How to sing and play at the same time

written by Metro Music Makers instructor Mark Grundhoefer

A question I get asked a lot is, “How do I sing and play at the same time?” Learning a song on an instrument is difficult enough. To add singing on top of what you’re playing can often times seem impossible, especially when the vocal line does not (seem to) follow the accompaniment. Here are a few tips to get you started. 

Know your music

Let’s say you’re a pianist learning “Let It Be” by The Beatles. It’s a fairly simple piano song with chords, a few melodic riffs, and some moving left hand bass patterns. But if you can only play it when looking at the sheet music, your brain will be so tied up with reading the music and communicating what you’re reading to your hands, that you may not even be truly listening to what you’re playing. So how can you possibly add singing to the performance? Memorize your music and play it until you’re sick of hearing it, because by that point you’ll finally be listening! 

Same goes for the vocals 

If you’ve memorized your music, the vocals are next! Of course, you’ll need to learn and memorize the melodies you’re going to sing. However, an often overlooked part of singing is to really know and understand what the words mean. It’s easier to memorize a lyric if you understand its meaning. The song “Let it Be” is about Paul McCartney’s mother Mary and the idea that she comes to him as an angel to help him through difficult times. Knowing this makes it easier to not only understand the lyrics, but to memorize them and perform them. 

Put it all together

Now that you know the vocals and accompaniment parts of a song backwards and forwards, it’s time to try them together. But how can you possibly multitask and perform two totally different musical ideas at the same time? Fortunately, the vocal line and accompanying lines of music are usually related, even though they may not seem that way. Often times you’re singing a note found in the chords you’re strumming on the guitar. Most of the time the accents of the piano will coincide with the phrasing of the vocals. 

A fun challenge

When I was younger I used to sit down with my guitar and trying playing musical ideas and riffs while reading. Sometimes I would read a comic book out loud while playing the guitar. This would allow me to simultaneously perform two totally different tasks while concentrating on both. After this, adding vocals to the guitar part would be a breeze! The next time you sit down at the breakfast table, grab your instrument and play your favorite song while reading the ingredients on the back of the cereal box. Do it out loud! You’ll be surprised how challenging, but rewarding, this exercise can be. 

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