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How To Sing Whilst Playing Guitar

Updated on April 16, 2015

Most famous guitarists sing whilst playing and vice versa most singers can at least play a few chords on guitar. If you want to be successful either on your own or as a frontman in a band then being able to do both is crucial.

In this article I aim to help you to start to be able to sing confidently whilst playing guitar.

Why is it so difficult?

Most people who haven't tried to do both will think that singing whilst playing guitar is easy. However for most people as soon as they try then the guitar strumming either goes out of time or the vocals go out of tune.

The reason for this is because as much as we like to think we can, it is impossible for our brains to multitask. Only one thing can be in our fully conscious thought at the same time, anything else must be subconscious. When you first start playing guitar and trying to sing you will be concentrating on both and thus you end up doing both wrong. It gets even harder when the lyrics are not in time with the guitar, you then have to balance the positioning of your left hand, the movement of your right hand, the note coming out of your mouth and the speed of your mouth.

How can we do both?

As I said above only one thing can be in our subconscious mind at a time. Anything else has to be subconscious.

Thus either singing or playing guitar has to be complete second nature, you don't have to be thinking about it at all. For 99% of people however much they try singing will always need attention, if you sing with headphones in you will find yourself out of tune most of the time, this is because you need to hear your voice to be able to adjust it. This leaves the guitar as the only option to be subconscious.

You will need to know the guitar part of what you are playing so well that your hands can be on autopilot.


Yes, But how will I achieve that?

  1. Firstly learn the guitar part of what you want to play very well, you don't want to be thinking of each individual note as you play.
  2. Learn the lyrics very well, you need to be confident that you can sing the correct words at the correct speed each time, if you miss a beat with the vocals whilst playing guitar it will put you completely out of time.
  3. Study the song, where are the chord changes, what word is this on? where is it on the word? you really should not be concentrating on this in the end, however in the early stages knowing this is useful so you can check whether you are in time or not.
  4. Practise. Sorry everyone this is the only way you can do it. Just sit down and play the guitar part over and over again. Do it whilst watching TV, do it whilst reading articles on the internet, by doing this you are starting to break this connection with your conscious mind. You are looking to get to a stage where you can hold a conversation with someone whilst playing the guitar part/riff. At this point you should then have no problems concentrating on the singing whilst being able to trust your guitar playing to be correct.
  5. Play the guitar part that you can now play so well and just start to sing over the top, if you know the guitar part well enough then your hands should just continue to do what they are meant to and your vocals will layer nicely over the top. It is really satisfying when this happens.

What makes it easier?

Songs where the vocals are in time with the guitar riffs (Coming Clean by Green Day) are significantly easier to play then songs where they are at different rhythms (When I Come Around by Green Day)

When singing it is difficult to look at the fretboard, thus songs where there is minimal movement up and down the neck make you less likely to drift onto the wrong frets by accident.

Rock songs in general are less precise with their vocals, compared to slower more relaxed songs (Tracy Chapman Fast Car) where being completely on tone with the vocals is very important.

If you are struggling to sing in tune whilst sitting down then stand up, doing this opens up your diaphram and allows your voice to "breath".


Learning to sing whilst playing guitar isn't a one time exercise, it has to be repeated for every song. However each time it becomes easier. There is no short cut to being able to do both, you just need to put in the time. Sorry if you were reading this article hoping for a "Cheat" on how to achieve it, sorry however there isn't one.


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