Singing & Playing At The Same Time

Learning to sing is a really great skill to have and means you can perform songs on your own and be the life of a party!

View the full lesson at Singing & Playing At The Same Time | JustinGuitar

The lesson is of course great, but I’m struggling loads here.
From what I’ve gathered through my practice I may be able to provide additional tips.

I find Singing & Playing to be a completely new skillset, just as putting together rhythm, strumming, chord changes, … for playing songs without lyrics. Therefore I try to include just a few songs (more than 3-5 are kinda overwhelming) in my songs practice, to not burn out learning this massive skillset on a single one. This is same as not having practised chord changes + strumming on a single song over and over again.

I devised all of this because my rhythm and singing gets comically ridiculous as soon as removing the backing track. I completely forget how to sing, even though it’s even kinda good until then…!

Curious what y’all think of that, I’m open to suggestions regarding this issue and other tips as well.

My practice
Currently consists of

  • Mac Demarco - Still Breathing (Lots and lots and lots (and lots))
  • REM - Everybody Hurts (76x at the time of my Spotify recap…)
  • (Blink182 - All the Small Things, Bryan Adams - Summer of 69, Nirvana - Polly. Not too intensely, mainly for practical reasons such as having played it a lot or used it for transcribing practice.)

I repeated step “10. Play it, fo’ real.” countless times. Therefore I created a step 11.
Step 11: Vary in volumes to lose the training wheels. I lower the track in the background, up the guitar, or up my singing, in order to overdub certain passages. When I work on, let’s say on my singing for the playthrough I try to have the volume so I don’t hear the music unless I sing more quietly, effectively singing more by myself. For playing guitar it’s the same, overdub as much as possible and try to fade out the track. This also allows to hear mistakes, such as when losing the rhythm.
I hope this makes sense.

Of course the addition wouldn’t be complete without a hint.
I base this on Mindful Listening (also the name of the lesson). Maybe this is obvious, but I try to focus on certain aspects while playing, and let the rest be automated.
Sometimes I focus on strumming a more precise pattern, sometimes I look during which part of the song my fretting hand changes chords, and sometimes I focus on singing. And after a few playthroughs I focus on the ceiling while my brain runs of.


The key for singing and playing at the same time is for the playing to be automatic. In other words you are not thinking about the chord progression (except subliminally) and therefore you can focus on singing instead. A bit like driving and being able to talk to someone or driving and singing along to the radio.

I’ve been singing and playing for a long time and even then if it’s a new song I need to get the chord progression for a new song firmly in my head before I can then focus on singing all the way through. This takes me a lot less time now then than it did at the start but still takes time.


I’ve been sort of doing this without realising there was a whole video lesson on it. Glad to know I’ve been on the right track.
The place where I’ve got stuck is shifting from simple down strums to actually following the strumming pattern while I sing and change chords. If I were to explain in terms of these steps, then I’m struggling to move from Step 9 to Step 10. Any tips on how to work on that?

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Basically to sing without any constraints then playing the song has to be automatic i.e. you are not thinking about where you fingers are going, you have a good feel for the chord progression and the strumming pattern is automatic for you. Based on what you’ve said I’m guessing you still have to think about how you strum the pattern hence the challenge when you try to throw that into the mix alongside singing.


I find having a good lead sheet very helpful, if I haven’t quite committed the guitar part and the lyrics to memory.

But I almost always end up copyiing the best one I find online, and creating my own. I have to make sure that the chord changes exactly line up the correct syllable in the vocals (in lots of songs, chords will change in the middle of a word e.g. Mad World). Many online lead sheets only approximate this, which totally throws me off the flow of the song, resulting in a huge train wreck for both singing and playing.

I also like to write in the count for things that happen in the middle of the measure/bar.

Here’s the first page of my Mad World lead sheet:


And even after nearly six years of playing, this has never happened. I always have to think about the chord progression; it’s never automatic. So, whenever I try to sing, the guitar playing falls apart immediately.

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What was key for me to start singing along was rhythm - you can memorize all the chords and changed but without feeling the rhythm of the song you won’t be able to sing along. Only if you know the rhythm inside out and you memorized chords well - that’s when you stop thinking about what chord goes next as rhythm carries you over and you can start focusing on singing along.

Mark pick the easiest song there is, even if it only has 2 chords from Justin’s app, try to slow it down, focus on only one verse not the whole song and give it a go.


