Master Singing while Strumming today (with these 6 easy loops)
Until you can do it easily, singing while strumming your guitar confidently at the same time can appear like magic. There's actually surprisingly little you'll need to learn in order to be able to perform that magic on guitar yourself, as we'll see below:
In this article I'll be focusing on 8th notes (quavers); in particular the "basic strum" pattern (click here for an easy primer on that if it's new to you) twinned with any combination of 8th note lyrics.
8th Note Strumming Possibilities
If we consider a single beat of music limited to our picking-hand either strumming or missing the strings in 8th note rhythm then there are only these 4 possible combinations available:
As shown in the diagram we can:
1) Strum the strings in both directions; down as the foot taps the beat and up as the foot lifts (to tap again).
2) Strum the down but miss the up, leaving the strings ringing twice as long as in the first example.
3) Miss the strings as we "strum" down but strum the up, giving us an "offbeat" strum.
4) Miss the strings when "strumming" both down and up.
Of course there are many other techniques we can introduce on guitar to spice things up but while we're restricting ourselves to only either strumming or missing the strings (a "ghost" strum) on each foot movement (half-beat) there are no other possibilities .
How about Lyrics?
Just as with the strum, as long as we're only dealing with 8th notes, there are only 4 possible combinations for the way lyrics (syllables) can drop onto our beat and offbeat:
The examples above are taken from a very famous song you may recognise. Similarly to the strum combinations we saw above we can:
1) Sing a syllable on both the down and the up foot.
2) Sing a syllable on the down foot but not on the up.
3) Sing a syllable on the up but not the down.
4) Sing a syllable on neither the down nor the up foot.
A Little Math!
We have 4 possible strum patterns for each beat and 4 possible vocal patterns. A simple multiplication (4x4) tells us that there are only 16 possible ways to combine a single beat strum in 8th notes with a single beat vocal in 8th notes!
That's not a lot to learn and by the time you've analysed a few simple bars in depth (as we'll do in this article) you'll have covered all bases. From then, any new songs you learn to sing while playing to the same level (8th notes) can only be other orderings of these same 16 combinations. Obviously the words will change from song to song, as will the chords but the mental mechanics required to perform them correctly remain constant.
Building Patterns Together - The Basic Strum
To make the "basic strum" for guitar (click here for full lesson) we fill a bar of 4 beats with pattern 2, then pattern 1, then pattern 3 and then pattern 1 again:
Although considered a beginner strum pattern, this is one you can use forever and never get bored of. Although it may not always be the perfect choice it will always fit just fine with any song played in 4 beats!
Adding Some Lyrics
Let's start with a simple loop made from the first line of the Beatles' classic "Hey Jude" I hinted at above (click here to listen). I've presented it over an A chord rather than the F of the original for ease of access. A capo at fret 8 would make this match with the original recording.
Played over an 8th note basic strum we're using lyric pattern 2 on beats 1 and 4. Although we're not actually singing on beats 2 or 3 we're still using lyric pattern 4 (no syllable on either down or up foot).
Wow ... already we've found 4 (25%) of the possible combinations of strum and vocal:
Beat 1: Lyric pattern 2 against strum pattern 2
Beat 2: Lyric pattern 4 against strum pattern 1
Beat 3: Lyric pattern 4 against strum pattern 3
Beat 4: Lyric pattern 2 against strum pattern 1
I'll check them off as we go:
If you have any problems getting the line above running then click here for a foolproof breakdown of how to approach things. I'll use the line demonstrated in the article linked as our next example.
Another very famous tune; again, just a single line for quick absorption:
Above we can see:
Beat 1: Lyric pattern 4 against strum pattern 2
Beat 2: Lyric pattern 3 against strum pattern 1
Beat 3: Lyric pattern 1 against strum pattern 3
Beat 4: Lyric pattern 1 against strum pattern 1
Already after examining only 2 bars of music the checkbox is filling up fast and we've now learned half of the possible combinations!
Empty Strums Get the Least Xs
Let's bear in mind that since strum pattern 4 (miss the strings with the strumming arm in both directions) doesn't actually occur in the basic strum examined today then we're not naturally going to find it in any example presented in basic strum fashion. The bottom line of our checkbox will therefore remain blank for now.
That leaves only 4 more combinations which are not too hard to find. There's one easily spotted (and played) if we loop around an extra bar of "Hey Jude":
Beat 3 of the top line twins lyric pattern 3 with strum pattern 3 which we can notch up in the checkbox:
2 Birds with One Crazy Stone!
Only 3 more combinations to go before we can theoretically sing any 4-beat 8th note lyric over a basic strum! Here's a forgotten classic from my youth (capo fret 3 matches the original) in which we can find 2 of the missing patterns.
In the above example:
Beat 1 of the top line matches lyric pattern 3 with strum pattern 2.
Beat 1 of the bottom line matches lyric pattern 1 with strum pattern 2.
Let's check them both off. Nearly there now!
Take Me Home?
That just leaves the combination of lyric pattern 2 with strum pattern 3. Looking back on this Taplature Blog article referencing this song I spotted one fine such example. Here I've left it in the original key of A.
You'll see the missing piece of the jigsaw on the top line, beat 3 and now our checkbox is full!
Ok ... Not Quite - Let's Finish It Properly!
As noted above, we won't run into any of the line 4 patterns when using a basic strum. How about this though? Here's our "Hey Jude" loop from above but using strum pattern 4 throughout (only "ghost" strums). If you could play the version above then this shouldn't be too taxing:
All 4 possible lyrics combinations occur in the top line alone, each twinned with a blank strum (but be sure to keep that arm moving up and down as shown along with the foot). That completes the set for sure!
Now You're Off the Leash
Once all the loops above are comfortably under your belt there shouldn't be any issue with singing along with any 4 beat song played in 8th notes. See how many you can find to try it with! If you want a different strum pattern then it's just a matter of making sense of things from the ground up in a similar manner.
Take any problem spots and isolate them, a bar at a time or smaller if required. Keep your focus on improving the weakest sections of any songs you're working on and watch the other parts strengthen by default. Anyone can have a huge repertoire with just a basic strum and a few chords. What's more, although this is considered fairly basic, if you do it right you'll sound like a good guitar player!
Taplature: Revealing the Truths the Others Can't See!
Drawing problems out in Taplature fashion always brings easy understanding to things which may have looked tricky at first. It's powerful to zoom in one beat at a time, then two then a full bar etc. meaning you're never overwhelmed. You can make your own Taplature sheets or download some ready-made ones here.
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Anything in this article that's not making sense to you or any problems applying the ideas expressed? See me in the comments below or, of course, in the Taplature forum!
Enjoy! Old Swanner.
Related Article: Caught in a Trap? How to sing and play guitar at the same time! Related Article: How to Improve Chord Changes on Guitar ... Forever!