How To Sing and Play the Guitar at the Same Time?

by Ken Tamplin


This is a question I get almost every day from people interested in taking singing lessons via Ken Tamplin Vocal Academy. I have decided to write this instructional article for you guys out there as I know that a lot of you might struggle with playing guitar and singing at the same time.

First off for people who know little about me I am a singer who originally started as a guitar player but ended up having a pretty wide vocal range and control.

So why people struggle so much with singing and playing guitar at the same time like I did myself in the past and still do a bit on syncopated phrases and syncopated rhythms and stuff?

Inability to sing and play at the same time comes from synchronisation issues between what you are singing and playing.

Do you remember what was it like when you were practicing scale sequences on the guitar for the first time and how hard it was to play consecutive up down while alternate picking? You had to synchronise two hands that do two different things.

Imagine that singing and playing guitar at the same time has the same level of difficulty. Now do you remember what made your alternate picking more consistent…? I bet you just answered that it was understanding the rhythm behind it and slow and consistent practice.

In order to sing and play at the same time you will require the same amount of practice and patince. I guarantee that singing and playing will become your second nature and you will do it on subconcious level as you do with your alternate picking.

So how do we go about that? I bet that when you practice guitar you break everything down to the smallest and most basic element and master it first in isolation? We do the same with singing and playing at the same time.

First you need to learn all your vocal parts in isolation with guitar parts. You need to learn how singing relates to the rhythm. I recommend that you learn your vocal parts using a quarter note beat and find out which words fall on the beat and which off beat.

Next thing you need to do is to learn your guitar parts really well so that you can do it on autopilot. Use for that a quarter note beat as well. Let the quarter note beat be the bridge between your vocal and guitar parts.

There is one thing I want you to realise at this point: both guitar and vocal parts rely on the groove therefore you shouldn’t be thinking about them as two different things. I want you instead to think how guitar parts can help your guitar playing and how your guitar playing could support your singing. Usually the groove is what keep them both together and this is where you need to look for commonalities.

So the very first skill you will have to develop is the ability to play guitar and count out loud at the same time regardless of how complex the guitar part is. I recommend starting with some very simple 4/4 time signature and possibly a quarter note strumming pattern(downstrokes only)

Please refer now to my video demonstration. The text below is just a transcription from it. I want you to watch it many as many times as needed and practice what I am showing you. You will notice many new things everytime you watch my demonstration.

Let me give you an example that’s… I’m just gonna do a random song.

(Singing) Give a little bit, give a little bit of your love to me. Oh! Give a little bit. Give a little bit of your time to me. See the man with his lonely eyes, he’ll take a chance to be surprised. Oh! Give a little bit. (end singing)

Now, I can sing… Gee Ken, thanks for the song. What I do and how I’ve over the years have been able to… and that, believe it or not there are some syncopated things going on there, and some land on the one, and some land on them don’t …is

I’m always counting in my head. (counting 1, 2, 3, 4 in background while singing) Give a little bit. Give a little bit of my love for you. Give a little bit. Give a little bit of your time to me. (end singing) Right? You always have that quarter note meter in your head, and you’re always thinking about the meter, you really only have two things to negotiate. Right? The first is, where does the chord fall on what part of the beat? Well you should already know that because you’ve been practicing this song. But have you really been thinking about it in terms of a quarter note groove or a groove that’s just constantly doing this in your head?

(counting 1 through 4 while singing) Give a little bit. Give a little bit of your love to me. Give a little bit. Give a little bit of my time to you. (end singing) So now, you can start off by just going… (singing while counting) Give a little bit. Give a little bit of your love to me. Give a little bit. Give a little bit of my life for you. (end singing) And then you can start adding the fancy (plays guitar).

Now, sometimes a vocal won’t fall on the same strike as the guitar chord. (singing) See the man with his lone… (end singing) Did you see that? Let me do it again. (singing) See the man with his lone… (end singing) Okay? What I do is in my mind, I keep that clock going, and I go (singing) See the man with his lonely eyes. I’ll take a chance. You’ll be surprised (end singing). I actually hit the chord with the vocal, but I don’t really hit it. I know that sounds weird, but what I do is I’ll actually strike the chord of the guitar with the vocal, not really hitting it. I’ll hit it with something else or kind of pretend to do it so that I can keep the rhythm going in my head of where that vocal falls. (counting while singing) See the man with his lone… (end singing) That’s a push, so (singing) See the man with his lonely eyes. I’ll take a chance, to be surprised (end singing).

