The goal of this blog was always to help students, and here’s the most recent question I seem to be hearing from students: “How do I sing and play guitar or piano at the same time??”
Now, it’s not easy, but what skill that’s worthwhile is? With a little concentrated effort and smart practice habits you can do it! And make yourself a music more marketable musician in the process (and perhaps save some serious cash on accompanists!) Don’t worry, we love you accompanists! Here’s some things you should keep in mind when practicing this:
1. Always master instruments separately first. If you are really trying to perform this piece well on both instruments, you should definitely play them separately first. You want to feel like you could sing this or play this song in your sleep. So that when you put both together, muscle memory will kick in and help you out.
2. Don’t forget your technique! Especially for voice and guitar combinations. Many times we forget to breathe or curve our bodies around the instrument when trying to see where our fingers our landing or exercise the right amount of pressure on the keys or frets. This is of course detrimental to our singing voices during performances. Don’t forget what you know about good technical habits when combining voice and an instrument. These habits give you the best sound and protect your voice from fatigue. It may take a little work to combine both which leads me to number 3…
3. Communication with both teachers is key! If you have a piano teacher AND a voice teacher or a guitar teacher AND a voice teacher you need to talk with both teachers about what your needs are to play or sing. For example, you want to make sure that your guitar songs are in a comfortable key for your vocal range, and that you can play them with tall posture and good breathing habits. Many instrumental teachers don’t teach voice and many voice teachers don’t teach instruments. They don’t know what is expected in your other lesson. Tell them and have them help you work to find a balance. You may want to invite your voice teacher to your instrumental lesson or vice versa. You may also want to start with less challenging songs first so you can master the transition to accompanying yourself.
4. Use your instrument to help your sing. In some cases, you can use your instrument to remind you breathe or stay relaxed. For example, keeping the guitar by your lower belly can help remind you to breathe low so that you feel you lower belly press against and move back from the guitar.
5. Try holding the guitar or sitting at the piano with hands on keys or fretboard during vocal warmups. Feel what it is to balance both things and keep good vocal technique.
6. Use a mirror while playing guitar (you may also use video for piano). Watch yourself in the mirror so that you aren’t looking at your hands and notice any places of tension that might affect your singing or throw your wrists out of alignment.
7. Use harmonic chords first. If you know a little about theory, and hopefully you do have a good teacher who is helping you with that, you can play the instrumental part of a song as chords rather than a full arrangement while you sing. This will ease you in to accompanying yourself.
8. Use words first or syllables when practicing voice. Break singing and playing down into manageable steps. This may mean speaking the words in rhythm while playing the full version of the guitar, or singing the melody on a simple “di, di, di” or whatever syllable will help you better accomplish your technical goals for voice. (You can also combine this with number 7 if you need to take things a little more slowly)
9 Play. Record. Repeat. Record yourself playing your instrumental part first. Make sure its pretty flawless. Then sing along. Then record your voice a cappella. Play along to that.
10. Practice accompanying other singers with your song and singing with other accompanists. Working together with someone else is a great way to practice seeing how both instruments fit together into a song.
11. If you having trouble finding your pitch when playing (and you were able to finding it ok before), try seeing if you can bring out your vocal line more with the arrangement of the instrumental part. This might mean playing the melody a little louder on the piano, and softening the chords and for guitar arranging the song to include your first few notes just before you start singing or during a particular difficult passage, playing just your melody. Work with your instructor on this.
12. Bring your instrument to voice lessons (and be warmed up and ready to sing for instrumental lessons). You can’t practice accompaniment with your teachers if you aren’t prepared.
This is a big topic and I’m going to continue to explore it in these next few weeks but just remember anything is possible with performance if you put the time in! There aren’t any shortcuts but hopefully these tips get you on the first track!