HELP! I CAN'T COPE WITH STRUMMING AND SINGING AT THE SAME TIME!
If you enjoy singing, the guitar or ukulele is a perfect instrument for song accompaniment in a solo or group setting. Mastering a few basic chords will quickly enable you to start strumming and singing the songs you love. They’re also very portable and it’s not uncommon to see them being carried around and used for casual music jams, small group worship sessions in church or even busking. For these reasons, many people have chosen to pick up the guitar or ukulele. However, for beginners, learning to play is not exactly a walk in the park. We often struggle, making many mistakes trying to piece a song together and this can be very frustrating and demoralising. A beat is skipped, a wrong chord is played, the melody is sung with improper phrasing etc. When will I ever get it right? If this is you, you are not alone! As fellow musicians who have gone through these similar situations, we would like to highlight some common issues and share some tips and exercises to help you sort out your musical dilemma.
MISTAKE 1: FORGETTING CHORDS
Every song has a chord sequence with each chord producing a distinct sound which harmonizes with the melody note played or sung. One of the reasons we have trouble remembering the chords of a song is because we haven’t trained our ear to recognize these harmonies. A great way to train the ear to recognize which chord to play is to play a “wrong” chord. Yes! Go ahead and deliberately play a different chord apart from what's supposed to be played. You'll notice that it'll sound unpleasant or downright “off” with the melody. This experiment amplifies the wrong chords and in so doing, helps the ear to recognize the “right” ones. As your chord recognition improves, you’ll soon be able to play songs without constantly having to refer to the song sheets.
MISTAKE 2: SKIPPED BEATS AND PLAYING EXTRA BEATS
Skipping beats or playing extra beats occurs when we fail to recognize or feel the time signature of a song. This happens when we miscount the number of beats at the beginning and end of each music bar. To avoid making this mistake, it's vital to first play with just a simple straight forward rhythm which we can expand upon later. Playing chords on the downbeats only will ground you in a song's time signature. In common time (4/4), strum on just the downbeats 1,2,3 and 4, paying close attention to the 1st beat of each bar. The objective is to internalize the time signature so that we’ll be able to feel the bars as we sing and strum. Keep playing in this manner until you become comfortable before moving on to more complex rhythms involving upbeats. Apply this to songs in other time signatures as well (2/4, 3/4, etc). Practice using simple songs. This makes things more manageable, plus it'll be easier to make chord changes too.
MISTAKE 3: POOR COORDINATION IN STRUMMING AND SINGING
Strumming and singing can be tricky as we’ll need to co-ordinate and be mindful of a few things at the same time. Difficulty focusing on multiple tasks like singing, playing, keeping a steady tempo, etc, is what causes the confusion. To be good at it, be sure to work on each task separately before attempting to put them all together. You can start by learning how to sing the melody according to its proper rhythmic phrasing first. Put on your favourite song and begin clapping and singing to it. Clapping is akin to strumming so should you experience difficulty doing this, it'll be the same when you try to strum and sing. So work at this till you’re comfortable singing along to the beat. Next, work on just the music alone, making sure your playing is clean and chord changes are on time. A metronome will come in handy if your tempo is shaky. Once you’re sure of the melody and the music, you’re ready to combine both strumming and singing. Remember to always start slowly at first, before playing at the song's actual tempo. Most beginners make the common mistake of playing at the song's actual tempo when learning a new song.
As you work through these exercises, you’ll start to develop a better musical ear as well as a stronger sense of rhythm. Being in tune with music builds confidence and with this, learning new songs will become much easier and fun too!