Playing Guitar While Singing. Part 1

Learn the 7 step process I learned then applied to begin guitar/vocal accompaniment with extremely difficult songs to play and sing.

Ultimate Guitar
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.

31 comments sorted by best / new / date

    cool tutorial. Once I cracked all my life by the foo fighters after weeks of failed attempts, there was nothing I couldn't play and sing at the same time. If you play slow at first and notice which syllable goes on which musical accent, there's nothing you won"t be able to play. second step is being able to still play great while mainly focusing on your vocals and not watching what you play, that's a though one
    Yeah this will probably work for "all my life":p I always **** up the rhythm in that one! But if you want to try atrue challenge, look up triptych by Arcane roots live! How he can sing while playing that is beyond me.
    I must admit that James Hetfield came to mind when reading this. Some of Metallica's riffs are real hard to sing along with and play
    I doubt if many, or ANY of the folks are George Jones fans but I will tell you this, look at some tabs and play any one of his songs. The guy NEVER seemed to come into a measures except between beats. Drives me nuts....
    One thing that helped me considerably was Elephant . Jack White's playing and singing on that albums was insane. Start with The Hardest Button to Button .
    Claudio Sanchez from Coheed came to mind as I read this article. His rhythm parts are very intricate. I guess he mostly gets the rhythm down to motor memory before attempting to sing on top of it
    yeh fynsta that shit is hard, i actually sway while i play the intro to stay in time while i sing, dave grohl legend
    Seether is a great band to look at when first learning this. Shaun Morgan plays guitar, not always lead, and sings, so usually at least one guitar part lines up, and the other may or may not. This way you can quickly work your way up, through the easier and harder parts of the same song and learn to multitask.
    Dead Eye Dick
    Chris Cornell plays a tonne of soundgardens rhythm parts while singing, even the ones in 454/43 time
    Pretty sure that's why Chris is my vocal idol. Oh, and the belting
    I was thinking the exact same thing. Seether's always the band I turn to for practicing singing and playing simultaneously.
    Who the hell does it this way? Just take a guitar and play, right? I mean, music is not a science. Don't do it like this. Guess, if you have to, you just ain't musicians enough.
    That's like saying "I guess, if you need guitar lessons, then you're not an expert guitarist". No shit, Sherlock.
    Very good article and I will take all that on board. The other tip I was told and learned was to strip back the guitar to basic until you get more confident and competent at doing both, or do one not the other at first. This is easier with a band behind you but sure is tricky solo! Anyways it worked for me and helped me work through that tendency to be over critical so I could get confidenc and add bits as I went.
    I'm failing at Nights Blood by Dissection, it's just too crazy, Notveidt was such a damn musical beast ...
    Nice, but let's see a lesson for the "Dave Mustaine - level", playing Holy Wars or Of Mice and Men while playing the riff
    I was struggling with Stricken by Disturbed, but I've got the verse rhythm nailed now! Thanks
    Guns N' Chains
    Hell yeah!!! I stopped reading in excitement when you mentioned Claudio and Johnny Rzeznik. Two of my biggest influences. Two very talented dudes. I'll go back to reading now. Haha
    Great lesson, but I still don't get how Thom Yorke manages Paranoid Android 0.o