So you know how to play an instrument, and you know how to sing. But doing them at the same time can get tricky. Suddenly, your guitar picking isn’t as clean, or your left and right hands are out of sync on the piano, or you can’t do that vocal run you usually nail. Well, this is multitasking at it’s finest! But don’t worry; we’re here to help. Here are 10 tips for singing and playing an instrument at the same time.
1. Master Each Separately
Before you even attempt to put your vocals together with your instrument, you need to be proficient in both components separately. When you first start trying to put vocals and accompaniments together, you’re likely going to see one part, if not both, take a step back. While you may have no trouble at all with playing the guitar or piano on its own, once you add in the vocal line, you’re now concentrating on two different things, and you may suddenly not be able to play every rhythm or lead line you were able to play before.
Because of this step back in ability, if you’re already struggling to master one component, trying to add in another is going to be difficult. Besides, it’s not going to allow you to truly learn your instrument or to sing. Both your instrument and your voice need individual attention to develop before you’re ready to try and do both. While you might be able to pluck out a song or two, you won’t be creating good long-term habits, and the likelihood of you being able to remember your songs or maintain your skills will be much lower.
2. Start with an Easy Song
As we said, you’ll probably see either your vocal or instrumental abilities go back a little bit once you try combining them. So, it’s a good idea to start with a song that’s simpler than what you might normally sing or play.
If you’re on guitar, we recommend picking a song that focuses on simple chords and strumming, rather than intricate finger-picking parts. Try finding songs with around four chords to start.
If you’re on piano, try to find a song in a key with few accidentals, like C, G, F, D, or A Major. There’s nothing wrong with a good F-sharp half-diminished chord in the first inversion, but it might be a little much to think about initially. Similar to guitar, focus on songs with around four chords, and avoid any fancy lead lines while you’re learning,
Thinking vocally for a moment, choose a song that’s simple in rhythm with a range that isn’t too demanding. The point here is to begin getting familiar with combining vocals and instrumentation, so don’t worry so much about how you sound.
Here are a couple of easy songs to get you started. Click on the titles below to browse the arrangement types and find one that matches your instrument and skill level.
- “Stay” by Rihanna feat. Mikky Ekko
- “Let It Be” by The Beatles
- “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison
- “Hello” by Adele
- “Perfect” by Ed Sheeran
- Browse more songs
3. Find the Right Key First
Usually, the key of a song isn’t too much of a hurdle for instrumentalists. But when it comes to your voice, you’ll have to be a little pickier about the key a song is in, seeing as we don’t have infinite voice ranges (unfortunately). This might mean placing a song in a key that isn’t as comfortable on your instrument.
Guitarists have the luxury of a capo, while pianists just have to deal with the funky keys. However, if you’re thinking about playing, singing, and transposing because of your capo, it can get overwhelming quickly. So, while you’re learning to play and sing at the same time, try finding some simple keys that you can sing and play in comfortably. Though it will depend on the song and your range, for men, E, G, and A Major are usually safe bets, while for women, C, D, and E Major are great options.
Browse for sheet music here, and remember to check for transpositions!
4. Start by Playing Chords Only
One of the best ways to coordinate your singing and playing is by starting with the chords. We know, those lead lines can be tempting, but chords provide the structure of the entire song you’re learning, and nailing these first will help you master your rhythm. You can even simplify further by limiting your instrumental part to only the bass line, which would work perfectly for something like the cello or violin. Once you’re comfortable at this level, you can slowly work in the more intricate instrumental parts, but you’ll have a solid foundation that will keep you on track.
5. Memorize One Part First
It’s a good idea to memorize one component, whether it’s the lyrics or instrumental part, of the song you want to learn. This way, you won’t have to concentrate on reading both parts at the same time, which can get especially difficult if you’re looking at sheet music. Keeping this in mind, it might be a good idea to start learning a song you already know either vocally or instrumentally, so that you only have to learn one other part to bring it all together.
6. Play and Sing With the Recording
Singing along to a song and having to perform it on your own are two completely different things. You may think you know a song, but without the safety net, you’re suddenly contemplating anything and everything. Playing and singing along with a recording can provide you with some support as you’re learning. It can also keep you on tempo and help you work through any tricky transitions. Besides, it can be really easy to forget about certain musical moments as you’re learning a new song, so playing along with the recording will help you stay true to the song form and lyrics.
7. Play With a Metronome
Another way to stay on track and in-time is to play along with a metronome. Before you have terrifying flashbacks of your childhood music lessons, metronomes are useful for much more than keeping the tempo. Part of combining a vocal line with an instrumental part is putting together multiple rhythms. Take “Shape of You” by Ed Sheeran for example. Let’s look first at the instrumental line at the start of the chorus. Press the play button below the sheet music to follow along.
Now, let’s look at the vocal line by itself.
While both components sound pretty simple on their own, let’s listen to what they sound like together.
While the melody stays pretty close to on the beat, the instrumental part is syncopated, and you can hear how the two rhythms overlap. This is where practicing with a metronome will come in handy, as you can make sure you’re playing and singing on the right beats.
8. Slow It Down
Whether you want to use a metronome here or not, it’s always a good idea to slow down in practice. After all, if you can’t play it slow, you’re probably not going to be able to play it at speed either. Slow tempos are great for tricky rhythms when you’re trying to figure out how a vocal line fits into the instrumental part. Also, once you’re confident with playing the chords, slowing the piece down to add in any instrumental riffs will help you maintain the timing you worked so hard to perfect!
9. Break It Up Into Sections
If you haven’t noticed, we’re dipping our toe into regular practice methods that you’d use for mastering an individual instrument. It’s important not to forget these techniques when you’re trying to put two and two together.
When you’re learning to play and sing a song at the same time, you may find some parts of the song easier than others. Maybe you’ve completely mastered the chorus but are struggling with the verses, or perhaps there are only one or two lines you can’t seem to nail the rhythm on. Just like you’d work on a guitar, piano, or voice piece, don’t be afraid to practice in small sections. You may need to play the same line ten times in a row before you start to nail it, whereas if you just fumble through it every time you play the song, it’s never going to stick.
10. Practice Consistently Over Time
Last but not least, the best practice is consistent practice. Don’t expect to master this is one day, or even in one week. There is quite a bit of coordination involved, and just like you had to spend time learning your instrument, you’ll have to spend time learning to accompany yourself. So as you’re learning, choose songs that you enjoy, and stick with them! If you’re struggling with motivation, check out our article, “8 Ways to Keep Yourself Motivated.” Keep up the routine, and in no time at all, you’ll be accompanying yourself like a pro!