How To Sing and Play At The Same Time

Playing an instrument while singing is one of the most exciting things to witness live. It gives a picture of an artist in full control of the music they are performing. Professionals make it look like second nature, but if you’ve ever tried you know how hard it can be! Not only does the performer have to sing and play at a high level, but coordinating the two is its own challenge. Read on below for our tips on how to get started supporting your own voice with an instrument! 

Guitar Or Piano?  

If you’ve never accompanied yourself singing before, you may be wondering if using the guitar or the piano is easier. 

First and foremost, if you have experience with either instrument choose the one you are more comfortable with! To play and sing simultaneously requires a lot of multitasking, so the more familiarity with your chosen instrument the better. 

Both instruments have their own challenges, and while one is not easier than the other, for someone with no experience a simple piano accompaniment is easier to get started with than a simple guitar accompaniment. This is because a beginner piano part doesn’t require the same level of hand strength and dexterity that even a simple 3 chord guitar song does. 

At the end of the day, if self accompaniment is something you wish to pursue for more than just one song then choose the instrument that calls to you the most! 

Accompaniment vs Solo Performance: What’s the difference?

In a solo performance an instrumentalist will most often play the melody of the song along with the harmony. In accompaniment the instrumentalist usually omits the melody and plays a chordal and rhythmic part to support the singer who is vocalizing the melody. 

A good accompaniment supports the vocal without getting its way! 

How Do I Get Started Playing Guitar And Singing?

A contemporary pop song will usually have anywhere between 3 and 5 chords. The first step is to learn all of the chords on your guitar and to be able to transition between them quickly and smoothly. 

After you’ve got the chords down the next step is to get comfortable with a strumming pattern (a combination of up and down strokes that create a rhythm) for the song. Most chord websites provide a strumming pattern for you to use. 

An example of a guitar strumming pattern.

Since you will be singing along you can also simplify your strumming pattern to make the coordination easier! 

For most players the hardest part of singing and playing is coordinating the strumming pattern with the vocal melody. It can be a good tip to first get comfortable singing the song while playing each chord only once and allowing them to ring out. This builds the ears confidence melodically without the added initial challenge of the rhythm.

When you are ready to add the strumming, take the tempo very slowly! Also, try to focus on which words of the song land on which strum in the pattern. It can be very helpful to print out the chord sheet and draw tiny up and down strokes under whatever syllables they are to line up with. Having a visual aid allows for some of the thought process to be on paper instead of juggled in the mind.

This can be slow going, but don’t get frustrated! After working through the sing and play process for a few songs your mind and body will adapt, and soon it will come naturally! 

How Do I Get Started Playing Piano and Singing?

When accompanying a voice with the piano the basic technique is to play the chords of the song in your right hand and the root (bass note) of the chord in your left. In most cases the right hand chords will have some sort of rhythm such as quarter notes and the left hand will hold whole notes. 

Due to the way the piano is layed out playing only “basic” root position chords will cause the player to have to jump around, creating an uneven sound. In order for the player to have more consistency inversions are used. 

An inversion is a musical term that means to reorder the notes of a chord. For example a C major chord contains the notes C E and G, but can be reordered to E G C or G C E. Doing this allows chords to be connected by moving just one or two fingers, instead of having to shift the entire hand. 

When working on accompaniment remember to pay attention to the sustain pedal! It is a very important part of creating a smooth foundation to sing above. 

How Do I Stay In Time?

Timing is an integral and often overlooked part of self-accompaniment. Playing and singing at the same time is a coordination challenge and timing often suffers because of this, bending the accompaniment to the twists and turns of the melody. 

You can work on this by playing along with a metronome or drum track and a slow and even tempo. This will keep you in time and rock steady! Once this is comfortable you can take it back to solo town with a solid confidence of the beat! 

What Are Some Advanced Concepts For Accompaniment? 

After you’ve mastered the basics of self accompaniment a new challenge arises: how do you make each song sound different? 

Variation is the key! Great accompanists implement a mix of chords, arpeggios, silence and dynamics for a more colorful background. 

Here are a couple of examples of advanced accompaniment. Try and notice all the ways they make use the techniques in this article. 

Listen for the use of rhythmic slapping in his strumming hand!
A classic and amazing piano accompaniment with lots of arpeggios!
A masterful piano and voice combination! Listen for the different rhythm in each hand with the smooth vocal over top.

Closing Notes

To sing and play at the same time is a tricky task, but the best way to learn is to start! Coordination takes time but after working through this process on a couple tunes you’ll be comfortable in no time! If you’d like some extra help from one of Toronto’s best teachers reach out to us today and we’d be happy to help.

Good luck and happy practicing!