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Caught in a Trap? How to sing and play guitar at the same time!

How to practice to make it easy to sing while playing *any* guitar part!

Learn to sing and play guitar

Here are some quotes from the comments left on Justin Sandercoe's popular video How To Sing And Play Guitar At The Same Time on Youtube. I've corrected a few spelling mistakes.

- "I've been playing for about 1 year and the song I want to sing I can play with my eyes shut and in the dark though the second I start (to) sing I lose it :("

- "you can't teach this to someone"

- "Still having problems in singing and playing at the same time! :-( Is it possible for every guitar player?"

- "I'm not a beginner but not I'm not Hendrix either and I just can't play some songs and sing! It's the rhythm I think? My brain can't seem to do both..That said I can play Stairway and sing at the same time! So why can't I play Wonderwall and sing?"

- "it's that the guitar and the vocals are 2 different rhythms and its hard for me to connect those 2 together and how they work together"

If singing while playing guitar seems out of reach to you then keep reading! This is a skill rather than a talent, meaning you can learn to do it. Today's challenge walks you through the five steps that guarantee you success in singing while playing any guitar part, however complex!

You can walk out! Let Taplature guide you!

We'll use a simple example, the first line of Elvis's "Suspicious Minds" to demonstrate this powerful approach that you can use to master any problem you'll ever come across relating to combining a guitar part with a vocal line.

Click to play ... Disclaimer: There's a reason my vocal "skills" are usually confined to backing duties only. Ride at your own risk!

The five steps to success. Here we go!

Step One

Make sure that you understand exactly where the syllables of each word fall in relation to the beat. Write them out on a line of Taplature. This can be the toughest part for some and can often throw up a surprise or two!

In our example each syllable falls on a foot tap or up foot (beat or offbeat) though this isn't always the case in other songs. Your first challenge is to get so you can sing the bar repeatedly with just your foot tap for company!

Write lyrics on guitar tab

Step Two

Add the guitar part to the Taplature. Here I've added a standard "basic strum" pattern (D-DU-UDU) also known as a "campfire strum" or "island strum". We'll look at something more complex later in this article but this strum always makes for a good initial test with any song you're learning to sing.

Strum pattern in guitar tab with foot tap and lyrics

All the instructions you need to follow are now in place and the temptation is to jump right in to try the whole bar. Unless doing so is instantly easy however, you'll benefit greatly by following through the further steps described below.

Step Three

Make sure you can execute each beat in isolation, to a level strong enough that you can loop it perfectly in time with a metronome!

In the accompanying video you'll notice I'm speaking rather than singing the words. At this stage we're focusing purely on their timing. If you prefer to sing in pitch that's fine too!

Practice single beat with foot tap

Beat 1 is the simplest of the four. Tap your foot while you strum down on the beat then lift your foot while you "ghost strum" up

(a "ghost strum" is moving your arm just as if you were strumming but without hitting the strings).

lyric on offbeat

Beat 2. Tap your foot while strumming down, then lift your foot while strumming up and saying "We're".

Don't strum on the beat

Beat 3. Tap your foot while you ghost strum down and say "caught", then lift your foot while strumming up and saying "in".

Strum on beat and offbeat

Beat 4. Tap your foot while you strum down and say "a", then lift your foot while strumming up and saying "trap".

Step Four

Once you're happy that each beat functions correctly on its own you can start building them together. First we'll pair beat 1 with beat 2 giving us the first half of the full line and beat 3 with beat 4 giving the second half. Now it's important to begin singing rather than only saying the words.

break down guitar part

sing and play tricky rhythm on guitar

Although we're still only dealing with small sections, it may at first be necessary to slow down to almost zero miles per hour to ensure that everything is functioning correctly.

Each time you get it perfect it gets easier.

How slow do you have to go to be sure

tthat everything's happening correctly?

Step Five

Finally we bolt together the two halves to give the full bar.

suspicious minds guitar lesson sing and play

Even if you can do the two halves easily, you'll probably need to slow right down when putting them together to make sure you get the whole bar perfect. Keep getting it correct and it soon comes up to speed! Monitoring your top speed over time on awkward sections will let you know for sure that your practice is working, or otherwise!

As you improve I predict you'll find there's a certain speed at which some "magic" happens and you move from consciously thinking about things to simply doing them! Working with students I can often hear this shift taking place as something in their brain clicks into gear once it's been "programmed" with enough correct repetitions. This is what we're aiming for!

The Real Deal

Here I've taken the same vocal line but this time added the famous guitar part from the original Elvis recording.

suspicious minds guitar riff

Although this is more complex, the approach outlined above will work just the same for this example. The biggest difference is that the guitar part now uses semiquavers (16th notes) on beat 3. If this stops you in your tracks, there's help in my free Crash Course in Taplature, sent to all subscribers, which includes examples of both vocal and guitar parts using semiquavers.

Remember - This Works for Everything!

Take this approach and apply it to anything you've ever struggled to sing while playing guitar. Make up your own Taplature or download ready made sheets here in the Taplature Shop.

We've only looked at a single bar today, but of course all music is made up of single bars. Find where your problems lie in the songs you want to sing and pull them out like we've done here. Each time you learn a new combination it becomes part of what I call your "rhythmic vocabulary", meaning that over time there will be fewer and fewer combinations that cause you trouble. Whenever you meet one though you'll know how to deal with it!


Old Swanner.

Anything in this article not clear?

What's the toughest thing you've ever

found to sing and play on guitar?

Got a challenge you think this method can't solve?

Bring your questions and thoughts to

where we can go even deeper!

taplature foot tap for guitar


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