If your musical ambitions extend further than your private time and your music is instrument driven, the time may come where you’re required to sing and play at the same time. Backing tracks and lip-syncing are out of fashion, so you need to be prepared to make all the sounds you need – in conjunction with your backing band.
If you’re still in the early stages of learning to play and cannot yet sing or play an instrument to a performance standard, then this might sound daunting. However, just as each individual aspect gets better over time, the same can be said of doing both together. All you need is a nudge in the right direction, and with the following 10 tips, you’ll make the kind of progress you can be proud of.
1. Focus on the Individual Components First
There really is no point in devoting time and effort to being able to sing and play simultaneously if you still haven’t reached the right kind of level in each. If you try to do too much too soon, you’ll find that you won’t make the kind of progress you might expect in any discipline. So, even if you hope to become the next Ed Sheeran, make sure your instrumental skills and vocals are worth combining together before you take time out of your practice schedule to do so.
This is particularly pertinent due to the difficulty of singing and playing together. It takes enough brainpower to do two things at once that you cannot just assume that each part will get better on its own. Even if you have no trouble with a couple of songs, the fundamentals still matter, and you should devote sufficient time to them.
2. Start Out on Something You’re Comfortable With
It makes sense to adjust your performance to your skill level, and there is nothing wrong with taking the easy route. Some songs are easier than others – there are fewer pitch changes in the vocals, while the instrumental parts may stick to just a couple of chords. Your definition of ‘easy’ may not be identical to ours, but you should start your practice with songs that you have a decent shot of doing well.
3. Focus on the Key if You’re Primarily a Vocalist
If you come into the combination of voice and instruments with a preference for the latter, the chances are that you’ll recognise the key immediately. For singers, it can be slightly more complicated. However, it is always worth working it out as best you can as staying in key and matching it to the instrumental will be one of the earliest hurdles.
4. Understand the Song Structure
The chords are often the most useful and downright usable parts of any song when multi-tasking. For that reason, it may make more sense to go against your instinct. Rather than settling on a song and playing it out in full, start off by getting the chords right. If that proves too tricky, it may be worth focusing solely on the bassline. Either approach sets you up for the rest of the song as you’ll have a good idea of what to expect.
5. Split the Song into Parts
If there are apparent adjustments within a song, it makes sense to split it up. The verse and chorus structure may differ wildly and require a slightly different set of skills. Contrary to some of the tips here, we like to focus on what appears to be the most challenging part as the initial effort spent to master it always leads to the other parts becoming far easier.
6. Work on the Instrumental and Vocals Separately
As you’ll have noticed, there is plenty to be said for splitting things up, and there is no rule to say that you immediately need to spring into action on every part of a song. If your singing and playing do not click instantly, and you do not consider either aspect of your knowledge of the song to be perfect, it can be worth focusing on either of them first before putting them together.
7. Use Recordings to Back You Up
We mentioned that backing tracks are rare in live performances, but your practise sessions are not held in front of an audience. Try to find a backing track or the vocals alone to complement you while you practice. If they prove hard to find, or it is an original song, record yourself and then play along to that as you work. This comes with the added benefit that you can listen to those recordings separately to identify any potential areas of improvement.
8. Keep Time with a Metronome
If everything falls into place nicely, there will be few differences between the beat of the vocals and the instrumental. However, it does not always work that way, and it is easy to throw yourself off track as your attention wanders. Something as simple as a metronome – either the physical item or a digital appropriation – can serve to steer you in the right direction.
9. Work at Your Own Pace
You may practice slowly or quickly, but we’re talking about the song here. Technique matters in every part of playing a song, and if you struggle to do it at full speed, it can be worth concentrating at a reduced one to get portions right. Once you’re confident on the slower version, you can start to pick up the tempo and will play at full speed in no time.
10. Keep Your Practice Consistent
If you’ve never played and sung simultaneously before, you cannot expect to nail it within a day or a week. As with any form of training, quantity does not necessarily trump quantity. It is important to stick at your practice sessions over an extended period rather than to seek to cram it all in if you want the best possible results.