That would strongly suggest to me that you’ve not spent enough time practicing a song. Most songs have relatively simple chord progressions and the verse/chorus arrangements are usually simple as well. How long are you practicing them for before you say “yes I know it”? It will take me 1-2 weeks to embed a song fully and that’s after 8 years of learning from nothing. Then I can focus on getting the song and focal working fully together. The easy solution is to practice it until you can take that chord sheet away and play without it (without singing of course). Then add your vocal in.

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Well, you would be wrong. There are songs I’ve been playing for years and don’t need a chord chart for, but I still have to consciously think about the next chord change coming, and if I think about ANYTHING else, much less try to sing, I start to mess up. It’s just a reality for me. There are professionals who can’t (couldn’t) play and sing at the same time; BB King being perhaps most notable.

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Is anybody else struggling to strum and vocalise at the same time?
I can strum to the beat and wail but as soon as I try to get some rhythm in the strumming it goes wrong immediately. Any suggestions on how to combine the two or will it come with time?

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Have you watched this lesson >> Singing & Playing At The Same Time |


I can’t sing and play until I have the song Learnt off by heart. - playing through without looking down.

When adding vocals I’ll try and match a specific word / syllable to a beat / note and piece it together that way.


When I was a beginner it was nigh on impossible. I had to know the song inside out and have played it many times before I could do that. As I got more experienced it got easier most of the time. If it’s a new strumming pattern or the pattern or lyrics are syncopated, it can still take me a while.


This has helped me as well. I’ll often create a lead sheet with the count written in above the lyrics - exactly lined up with the correct syllable. Fairly labour intensive, but eliminates the uncertainty that can really mess up your flow.

Here’s a link showing what I mean:


Totally agree singing and strumming takes the difficulty to a different level. I am only on Grade 1 and working on Brown Eyed Girl. I have been following Justin’s 10 step plan as set out in the video
I know all the chords using OF, I can recite and sing the words without the app. So far so good I think they are both “automatic” Where I ran into difficulty is step 9 Where Justin suggested just four down strums, it all fell apart as this was not what was automatic so I have gone back to OF. It is getting better but sometimes the chords go wrong another I forget the words, strangely I have more problem with some verses than others. I have all the chords and lyrics all nicely typed out with where they change as noted above but I am finding looking at that is another distraction so now trying to go completely from memory. If you want me tap my foot at the same time it definitely all goes wrong.
Letting you know my experience will hopefully show you are not alone in finding it difficult.
Sorry I don’t have any magic answer other than just keep at it.
Cheers Michael :notes:


What OF stands for?


Justin calls DDUUD Old Faithful (OF) in his words the most popular strumming pattern
Michael :guitar:


Hi Nick,

I used to never be able to sing and play at the same time. It seemed impossible. The rhythm of my strumming and the rhythm of my voice always wanted to tear each other apart. It wasn’t until I found a really easy song that I was able to do it and understand what was going on.

I found that I had to completely automate my playing in order to successfully sing and play simultaneously, meaning that I had to have the playing so ingrained in my memory that I could play it automatically and eventually do whatever else I wanted to do. Justin talks a lot about this but the way that I found to automate it is to practice it very slowly and with a metronome. Start out at about half the tempo it should be played at. Stick with that tempo for one practice session. Try bumping it up 4 bpm per session until you get it all the way up to speed. You may even find that bumping it up 2 bpm per session is better. It’s going to feel painfully slow. You’ll probably feel like you’ve got it 2 minutes into practice and you want to speed up but keep it at that slow tempo. You’re training your body to execute the rhythm automatically.

When you’ve got it all the way up to speed (perhaps over a period of weeks), slow it down again to about half tempo and try to sing a short passage of the song. Make sure you can get the entire passage before moving on. You may notice that you have to consciously land your singing notes on or off a beat to start and that you have to work over the passage many times to get it down. But you should find that you can at least strum consistently, and with the strumming automated that you can think about the singing and not have it tear your strumming apart.

The first song I learned how to sing and play simultaneously was “In The Pines” by Leadbelly. It’s a simple and slow song with most of the singing notes landing squarely on the beat. You may want to look for something similar that facilitates your practice.

I hope this helps a bit.



I am still working on my Old Faithfull. I get to the next beat 1 on time, but most of the time I am hitting too early the up between the not played beat 3 down and the played beat 4 down. For now is just an exercise and I have not applied it to actual songs. Which could be an easy song that can be played with it?

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