmic complication between the two.

Step 5

Play the guitar line very very slowly (at least half speed) while saying (not singing) every syllable (not the full word) where it occurs rhythmically in the song. Repeat the guitar line while adding one syllable at a time as you feel comfortable. Don't add a syllable until you master the rhythmic coordination of the previous syllables. This step is best done with a metronome once again at an extremely slow tempo Consider setting the click to 8th notes to ensure timing accuracy.

Step 6

After you have done step 5 through the entire song, gradually begin to speed up the song. If necessary, only speed up the song 2 bpm at a time. (2 bpm faster doesn't even seem faster but once done this 4 or 5 times; you are at a much faster tempo than when you began.) If you use this method, you will be surprised how quickly you will get the song up to tempo.

Step 7

Finally add pitch to your singing. Also add any vibrato, dynamics, emotion and all the good stuff. Just be sure to stay in rhythm.

Do you have to do this process for every single song you learn? No, but it is a great way to get started singing and playing guitar at the same time, and a great way to learn to play while singing very complicated songs. Once you get comfortable playing and singing, it is just like when you first learned how to play the guitar. Muscle-memory goes to work, and it becomes very natural. I still use this process for complicated songs. I sincerely hope this helps you get started.

About the Author:
By Russ Nelson. Stay tuned for an example of how to approach playing and singing one of my own tunes from Shell Shock Lullaby's upcoming release, "Shades of Grey." I sincerely hope this article helps. If you have any questions or have feedback for me about this article, please write me at this link, Contact Russ.
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