How to Sing and Play Guitar at the Same Time

Caleb J. Murphy
Songwriter-Producer (ABC, NBC, and NPR / 100k+ Streams)
artist singing and playing guitar

Multitasking is hard.

And that definitely includes singing and playing guitar at the same time.

I taught myself how to play guitar in 2002, and now I’m an active singer-songwriter.

So I know the struggles of learning guitar, testing out your singing voice. And then playing and singing together.

So in this post, I’d like to share some tips for how you can get started with this new skill.


When Singing and Playing Guitar Together Comes in Handy

There are four situations where being able to sing and play guitar simultaneously would be helpful. It’s a useful skill for the artist, songwriter, producer, and hobbyist.


The Artist

artist singing and playing guitar

Let’s say you’re trying to break into the music scene as an original artist.

You know how to sing, and you know how to play guitar. But when you try them together, something doesn’t work.

This makes it extremely difficult to write songs.

Yes, you could prerecord yourself playing guitar. Then later come up with a melody and lyrics while singing along to it.

But I’m a songwriter myself. So I know special things happen when you can quickly grab your instrument and let chords, melody, and lyrics come out all at once.

Also, you may want to start performing your songs. Even if you prefer to hit up local open-mic nights rather than host your own concert.

Maybe you can craft an amazing song in your studio.

But if you can’t translate that feeling in a live setting? That’s a missed opportunity for connecting with fans and fellow musicians.


The Songwriter

You can make a living as a songwriter.

singer songwriter playing guitar

You can write for performing and recording artists, even if they’re only locally famous. You don’t need to write for Justin Bieber to make some money.

But here’s the thing: if you can’t convey your song in a powerful way, the artist will probably pass it up.

When recording a demo to send to an artist or a manager, you can get away with not playing and singing at the same time.

But what if you get the chance to play your song in person? This could be at a songwriter’s showcase or a music conference.

If you’re not good at playing and singing together, you could be missing chances for your music career.


The Producer

producer in a recording studio

If you’re a producer, you still may need to convey ideas to artists you’re working with.

Let’s say you get an idea.

You don’t want to waste time recording a quick demo during your recording session. You want to just grab a guitar and play what’s in your head.


The Hobbyist

Maybe guitar is just a hobby of yours. Maybe you like to entertain your friends with what you can play.

But wouldn’t it be way more interesting if you could play guitar well and sing? Then you and your friends could all sing together.


Tips for Singing and Playing Guitar Together

Here are 10 tips that will get you started with playing guitar and singing at the same time.


Just Play Your Guitar

Here’s what I recommend doing:

Just learn to play the guitar first. Don’t worry about singing just yet.

acoustic guitar

Get as good as you can at guitar –to the point where playing guitar is muscle memory. Then, eventually, add in singing as you play.


Start with Simple Songs

When trying to learn this difficult multitasking skill, keep it simple.

You don’t want to start off with “Stairway To Heaven” or “Blackbird,” two somewhat difficult songs to play on guitar.

You have to work your way up to those types of songs.

Start with songs that have simple chord progressions and easy-to-sing melodies.

Here are some easy songs to learn on guitar that I recommend you start with:

  • “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd
  • “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison
  • “Skinny Love” by Bon Iver
  • “All of Me” by John Legend
  • “ Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” by Bob Dylan
  • “Let Her Go” by Passenger
  • “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen
  • “Love Yourself” by Justin Bieber


Slow It Down

It’s okay to play a song slower than how it was recorded. When you’re learning how to sing and play simultaneously, this can be an extremely helpful method.

Yes, it will probably feel awkward at first. But you’re building muscle memory and improving your hand-eye coordination.

So go as slow as you need to, even if it feels weird. Then as you get better, play it faster and faster until you can play it at normal speed.


Play with a Metronome

Once you decide on a tempo, whether it’s the original speed or slower, play with a metronome.


Rhythm is one of the most important parts of playing guitar. Good rhythm is what separates great guitarists from average ones.

And playing with a metronome can drastically improve your guitar playing. So then it’s easier to sing along.

And there are so many free metronome apps. Just search “metronome,” and you’ll find one.

All you need is a simple click, nothing fancy.


Count Out Loud

Counting out loud can be a useful method too. You can use this in tandem with a metronome or in place of one.

This allows you to play at your own pace until you’re ready to play along with the song.

The whole point is to perfect your rhythm so you don’t even have to think about it. Because if you’re not thinking about playing, you can concentrate on the singing.


Hum the Melody

Before diving into playing and singing a song simultaneously, I recommend humming the melody first.

This is helpful for a few reasons:

  • You can familiarize yourself with the melody
  • You don’t have to worry about remembering lyrics
  • It helps you get the cadence of the lyrics in relation to the guitar part

Plus, it’s better to fold in one element at a time. It’s less overwhelming.


Play Along with the Song

OK, you’ve nailed the chord progression, tempo, and strumming pattern of your chosen song. Now you can hit play on your phone.

Playing along with this song is one of the most helpful methods for learning to play and sing at the same time.

It tests your strumming, rhythm, and ability to multitask.


Change Keys If Necessary

During this whole process, you may find your chosen song doesn’t quite fit your vocal range. That’s fine – just change the key so it’s easier to sing.

Fortunately, this is easy for guitarists to do. Use a capo so you don’t have to learn a whole new chord progression.

If the melody is too high for you without a capo, you can also tune your guitar down a half or whole step.

Obviously, this means you won’t be able to play along with the original recording of the song.


Use Ultimate Guitar

When I was learning guitar in 2002, Ultimate Guitar was a godsend. And it has so many more songs now then it did then.

It has the chords and lyrics to pretty much any song you want to learn. This is thanks to users adding new songs all the time.

When you search for a song, it will show you the different versions created by different users. Plus, the star rating of each and how many reviews the tab has gotten.

This helps you choose the most accurate version of the song you want.


Record Yourself to Listen Later

recording guitar

This might make you uncomfortable. But recording yourself is a way to listen to yourself objectively.

You’ve nailed the chord progression. You’re comfortable singing along.

Now record yourself. Then wait a day or two before coming back to the recording.

Hearing yourself sing and play guitar with fresh ears can show you how to get better.

You might realize your rhythm is off. Or maybe your singing is pitchy. Or your chord switches really are smooth enough.


What About Lessons?

I’ll be honest, I’m a proponent of teaching yourself. In other words, let the internet teach you.

Paying for in-person guitar lessons and singing lessons may be the right call for some people.

The main reason people like lessons is accountability. The student knows the teacher is going to ask if they practiced, and they’ll be able to tell if they didn’t.

Lessons can provide discipline for those who need it.

But if you can hold yourself accountable, online resources (like this post) are the go-to.

You can learn to sing and play guitar at the same time, all on your own.

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