See how those are all pushes on the quarter note? So I actually do that with my hand, then strike the one on the guitar so that I’m not having to go, okay one is I sing one and the other one is I play one. No, I actually do both and I’ll find some other way to bring that in without actually… instead of going (singing) See the man with his lonely eyes. I’ll take… (end singing) I’m not going “boom, boom” each time. So, (singing) See the man with his lonely eyes. (end singing)

Okay, let’s do it again. (singing) See the man with his lonely eyes. I’ll take a chance, to be surprised. Oh I’m going home. Don’t you feel that you need to feel at home. Feel at home. (end singing) I pushed through it. (singing) Don’t you feel that you need to feel at home. Oh! Yeah! We’ve gotta sing. You’ve gotta get the feeling. (end singing) Now, what you can also do is, you can also double stroke on things to get a syncopation going so that you always have something that’s going that will sit within where the note falls on the chord.

And I know that this might be a little advanced and if this doesn’t benefit you, it’s an extra. So, the optimum thing to do is to sit on the phrase you’re having trouble with and do it over, and over, and over again. There’s so much good to be said for that. (singing) Oh at home. What ya need, what ya need, what ya need to feel at home, feel at home, feel at home. Oh I’m going home. What ya need, what ya need to feel at home. Oh yeah! We’ve gotta sing. Gotta give a feeling. Oh! Coming home. Do it. Gotta get the feeling. Oh baby! (end singing) Okay so, anyways showoff.

This is something that has helped me over time which is to be able to come up with a syncopated rhythm or first, get my guitar parts down. That’s what I do first, I actually get my guitar parts down. Then, I integrate the vocal on where it sits on the hits of either a quarter or eighth note phrase. Then, I determine how much overplaying I need to do on the guitar to make sure that I can understand the grooves or have something working that is a rhythmical thing that helps me get in the pocket of a groove. Or 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and 1 and 2 and… (singing) I know there’s been… feelin’… feelin’ (end singing).

Okay, the next thing that’s also really helpful is, I said to do this over and over again. If you can get a drum machine, it’s so nice to just put on a drum machine with a straight thing so you have that working for you in the groove and you can practice over and over and over again doing these pushes and pulls while you’re playing.

So you play the part over and over and over again and then you work on just that little part. (demonstrates) And then maybe you can reverse it and… (demonstrates) And then you can get a feel for where things sit in the groove. It reminds me kind of a drummer and a drummer can really relate to this- a drummer’s kick, “boom, boom, boom…” He’s got to negotiate all of these syncopations with all of his limbs. Well, we’re kind of just basically doing the same thing on guitar.

One is on autopilot because we know where that is (demonstration) where the quarter is just going or the hat’s going or something is going on a meter, and then you have it, but it’s much easier to practice to a drum machine. Next I want to do a quick supplemental on song writing because I think this is also a tool that could be really helpful and we’re going to do that now.

Ken Tamplin

Ken Tamplin has always been referred to as a “singer’s singer” with vocal references to his cousin Sammy Hagar, while guitarists have hailed his playing, songwriting and production in equality to some of the biggest names in the business. Ken’s past successes, such as his highly acclaimed groups Shout and Magdallan, has continued to expanded horizons for Tamplin to be asked to sing for such groups as Foreigner, Motley Crue, INXS, Skunk Baxter (Doobie Brothers) , Jeff Lynn (ELO), Geazer Butler (Black Sabbath), Accept, Journey and even Peter Frampton. It has also provided a platform for scoring and source music for such features as Inspector Gadget, Perfect Storm, The Waterboy, Charlie’s Angels, Mod Squad, Wild America, Major League III as well as a host of TV series‘ such as Melrose Place, 90210, The X-Files, Baywatch, the theme for Ace Ventura (Nickelodeon), Spin City, On Disney Now!, and Entertainment Tonight participated
in by Tamplin. Ken has won 3 Dove Awards (like Gospel Grammys) and has 14 nominations.

In addition, Ken Tamplin has also found success in national television commercials for Nestle, Hotwheels, Acura, Ford, Honda, Nissan, Mazda, Japan Airlines, Lux, and Shakey’s to name a few. His recent philanthropic CD “Make Me Your Voice” on SPRING HILL/EMI 2003 included gospel legend Andrae‘ Crouch and Charlie Peacock, and played a key role in the Presidential signing of the $300,000,000.00 Sudan Peace Act October 2003. Ken is helping singers from all over the World how to sing better via Ken Tamplin Vocal Academy on-line singing lessons


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