Whether you have a passion for piano, guitar, drums or accordion, singing while playing an instrument is an extremely useful talent to acquire. You can accompany yourself when practicing your vocals, perform as a solo act, add another layer of sound to your band’s songs, or set the mood around a campfire—“Home, home on the range!” However, singing while playing also requires a great deal of practice—without mastering this technique you will be constantly distracted by playing your instrument and your singing will suffer. Here are some tips and tricks to get you started on your journey to becoming the ultimate one-man-band!
Know Your Instrument
The first step is not surprising: nail down both the singing and playing separately. If you can’t play the tune on the guitar by itself then you aren’t going to be able to be singing while playing. Does this mean you need to become a guitar virtuoso before trying to sing along with a Taylor Swift song? No, you simply need to master the part—even if it only requires two or three chords—before you start combining it with singing. In fact, it’s a good idea to start with a song that only has a few chords so that you can play them without even thinking about it. Try “Price Tag” by Jessie J, which simply repeats F Am Dm B-flat.
Time is on Your Side
Once you know the basic chords on your instrument (or beat if you’re playing drums), you should play ONLY the instrument along with a metronome (start around 60 bpm). This will help keep you on time, ensuring that you don’t speed up or slow down when it is time to add the vocals. Next, start counting along with the metronome out loud—“1…2…3…4”—to get your brain used to the idea that you will be vocalizing while playing. Once you are comfortable with this, start saying words—any words—along with the rhythm. For example, instead of “1, 2, 3, 4,” try “I like eating pie” on the same four beats. Then add some more words in between, still staying on rhythm, such as “I like to go to the store” where “I” syncs with 1, “like” with 2, “to go to the” with 3, and “store” with 4. Exercises like these will enable you to separate your hands playing with your mouth singing—it’s like you are two separate musicians in one! Lastly, start to sing these phrases with any notes you’d like—any scale will do—making sure you stay exactly on rhythm with the metronome.
Sit Up and Don’t Look Down!
One crucial part of singing while playing is having the right posture. If you are slumped over your guitar or piano, then your singing will be impaired. If you sit up too rigidly then you won’t be able to move your hands from chord to chord. Good posture differs from instrument to instrument, but in general you want to find a stance that optimizes both singing and playing.
So you’ve become one with the metronome and your posture is good, whatever you do DON’T LOOK DOWN! Ok, that was a bit too dramatic, but you get the point. Try to the same exercises without constantly looking at your instrument, as this tends to distract you from singing–you can close your eyes to achieve the same effect. To see a good example of sing while playing, check out Jason Mraz performing “I’m Yours.” He may glance down every now and then—which is almost unavoidable—but for the majority of the song he is focused forward.
The Real Deal
Alright, it’s time to try the real song—you’ve sung enough about how much you like eating pie! Grab your instrument and play along with the original track you are learning. First play with just your instrument, then add the vocals little by little. You can practice this as much as needed before finally playing without the recording. There you have it! Now you just need to play drums with your feet and you’ll be the coolest one-man-band!
If you really want to master singing while playing you must pass the ultimate test of dual musicianship! Try playing a some while carrying on a conversation without saying the words in rhythm to what you are playing. This will demonstrate that you can keep a rhythm with your hands completely independent from any rhythm your words are making. Good luck!