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The Secret to Singing While Playing Guitar

The Secret to Singing While Playing Guitar

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paul v closeup 2When I was nominated to be the singer and front man of my 7th grade band I knew I would have to step up very quickly. I had only been playing guitar for a week or so and I had never sang anything.

Since we only had one original song, I decided to start singing with a classic Pearl Jam track called “Elderly Woman Behind a Counter in a Small Town.” In retrospect, that was a tricky choice because it’s in 6/8 time with lots of chord changes. The first line is “I seem to recognize your face” and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t seem to make it past the first two words.

If I was singing it right, I was playing it wrong and if I was playing it right I couldn’t sing it. I didn’t have an NYC Guitar School so I struggled with this for days until I could do it. Now you get to learn from my mistakes!

So… you have a song that you would like to play and sing but you’re having trouble doing both! Let’s say for example that you’re trying to play “Stand By Me” but you’d like to spice it up with some scratching and the best strum (1)+(2)(+)3(+)(4)(+). That’s a lot to think about! Try this –

  • Step One: Reduce the song to one strum per chord! That’s right, only strum each chord one time but sing as you normally would. It should be a lot easier now that you don’t have to worry about strumming!
  • Step Two: Strum quarter notes. That’s four strums per bar (all down strums). Now the song will sound a little better but it should still be easier.
  • Step Three: Strum eighth notes. Strumming every beat (down and up) will fill the song out but it’s still much easier than worrying about any kind of trickier strumming pattern.
  • Step Four: Finally, you’re ready to throw in your best strum. Steps 1 – 3 should have prepared you nicely to take this leap. Take it nice and slow and when you’re ready…
  • Step Five: Try scratching on beats 2 and 4. And that’s it! You’ve got it.


Remember to always break things down. If you’re having trouble doing things all at once, try them one at a time and then slowly build your way up to the whole thing.

P.S. Don’t forget to take it slow. Don’t worry about playing as fast as they do on the album. Start really slow (say 60bpm) and then work your way up as you get comfortable.




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