Please help me with singing and strumming and timing - plus updates on my success and progress

One of my favourite artists is Willie Nelson and for me a big aspect of that is how he sings a song. Willie is known for not singing on the beat. An example of this is a quote from Waylon Jennings:

Typically, Willie is so off the beat when he starts off that Waylon thinks there will be no way for Willie to snap back into the groove. But, he “always comes out of it,” Waylon says. What is it about Willie Nelson’s singing? | (

So worrying about the “exact” phrasing isn’t the biggest thing we need worry about, Let’s just make it sound good.



A bunch of good suggestions so for. If I’m struggling with singing at the same time, humming the melody (or singing la) over the guitar part helps me as a bridge to adding lyrics. I can focus about how things line up without worrying about remembering or reading words, and if I need to, I can also slow the song way down and still hum along without having to hold words way too long

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Yeah, me too.

My solution was to do my own chord and lyric sheets with chord changes exactly aligned with the lyrics - down to individual syllables, and aligned with the downbeats and upbeats in each bar for the really tricky bits.

Very tedious, but I find I can then “sight read” the sheets, practice perfectly, and get the phrasing and strumming down fairly quickly.

It also helps you recognize patterns. For example, in Wish You Were Here, both the riff and most (but not all!) vocal lines start on the “and of 3”. And this pattern repeats throughout the whole song.

And by going through this process with multiple songs, I find - more and more - I can wing it with new songs and get things right with far less effort then previously. It’s a form of transcribing.

Other things that have helped:

  • progress from single strums per bar to 4 strums per bar to strumming pattern while singing
  • use the Moises app to slow down songs, and mute all tracks except vocals and drums. Also has a very useful Smart Metronome feature that will add a click to any song.

I know this works for many people, but for me it just messes me up if I try to do it too soon. But often my foot starts tapping - spontaneously, magically- once I start to get a grip on the song!


Well said! That’s the secret sauce right there. Out of that automation and foot tapping comes your own sense of time and expression. Play on playa!

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For me, it’s easier to automatise separate pieces of a song. But when I try to play the whole song from start to finish, it is often easier to do with singing because singing helps me know where I am in the song structure.


Have you checked this “article” I wrote already?

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Hi Tom @Thallman

In addition to the many good points already mentioned, here are two additional points that were important for me:

Same as Tom @Tbushell , I find it very helpful to have a sheet with chord changes aligned with the individual syllables. Now, if you use prewritten material, it’s worth noting that Justin’s material is reliable, however the quality of other sources can vary. It’s better to double check than getting confused.

Second, singing to the original recording helped me to double check and to find out what I need to do differently.

Totally! I’m still blown away by this community! Rock’n’Roll! :smiley:


Tom, thanks for the good tips. I have written out my own song sheets with chords above the correct syllables, but haven’t tried to add the correct rhythm counts. I have been a bit lazy about that and usually just memorize how the rhythm is supposed to sound. But that has gotten me into to trouble before when playing and singing.


I am the same as you, Tom. I think for me, it’s once the playing and singing are all just automated then the foot just starts moving on it’s own.


For me, tapping my foot just seems like something else that I need to manage (I’m not saying it’s wrong just beyond what I’m capable of right now). Unfortunately I tend to hold my strumming pattern by basically humming the rhythm in my head so as soon as I try to sing the strumming goes to pot. I can’t decide if this humming is a bad habit I need to break now or just more a sign that much more practice is needed.

I think this is probably a bad habit - I suspect it uses the same parts of the brain that are used for singing.

For me, it feels like my strumming patterns are in in my strumming arm/hand, not my head. I’ve automated it enough that I can think at a higher level i.e. “Chorus coming up! Switch from OF to pumping 8ths strum!” and keep singing.

Of course, it’s not always that smooth, and I often have to isolate those transitions and really practice them, until they flow nicely when I’m playing the song.

Justin has a “feel good strumming” exercise. Putting in some more time on that would probably help you.

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I come at this from a different angle to most, I learn the cords, with only a feel for the strumming and I do not attempt to copy a recommended or original struming pattern. Without that extra pattern baggage in your head you can learn to sing the song and strum. After you are confident and it becomes automatic you can then start to move some focus on tweaking the strumming how you want in small steps and in a far more relaxed manner.
Works for me.
As for finger picking or picking out single notes whilst singing, I have no chance, my brain can’t do it - ha ha.

You should say your brain can’t do it YET, as you evolve and things like fingerpicking become more automated it will likely happen.

I want to thank everyone who answered my questions a few weeks ago.

I’m the guy who was struggling, playing along with a metronome. I mean really struggling. You all me such great advice.

I took it to heart

As I told you, I was having an incredibly difficult time strumming this song and singing it.

The metronome, and I use the Justin metronome app, was certainly not my friend

Instead of ignoring my problem, I confronted it head on

I had to set the BPM at 50, and even then it was not easy to get my brain and my hands working together. I spent hours just working this out.

One of you said, don’t sing until you have the rhythm down 100%

So, that’s what I did

I want to tell you that we learn from each other

I just finished playing this song and singing it and in time at 100 BPM

Also, I’ve been using the random beat drop on the Justin app

I can now do various strum patterns in time at 120 bpm. For five minutes.

Justin, and this community, are the Safety net, for all of us, learning how to play the guitar, helping us appreciate the love of learning in the beauty of this instrument

So, thank you to everyone.

The metronome is now my friend


Thanks for sharing your progress, Tom. You’re a quick study. I wish I advanced as well as you!


Quick study?

No way!

If you could have observed me, you would have noticed that my steady stream of swear words were more in time with the metronome than my strumming.

But I’m stubborn.

I would struggle, make my new progress, mess up again

I take a half hour break, and then come back to it

But I have so much more to learn.

That’s the beauty of trying to learn how to play the guitar.

I find parallels with what I do for a profession – I am a writer/storyteller

There is no finish line in the creative world

I complete one story, love it, and then the next one is nothing but the nightmare of a blank screen

Same with learning music.

But I’m the kind of person who does not like finish lines in life

Learning is the magic.


My singing sounds more like a steady stream of swear words already! I must be further along than I think…


I want to thank you, Tom, for expressing so well what I’ve been thinking. I’m in the middle of the Strumming SOS course, and have been slavishly strumming patterns and simple chord changes at various bpms with my new buddy, Mister Metronome. I disliked him :angry: a great deal for a long time. After a week, returning to songs I’ve been practicing with a lot of clunky mistiming are now pleasingly more smooth. Thanks to Justin for scolding me :face_with_raised_eyebrow: on to the proper path.


@mfeeney0110 and @Thallman - your stories have convinced me to return to the strumming course. I worked through the Foundations course, but set it aside because I (thought I) had too many things to practice. While I do practice with the metronome, I’ll review the foundations course immediately.

I like the nightmare analogy. Fortunately this nightmare often has a happy ending!

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Good on you Tom, whilst you’ve had good advice the result is all down to you, don’t forget that please and be proud, you should be.
Onwards my friend! :+1::guitar:

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