When I started playing my first instrument, I had been “singing” along to songs for years and years. Defintely not on a professional level, but I felt like I could sing well enough to dig myself out of a karaoke night if I needed to. But I know.. singing and playing together is hard!
It’s hard to sing and play ukulele because each sound is it’s own instrument with its own rhythm. If you don’t master each skill you’ll struggle to play each instrument independently of eachother. But with some practice and using this information I’ve gathered below, you can quickly be on your way to having enough practice to confidently play and sing at the same time!
Why Is It Hard to Sing and Play Ukulele?
The biggest reason that it’s so difficult to play and sing the ukulele, or any instrument for that matter, is that singing is a skill and and instrument with it’s own rhythm and complexities that you have to condsider when you’re using it, and the instrument you’ve got your hands on, whether it’s a ukulele, guitar, mandolin or hurdy-gurdy, also has it’s own rhythm.
If you don’t spend a lot of time practicing each one, so that you can “play” it with confidence, you’ll have a very difficult time doing both together in a way that artistically presents the music you’re playing.
How’s Your Confidence Level
You only get really confident in the instrument you’re playing with practice. In my experience, although signing and playing is an extremely difficult skill, I can start to get pretty good at it with a bit of practice.
But even if I take a break with the instrument for a while, maybe to practice something completely different like a woodwind, when I go back to a ukulele, or guitar, I have to figure out how to do it again.
Right now, I haven’t played and sang much so whenever I have been lately, I feel very non-confident.
But I do have some easy steps to get back into the regular practice habits and get back to singing and playing.
Develop Muscle Memory For Strumming
You’ll only be able to focus on adding in singing once you have the song down pretty well. Strumming is something that can be pretty complicated so I usually focus on this as the first step. I also have to decide whether I want to try to perfectly follow the sound of the song or add in my own rhythms and such.
If I want to follow the original song, I have to practice and practice and practice to get the strumming patterns right. If you add in some variation with the bridge and chorus, it can take even more time practicing the song before I start to sing it.
Develop Muscle Memory For The Chord Changes
Another big stumbling block is not having the chords down to perfection. If you don’t spend enough time playing the chords, or more importantly, praticing the transitions between the chords, you’re bound to have a harder time learning how to sing and play at the same time.
I like to make sure that I can incorporate the chord changes and the strumming pattern to sound how I want, so I can play the song without much thinking.
Sometimes this takes a lot of practice if it’s a chord that I don’t know that well.
Or you might want to find a variation for one of the chords in the song to sound more closely aligned with the original recording, or you might just want an easier transition.
How Do You Want The Song To Sound?
If you want the song to sound a specific way, like the original recording for example, you need to make sure you’re familiar enough with the song to be able to imitate it… I know right sounds basic?
But what if you’re practicing the song from a chord chart, and you dont remember if there was a solo, or vocalizations, if you don’t know the song well enough?
You need to listen to the song and be familar enough that you can translate it to your own interpretation.
If you want to sing and play the ukulele in your own variation, that doesn’t match the original recording, you’ll need to practice singing with the music so you can get the timing down just right.
Having the timing and rhythm of the singing memorized and practiced is also a fundamental key to be able to play and sing at the same time. Don’t neglect singing practice!
Practice With A Metronome
When I was trying to develop this skill many years ago, my internet searches and my friends all told me that it’s really, REALLY important to practice playing and singing with a metronome.
I personally dislike practicing with a metronome because I don’t particularly want to match a specific rhythm or speed, I just want to do a bit of free flowing playing.
But I have seen while recording myself lately that my speed changes too much, and this is something that I need to do!
I’ll be implementing a metronome with my practice sessions from now on, send me a message to hold me accoutable!
Whistling Or Humming Can Lead To Singing
If you’re still struggling after all of the practicing you’ve done at this point, I’d suggest whistling the melody of the song while you play, or even humming the song. Maybe you’ll be able to play along and sing the first line of the verse, or chorus, or bridge.
If you keep humming along while you play, practicing the melody, you can defintely improve your mental timing and it seems like you should be able to pick up the timing of the two pretty quickly.
This is exactly how I taught my kids to sing and play at the same time. We started with some easy songs like twinkle, twinkle, or some folk tunes, and just practiced.
Pick A Song You’re Excited To Learn
Here’s a great pro-tip, if you pick a song you’re excited to learn, or a song you’ve sang a lot in the past, it’ll motivate you to practice on a more regular routine!
I didn’t start playing the uke until I was about 40 years old, and at that point there were so many songs I had enjoyed in my past, that I continually go down rabbit holes, remembering and playing songs that I loved from decades past.
This is a fantastic way to develop those two skills – play the song on the uke, and try to match the original recording you’ve got stuck in your head. It’s best to start to learn this with a metronome though.
Listen To Yourself Play
This is the advice that everyone cringes about, no one wants to listen to themselves play. I find that it takes most people many years of practice before they can enjoy hearing their own voice, so it’s a real struggle in the beginning.
I have to recommend filming yourself- maybe you can put it on youtube!
You’ll be your own worst critic, but you’ll be able to listen to how the singing went along with the playing, and you can make critical decisions about how to change certain things so they sound better.
And, you’ll probably start to like your voice after a while, or at least not hate it.
Play With Others
Here’s another great pro-tip… the more you play with others, more advanced, and less advanced musicians, the better you’ll get at both singing and playing – as well as the same time.
When I joined my first regular jam, my skills on the instrument skyrocketed.
I was able to work on so many skills in such a compressed time, it was so great for my skill development.
I would recommend playing and singing with other people as the best way to learn to play and sing at the same time.
Time and Practice Are Key
Of course, time and practice will solve any problem. Just spend more time working on it and it’ll come together before you know it.
Check out this video by an amazing artist, Cynthia Lin