Quick Tips on Singing While Playing Guitar

Are you interested in learning how to sing while playing guitar? Do you feel you’re a pretty decent singer, and you just want to get better at singing while playing guitar, because you find it difficult figuring out how to do both AT THE SAME TIME?

Then this article is for YOU!

This article is NOT for singers who want to learn how to play guitar. If you’re a singer, and you want to learn how to play guitar, then I suggest you do some research on your local guitar teachers so you can find the one who is going to be the best teacher for YOU.

If you play guitar and you can sing, but you’re having difficulty doing both at the same time, I have some good news for you!

Singing and playing guitar is probably easier than you think! You probably just need a little coaching and extra knowledge in one area: KEEPING TIME!

For our purposes, let’s assume you are already doing a fine job singing the songs (while NOT playing your guitar) on your list of songs you’d like to play AND sing. Maybe you’ve sang them at karaoke and you feel pretty confident that they sound good… You can hit all the notes, and you have a nice/pleasant tone. You don’t have to sing like Chris Cornell (R.I.P.) or Whitney Houston (R.I.P.) in order to sing and play.

But maybe you have difficulty putting it all together… keeping the strumming pattern straight and keeping your chord changes correct and on time, while adding the SINGING to what you’re doing. It can feel like a juggling act!

Have you TRIED to sing and play? Maybe it’s FEAR that’s holding you back because you THINK it’s so hard. But if you just start SLOW….. start by playing the first verse very S – L – O – W – L – Y, you might find that it’s easier to do than you think!

Make sure you have the chords and lyrics written out in such a way that the lyric that’s being sung when the chord CHANGES is where the chord first APPEARS above the lyric, like this:

The next step is knowing where the accents are in the lyrics, or the downbeats. I have underlined where the “1” is in every measure here, and I’ve also included the beats for every measure. I also separated each lyric into syllables, which makes it easier to see where the beats land in relation to each syllable. This will help you get the lyric placed in the correct spot with your guitar playing:

This song is in 3/4 time. The song starts on a measure that’s not a full 3 beats, therefore, I just listed what would be the last beat (beat 3) of the first measure of the song (as if the songs started on a full measure) for the first syllable of the song, “Hap”.

Once you have this much done, you should be closer to singing the song while playing it, as long as you can keep time! (If you need extra help keeping time, your guitar teacher can help you learn how to do that.)

Give it a try after underlining where the downbeats are in your lyric sheet. Sometimes the downbeat will be in a place where there are NO lyrics! These are the trickiest lines to sing!

You can also count along with the original artist of the song if you’re doing a cover song. Have your lyric sheet printed out so you can underline where the downbeats are in every line. If there’s downbeat that lands in a place where there are no lyrics, you may find yourself underlining the space between two lyrics, or placing an underline before the first lyric of a line, like this:

Start out with songs that have simple/easy strumming patterns.

Songs with complicated strumming patterns may prove to be quite challenging. With these songs, you simply have to break down not just the lyrics down to each syllable, but you’ll probably also have to break down each measure down to it’s upstrokes and downstrokes on the guitar, so you can match them up with the syllables of the lyrics.

I hope this provides you a with great start & some forward movement with your singing and playing! Remember, start by singing and playing SLOWLY, so you can be sure that each syllable is matched up with where it needs to be with your guitar playing. And it never hurts to LISTEN numerous times to the original artist, taking notes & underlining on where those downbeats land.

One last note to singer/songwriters: There’s nothing wrong with doing your own version of a cover tune, but if you first STUDY & analyze the original recording in the way I described above, you can learn A LOT about what made that song great in the first place!

About the Author:

Annie Bzdawka is the founder of the Milwaukee Music Academy, located in Milwaukee, WI. She’s been singing & playing professionally for over 25 years, and has gained critical acclaim as a singer and songwriter. She teaches voice, guitar, and piano.