How To Play the Guitar And Sing At The Same Time

Young woman musician playing electric guitar singing
What do Hendrix, Gilmour and Knopfler have in common? They all sing!

This article “How To Play the Guitar And Sing At The Same Time” was contributed by guest writer Shawn Leonhardt for Guitar Tricks and 30 Day Singer.

Singing and playing the guitar at the same time is a task that seems easy to some. However, for others, it may be a struggle. Luckily, it is not a skill or talent that you have to be born with. It is possible with practice to be a singing guitarist. There are a few different approaches to take but here are some tips and tricks on how to play the guitar and sing at the same time.

Get a Tuner

Get a proper chromatic tuner like the BOSS TU-30 and start singing notes into it. A tuning app on your phone will also work. Practice holding a note in tune. Next, start ascending (going to a higher note) and descending (going to a lower note). Pay attention to what the tuner reads as you do. The same notes may start coming up, which will help you determine what range of notes will be comfortable for you to sing in. Get to know the notes of your voice! Sometimes a guitar tuner can double as a vocal tuner as well, though you may need to plug a microphone into it.

Now when you pick your guitar up and practice, keep the tuner on and watch which notes are working and which aren’t as you play. See how low you can go in the bass, and how high you can sing in the treble with matching notes of each string pluck. Your goal is not instant mastery of the notes, just be aware of where your voice stands in relation. Make sure to take a break if you feel your voice starting to feel sore or strained. A quick vocal warm-up before you start singing will go a long way. There are plenty of useful vocal warm-up videos on YouTube which are easy to follow.

Learn Some Chord Progressions

Guitars are chordophones and thus their musical backbone is chord progressions! The most common in all music genres is the I-IV-V or 1-4-5. Play these guitar chords in order and in different measures, rhythms, and strum patterns. As you play, hum along, scat, or even sing gibberish. Anything to get a feel for what key works for your voice. For some, multiple keys are easy enough and here are the most popular. (The first or root chord is the key).

Common Chord Progressions

G Major

G / C / D

D Major

D/ G / A

C Major

C/ F / G

A Major

A/ D / E

E Major

E / A / B

Depending on your vocal range, if your voice fits other keys like the sharps or flats then you can use a capo to adjust the key. If you need Bb just put a capo on the 3rd fret and play the GCD shapes. A little alphabet and fretboard maths will allow us to try all the keys and their 1-4-5 progressions. A Nashville Number chart, or a guitar chord chart is handy when playing chord progressions in different keys.

Duet of guitarists singing during a musical performance. Backlight with flare.
Singing live (like at an open mic night) and in a group can help you develop your confidence.

Start With Songs You Know

Hopefully, at this point, you have found a key that is suited to your voice. If not, you can always use a vocal range chart to help you figure your range out. You can always change a song’s key to one you’re more comfortable singing in. However, if you are still struggling, the next step in singing and playing the guitar is to pick the songs you know best. The better we know the song the greater chance we have of succeeding in doing both at the same time.

It is important to be realistic about what you know and can play. If the song is far above your skill level then that is likely not the best pick. In many cases, it is best to go back to some beginner guitar songs, like children’s songs or folk tunes. Something simple that you have known for a very long time. The more ingrained in your memory, the easier it will be to sing and play at the same time.

Practice and Play The Songs on the Guitar

Whether you use sheet music, guitar tabs, or learn by ear, find all the chords of the songs you know best. Start practising the easiest one over and over until you have it down. If you feel like singing along the way, do it! Sometimes the ability and feeling hit at just the right time and you can find the right spot to fit lyrics in the chords.

If you are struggling with a song, then it is fine to move on to another. Sometimes it is great to just sit and look up different chords to your favourite songs. Besides singing this is an excellent method for learning guitar, the more songs you play the more chord progressions you see and the better idea you get of what your playing and vocal abilities may be. Anytime you come across some easy guitar songs, be sure to save them for later practice!

As You Play The Song Start Humming and Singing

As you play chord progressions and songs you know, add in words whenever you can. It can help if you play the actual song as you practice, but you must be able to keep up with the chord changes. Keep the song on repeat and don’t worry about perfection, if you drop out just find your chord and lyric and jump right back in. Don’t worry too much if you do not sound as good as the artist you are copying.

Remember that a finished album has been mixed and mastered with a variety of software and hardware to make that artist’s voice and guitar perfect. When you hear them live it rarely sounds as crisp and refined. Focus more on singing the melody notes in the right key. Every time you start practising a new song on the guitar, start humming and then singing the lyrics along with a focus on the right timing and pitch.

Woman singing and playing guitar on the street.
Finding your voice is a long journey – don’t be dismayed if it doesn’t happen overnight!

Sing Songs Away From The Guitar

Even when you are not playing the guitar you should practice singing every chance you can get. The car and the shower are two great places to start, or anywhere with privacy and maybe awesome reverb! Sing along with songs from different radio stations or stream other genres. You never know when you will find a song that really suits your voice. And once you find it, hopefully, it may be something to easily play on the guitar.

On those occasions that you come across a song that suits your voice, look it up online and check the key and any other musical details. As mentioned there are different approaches to music and it may be helpful to research and reverse engineer the compositions that best suit your style and vocal range.

Practice Makes Perfect 

It is not easy to learn how to sing and play the guitar at the same time, but if you keep practising your chords and voice it will eventually, as The Beatles say, come together. The skill is a mixture of repetition, muscle memory, and creativity that all need to happen at the same time for the final product to sound good! Keep listening, practising well-known tunes, and even finding new music and eventually, you will know how to play the guitar and sing at the same time!

Shot of a frontman in a band singing on stage.
With enough practice and perseverance, you’ll be performing with confidence!