I’ve been lucky enough to do a lot of work as a guitar-vocalist. And one thing I often hear or have people ask me about is how to play and sing, as this blows some people’s minds.
Firstly, many people play and sing, that’s nothing new or a phenonemon, but there are definitely those who do it more freely and better than others. Some great examples include George Benson, Lindsay Buckingham, John Mayer, Paul Roth and Keith Urban.
So, what are some good tips?
1. Make either singing or playing very natural
Sounds obvious but – If you still need to focus all your brain power on the vocal lines AND the guitar part, you’ll have a very slim chance of nailing them together. Practice them on their own so you know that you know those parts, so that at least your guitar work or your vocals are happening naturally without a great deal of thought.
One very helpful thing is to learn these parts separately, or independent of each other. This will allow that full knowledge of exactly what each part is doing.
2. Analyse tricky rhythms
When you come across a tricky section which you just can’t get together, take a step back and really analyse what’s going on. Oh which beat does the vocals come in? Is the phrase lead by the guitar or the vocals? Are the parts moving in 8th notes? Quarter notes?
Analyse it and then practice it very slowly so that you’re getting the rhythm right before speeding it up.
3. Support yourself.
When I started singing more, I naturally became a better guitarist. Not on a technical level, but on a musical level. I was able to use the guitar to SUPPORT what the vocals were doing, rather than compete with it.
Your dynamics and busyness (or lack of) play a huge role here. Are you giving space to allow the vocals to shine? Are you building up in support? Are rhythms crossing to much and confusing the focus of the song?
4. Practice practice practice
Also obvious, but what’s not obvious to most people is that playing and singing is a skill that can be learnt through practice. So let me just leave you with a few key practice principles:
1) You don’t need to practice what you’re already good at as much as what you aren’t good at. So usually there will just be a few phrases or sections that you struggle with. Rather than going over a whole song over and over, focus intently on those shorter, harder sections.
2) Slow it down, get it right and then speed it up.
3) Practice with a metronome! The more you get familiar with playing to a metronome, the stronger your timing and rhythm will be.
5. Rhythm exercises
It’s no great secret that being a guitar vocalist takes a lot of rhythm co-ordination. So any form of rhythm training and practice will be helpful, especially if it involves different parts of the body doing seemingly different things (so yes, playing drums is very helpful).
Some examples of what I do include: tapping 3 beats evenly in my right hand in the same time frame as 4 in my left. And then 4 & 5, 5 & 6, 3 & 5 etc.
– Keeping a steady beat with my left hand or leg and creating different rhythms with my right hand or leg.
– Tapping a beat or rhythm and singing different rhythms over the top of it.