How To Sing and Play Rhythm Simultaneously
Every once in a while I have a student who contacts me for lessons because they have a hard time singing and playing rhythm simultaneously.
I wanted to cover some quick tips in today’s blog to help you get better at this.
- Memorize the lyrics.
There is only so much brain power or attention we can divert to any given task at any given moment.
THAT is the number 1 reason why someone would struggle with the combination singing and playing.
If too much attention needs to go to remembering the lyrics because you don’t know them really well yet, then the rhythm playing will suffer, if that rhythm is a rhythm you have never played before or aren’t good at yet.
It’s just too many tasks for the brain to juggle adequately on the spot.
You will find that if you spend some time just with the lyrics first to get these down, that suddenly the strumming will seem a bit easier when you try to combine singing and playing.
- Memorize the melody
For the same reason touched upon above: if you don’t fully have the vocal melody memorized, the extra brain power this will consume during the performance, will take away from the quality of the rhythm playing.
Again: this is only true if your rhythm playing needs work.
If you are so solid in your rhythm playing that you virtually don’t have to focus at all anymore to play rhythm, then you have plenty of brain power and attention left to divert towards “winging” the melody while strumming.
- Practice the rhythm without singing.
This would probably be the most important thing to work on.
Guitar and music teachers give their students all kinds of strum or rhythm exercises, to improve that student’s coordination.
The more you work on rhythm: the sooner you’ll reach the level where every conceivable strum pattern will feel natural.
A great example of something I encounter every day with beginning students is their struggles performing the down (miss) down up (miss) up down up strum pattern.
This is one of THE most used guitar rhythms.
Go to any coffee shop, and the majority of performers will play that rhythm most of the time.
Most beginning guitar students are very challenged by the 2nd “miss” in the rhythm, because it falls on a down motion.
The strum arm moves down without hitting the strings.
If you’re not 100% comfortable yet with such rhythms, then singing while strumming such a rhythm, is going to be really challenging.
The solution: get the rhythm down really well first, before you even attempt to play and sing.
- Simplify the rhythm if necessary
This might be a bit of a no-brainer: if you just can’t pull off the strum pattern as it is performed in a song you’re attempting to learn, play a different rhythm or a simpler version of that rhythm.
If a rhythm is too busy to comfortably play and sing, leave some of the hits out, or change the rhythm all-together to a completely different strum pattern.
If you have a hard time for example with a down ward arm motion where you’re supposed to not hit the strings: hit the strings there anyway.
Once the adapted or simplified rhythm becomes easy to perform while singing, change something in it or add something so it becomes a bit more challenging again, working it up to the original strum pattern.
- Practice really slowly
Oftentimes a student isn’t able to perform a rhythm simply because that student is trying to rush through it.
Patience is important here.
You want to play slowly enough so you can assess where every syllable in the lyrics falls in relationship to the strum arm motions.
- Know the mechanics of strumming
It is pretty common for a beginning student, to make jerky motions while strumming. It is equally common for those students to occasionnaly pause their arm where they shouldn’t.
Strumming is all about:
- Big, strong arm-motions
- Arm motions need to be even. No combinations of smaller and bigger arm swings, no speeding up the upswings, etc.
- No pauses. Consistent even arm motion, like a pendulum, is key
- Physical flow (in the arm), creates rhythmic flow.
Someone who doesn’t have those mechanics and fundamentals taken care off, will not be able to play and sing simultaneously.
As an example: it is much easier to sing while strumming when you make big, strong arm motions.
Those stronger motions create an inwardly felt rhythmic flow, which seems to take care of letting all the (vocal and lyric) syllables fall into place.
- Practice in small chunks
Even if you have been playing many years AND you completely master rhythm, even then there can be certain situations where you are challenged by certain vocal and rhythm combinations.
I actually encountered that myself in my new band Automatik Eden last year.
In our song “Madland”, my band members want me to sing backing vocals in the chorus.
The vocal melody in the Madland chorus consists of 8th notes, while guitar rhythm is quarter note triplets.
What this means is that I’m singing 4 notes while strumming 3 hits every 2 beats: even number of notes in the vocals, odd number of notes in the guitar part. Those are always challenging.
At the end of that same song, I’m playing a Rockabilly type bass line, while singing backing vocals.
This is even more challenging, because now I’m singing a melody while playing a completely different bass melody on my guitar, both quite different in rhythm.
In order to get these parts down: I worked in small chunks.
I only worked in sections of 1 or 2 beats of music the most, and looked at where my syllables were falling in relationship to the guitar notes or rhythmic hits.
I then practiced really slowly, playing those couple of notes on guitar while singing the couple of vocal melody notes, making sure to line the guitar and vocal notes up as in the recording.
I kept repeating that till it felt completely comfortable, then I moved on to the next 2 or so beats, going through exactly the same process again.
Once the next 2 beats of sync’d guitar and vocal parts were mastered, I started from the beginning of the bar and played my 2 practiced sections back to back.
Once I could do that, I went a bit further again, and so on, till I could comfortably play the entire vocal and guitar part simultaneously.
That is one of the many reasons why I admire guys like Geddy Lee from Rush or Paul McCartney.
It’s really quite challenging to play bass melodies while singing at the same time.
However: just like anything in life, it’s practice.
Once you’ve been doing it for a while, it all becomes easy, which is the whole point of practicing of course.
If you’re struggling with singing and playing: these tips and tricks will get you to be able to play and sing in no time.
Hit me up anytime at [email protected] if you have any questions, or if you would like to book a lesson.
You’re on your way to becoming a great guitar player.
Have fun! 🙂
Keep me informed on your progress. You can hit me up in the comments section below.
If you like this blog: give it a rating and feel free to also give me any feedback.
I believe everything can always be improved. I’d gladly implement your suggestions and ideas in this blog or the next.
Be on the look out for more blogs about everything guitar, music, songwriting and music education.