Many talented vocalists are also able to play a musical instrument – even Beyonce has recently learned to play piano, following advice from Prince himself!
Being able to play music can help you with songwriting, arrangement and provide accompaniment when performing solo, which also makes you more employable. Many musicians look effortless while playing and singing, but it is actually quite a tricky skill, particularly if the melody or rhythm differs between the vocal and accompaniment. It takes a lot of multitasking and practice, but don’t fret – with these simple tips you’ll be able to accompany yourself in no time.
Tip #1 – Start with an easy song
If singing and playing at the same time is completely new to you, start with something simple that will let you get to grips with it quickly and find enjoyment in performing this way. Choose a simple, four-chord song with a melody line that is easy to sing over, something you’re already familiar with will be a huge help. Alternatively, songs like ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ by Bill Withers where the vocals and guitar parts are always performed separately could be great for starting out too. You can also simplify your chosen song to a simple chord pattern and introduce other elements when you feel more confident.
Tip #2 – Start slow
Slowing the song down will help you nail the timing between the instrumental and the vocals. A metronome can also help here, as it’s important you get the song structure and timing right before you are able to play at the desired speed. A slower tempo will give you enough time to work out how all the elements fit together, and it will prevent inconsistencies and imperfections in your performance moving forward.
Tip #3 – Choose the right key
As an instrumentalist, the key you’re playing in won’t really matter too much, however, once you start adding vocals, you’ll have to take into consideration the unique qualities and range of your voice. All of us have a vocal range where we feel our most comfortable, so transpose the instrumentation accordingly or find a song that you can sing well. Similarly, pick a track that suits your vocal – whether your voice is more raspy, powerful or softer, there will be tracks that let your unique qualities shine and those that simply don’t suit you that well. Making the right song choice will ensure your performances are much more enjoyable.
Tip #4 – Automate
Just like it’s easier to learn left hand and right hand parts separately when you’re learning a piano piece, make sure you master the vocals and instrumentation separately before putting them together. It’ll be very difficult for you to sing while having to look at your hands for chord changes, and it could leave you deflated and unwilling to keep going. Singing and playing musical instruments will be a lot easier if you’re able to learn at least one component completely off by heart, to the point where you can play it with your eyes closed. Once you have the instrumental part down and you no longer need to look at the sheet music or chords, or even at your hands, it’ll be very straightforward for you to add the vocal into the mix. This is because your hands will automatically know what they’re doing, so it’ll almost feel like singing along to a backing track – except you’re the one playing it. You should also learn the lyrics off by heart, to avoid constantly checking them. Try to automate as many elements as you can, so you are able to focus on the overall performance and play with ease and professionalism.
Tip #5 – Talk or hum before you sing
This might seem like an odd tip, but it can really ease you into singing and playing at the same time! Before singing the lyrics, try counting the rhythm along with your playing to get used to the groove of the song and performing two separate actions at once. Then, you can move on to humming the tune before you actually begin to sing over your playing. Similarly, you could also play muted strums on your guitar whilst singing, to make yourself more comfortable with combining the two together. This simple tip make you feel familiar with it and performing on a musical instrument with vocals won’t seem such a daunting task anymore.
Tip #6 – Break it up
If you’re struggling to play and sing the whole song at the same time, break it down into smaller sections. Master one of them, then move on to the next. You may have heard of this tip when practicing vocals or instruments in general, however, this is another instance where applying general practice advice can really help you progress.
Tip #7 – Play along to the original
Of course, when you’re performing a cover you will want to put your own spin on it. As you’re starting to learn the song and, most importantly, if you’re not used to playing and singing simultaneously, this will help you ensure you get the timing right and place your vocals and instrumentation correctly. Once you have the song mastered, it’ll be so much easier for you to add your own spin on it too.
If you’re already a vocalist, we would highly recommend learning a musical instrument, as it will help you with reading music, understanding arrangements, transposition and so many more aspects of music theory. It’s also useful to accompany yourself during practice. Sometimes, singing along to a backing track isn’t effective, as you may want to slow down, change the key of the song or rearrange it in any other way to suit you. Playing an instrument will give you that flexibility. Similarly, if you’re an accomplished musician, adding vocals to your skill set will be vital. You may not be the next front man or woman of a band, however, you could sing backing vocals, which again, are very useful in a musical setting and will be appreciated by most employers. Singing your favourite songs while playing them is also a way to make practicing and playing music so much more fun. If you feel the need to improve either your playing or singing, or both, reach out to a professional coach who will help you unlock your hidden talents. As you’re practicing and improving, be sure to record yourself and get used to your singing voice. Reflecting on and analysing your progress will identify the areas you need to tackle, while helping you progress so much quicker towards becoming a confident and proficient musician.Tags: Singing Tips, Singing advice, The art of singing, Playing and singing