About Me

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Atlanta, GA, United States
When I suffered a lip injury that ended my career as a classical trombonist, I thought my life as a musician was finished, but I fell in love with music all over again when Santa gave me a guitar for Christmas in 2003. Even as I was struggling with my first chords, I was planning a new performance career. As a trombonist, I performed with the Heritage of America Band at Langley Air Force Base, the Ohio Light Opera, and in pick-up bands for touring acts that included Rosemary Clooney, George Burns, and the Manhattan Transfer. Reborn as a jazz guitarist, I sing and play my own solo arrangements of jazz classics, am half of the Godfrey and Guy duo, and hold the guitar chair in the Sentimental Journey Orchestra. I have been a freelance music copyist since 1995, served as Director of Music at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation from 2011 to 2017, and currently serve as Contemporary Band Director at the same congregation.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Singing and Playing

Most people pick up the guitar so they can accompany themselves while they sing. Playing guitar can be difficult enough. Singing and playing at the same time is another challenge. Here are some tips for those who are learning to play guitar and sing at the same time.

  • Practice singing separately from the guitar. This will help you learn the melody more thoroughly. The nice thing about singing is that it doesn't require any special equipment. Sing the song everywhere. Some of my most productive song learning sessions take place in the car.
  • Practice guitar separately from singing. Be sure you can play the chords smoothly before you try to put it together with the voice.
  • It's important to practice the singing and the guitar playing separately, because you have have to divide your attention when you sing and play at the same time. You want to make sure you're comfortable with both the voice part and the guitar part. If you know the song so well that you can sing it automatically, it's going to be a lot easier to play the guitar part, and vice versa.
  • Keep it simple. Once you start singing and playing at the same time, simplify the guitar part. (You can make it fancier later.) Try an easy strum, just to get used to playing chords and singing at the same time. Even after you're comfortable with the easy strumming, you might find that simple is good. Sometimes all you need is an easy rhythm and a good melody.
  • Hum the melody. Instead of singing the words, try humming the melody as you play. Sometimes the words get in the way of learning a song. If you hum (or sing a generic syllable like "la" or "doo"), it's easier to focus on the melody and the guitar playing. I think this may be because using language requires some extra brain power that takes away from your focus on the melody and the guitar chords. That's my purely unscientific opinion. After you're comfortable humming and playing, then add the words.
  • Slow down. If it's a fast song, you don't have to always sing it fast in your private practice sessions. Slow it down so that you can sing and play comfortably and gradually speed it up over the course of several sessions.
  • Use a metronome. Even if you're a rock solid rhythm guitar player, it's amazing how funky your time can get when you start singing. Play with a metronome to train yourself to keep steady time.
  • Record yourself. This can be a painful lesson. I know this from personal experience! Once you've put the song together, record yourself and do your best to listen objectively. You may sing in tune normally, but you might find that you sometimes sing out of tune when you're accompanying yourself. If you record yourself, you'll learn your tendencies. You'll also find out very quickly whether the arrangement is working. Maybe you've come up with a fancy guitar part that gets in the way of the song while you're singing. If it's a song with a lot of space in the vocal part, maybe you'll need to come up with some guitar fills here and there.
Learning to play guitar and sing at the same time can be challenging at first, but it's so much fun! If you have any other tips for learning to sing and play at the same time, please leave them in the comments section.
If you live in Atlanta and are interested in private or group guitar lessons, please check my website at www.godfreyguitar.com for more information or email me directly.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent pointers. My wife is an amazing singer and is making the jump to playing guitar as well. Many of these observations directly apply to her challenges.