Your First Song, Pt. 4: How to Sing and Play Guitar
Welcome to the final part of Your First Guitar Song, a four-part series made especially for beginner guitarists.
Last week, in Pt. 3: Changing Chords, we combined the three chords from Part One with the strumming pattern from Part Two to play the verse guitar for ‘Twist and Shout’ by The Beatles. If you’ve made it this far then have good cheer – the end is near! Now that we’ve figured out the strumming, let’s finish the song by learning how to sing and play guitar at the same time.
‘Have good cheer – the end is near!’
How to Sing and Play Guitar
Singing while playing guitar is kind of like talking while driving a car. When you’re brand new, your mind has neither the space nor the patience to formulate full sentences. You’re just trying not to crash!
But as driving becomes second nature, the conversation starts to flow a little more easily.
So … it can be a little tricky. ‘How do you eat an elephant?’ someone once asked. The answer: one bite at a time!
Had enough of the bad analogies? Let’s break it down.
Break the Song Down into Parts
The easiest way to learn a song is in parts. ‘Twist & Shout’ is made up of verses and choruses just like any other song, and most of these repeat, which means learn one verse/chorus and you’ve learned ‘em all! There are just four parts in total:
You’ve already learned the verse guitar, which means you’re a step ahead of the game. Luckily, the chorus is quick and easy.
The Easiest Chorus You’ll Ever Learn
‘The … chorus … is ridiculously simple. It’s only one chord, and has just one lyric’.
The famous ‘Ahhh’ chorus to ‘Twist & Shout’ is ridiculously simple. It’s only one chord, and has just one lyric: ‘ahhh’ (if you could even call that a lyric). All you need to do is sing ‘ahhh’ and keep strumming an A major chord in the pattern below: (Remember: each arrow represents a single metronome ‘click’)
NOTE: This series is primarily concerned with learning to play guitar – not learning to sing. In learning how to play guitar and sing at the same time, I assume you already have basic singing skills. If you don’t but would like to acquire some, here is a good series of short videos that can help.
You’re ¾ of the way there! The last step is to learn the verse vocal. Unlike the chorus, this part does have lyrics. Thankfully, they are mostly monosyllabic, easy words. To help, I’ve designed a …
Try to ‘hear’ the vocal melody in your head as you strum along
While still strumming, try to hum along to the melody in your head (‘Mmm’ is a good consonant to use)
Put the lyrics to ‘Twist & Shout’ in front of you (or down on the ground if it’s easier)
Repeat steps 1–4, this time following along the lyrics with your eyes as you hum with your voice
When it feels comfortable, try singing a word or two of the lyrics instead of humming
The more you do this, the more you will be able to replace humming with the lyrics. With enough practice, you won’t even have to hum anymore – you’ll just be singing!
Putting It All Together
When you’re ready (and it may take a while before you are), slide the metronome up to ‘real time’. ‘Twist & Shout’ is played at around 126 bpm, which is exactly what we’ve been using except one key difference: we’ve been playing in ‘half time’, which is half as fast as ‘real time’.
In half time each metronome click represents one arrow from the strumming pattern; in real time each metronome click represents two arrows. Here’s what it sounds like:
A Few Helpful Tips
With the six-step exercise, don’t be afraid to practice Part A for as long as you need. This is the most crucial step – it takes you from simply playing guitar to playing guitar while singing – so don’t rush it. Be patient with yourself.
Try strumming with your eyes closed. This is the fastest way to train the motor muscles in your hand to memorize these strumming patterns. This will be tricky at first, but if you can play without having to look at the fretboard, singing will come to you much more easily.
Sing an octave lower if it helps – John Lennon has one high voice!
Congratulations – you did it! You now know how to sing and play guitar at the same time, which is no easy feat. Keep practicing and pretty soon you’ll be sounding just like The Beatles! Or, you know … pretty close at least.
By Cody Robinson
Cody is a professional singer, songwriter, performer, and recording artist. His instruments include bass, trumpet, drums, harmonica, piano, and most especially guitar. In his spare time he travels, brands businesses, and makes lists of his many accomplishments.
Cody is a student at the University of Utah under his own self-created degree, Music Business and Technology, and recently returned from four months living in Kathmandu, Nepal, providing humanitarian aid to the victims of the recent earthquake.
Watch the music video for ‘Batti Ayo’, Cody’s tribute to the Nepal quake victims, at codyrobinsonmusic.com