Anyway, I did grow up singing in church and also in various music groups so I was comfortable singing in spite of the fact that I was never going to be the soloist doing Italian Art Songs that my voice teacher tried to turn me into! But I did learn some important techniques that helped over the years in all aspects of my singing.
Over the years of teaching hundreds of guitar students I’ve had some good singers who were comfortable singing and playing but among recreational players it’s been my experience that this is the exception rather than the rule. What I try to make them understand is that singing while playing is an incredibly important skill if for no other reason than it makes them depend upon their hands to do what they are supposed to do without totally focusing on the playing. I’m not saying it’s easy but the rewards are many.
Wait, many say. I can’t sing a lick! My voice is terrible. I’m tone deaf!
OK, maybe you’re not going to be the next American Idol but you know what? That doesn’t matter. Here’s why that’s true and some things to remember when you try to sing and play guitar at the same time.
First and most importantly, correct posture is vital. Singing and breathing are interdependent. Standing is much, much better than sitting and singing because there is a straight line between your diaphragm and your voice box. Unrestricted air flow encourages better control. Yes, you will see some good singers who sit and sing while they play but all the great singers ALWAYS stand.
Breathing…. Don’t forget to do it! Sounds silly, right? But I am often guilty of this myself. If you run out of air before a phrase is completed you’re in trouble. One thing I learned from my voice teacher back in the day was to take short, deep breaths the instant before singing a line of a song. If you take a breath too soon, preparing for a phrase, you tend to tense up and no matter how deep that breath is you will most likely run out of air before that phrase is completed and then you’ll have to take another breath somewhere in the middle of the phrase. This sounds choppy and awkward. And always think ahead to how long the last note of the phrase will last. That will help you determine how deep a breath you need to take the instant before you launch into the line or phrase.
But what about the basic question of intonation, i.e., singing “in tune”? There are quite a few variables here, mostly having to do with experience. The most important aspect is listening, not just to your own voice but to the guitar. In popular music, most or all the melody notes will be contained within the chords you’re playing. If you’re trying to work on singing in tune and the correct melody line, it’s worthwhile to learn how to play just the melody line on your guitar. Then try singing along with that without playing any chords. Your ear and brain find it much easier to focus on a single line of notes rather than trying the right ones buried in a chord. It takes a lot of practice and you may have to utilize your capo to move the song into a comfortable key but that’s just fine. Obviously, you’d like to sing the song in the original key used by the artist but that may not be practical.
One small note here. Another thing I learned from my voice teacher was that we all sound better utilizing the upper part of our vocal range. What feels comfortable may not sound the best. Push yourself a bit, you will sound better. Trust me on this. If you don’t, record your singing and I can just about guarantee that something you sing that feels comfortable will probably sound too low.
Regarding recording yourself, be prepared for a shock if you’ve never done it before. You do NOT sound like what you think and hear when you’re doing it! But this is not necessarily a bad thing, just not exactly what you were expecting. And for goodness sake, don’t compare your singing to the original artist. There is a reason why he or she makes gazillions of dollars and you’re sitting in your bedroom practicing. Just don’t be too hard on yourself, and here’s the take-away:
Assuming you work on it and you get to the point you can sing reasonably in tune, no one really cares if you sound just like the original artist! If you do it with passion and commitment the listener will look past the small stuff. This I absolutely promise. Anyone who slights your singing is probably wishing they had the guts to go in front of people and do it themselves! So disregard any snide comments and GO FOR IT!
Singing while playing the guitar is wonderfully gratifying, even if you only do it in the privacy of your home. Just don’t be too hard on yourself, spend time working on basic intonation and phrasing and you know what? Your singing may well move out of the shower into the world. Like most anything else, the more you do it, the better you’ll get!
Peace & good music,