It might be surprising to hear, but learning to sing can improve your guitar skills rapidly. As we go through this post, I’ll explain why.
First thing’s first though – having the ability to belt out one of your favourite tunes is a skill that not only feels and looks great, but is also an ability that all of us have somewhere inside of us.
Even if at the moment your voice sounds like a strangled cat doing drunken karaoke, it doesn’t matter. Everyone can learn to sing, and guitarists absolutely should do so.
Why’s it so good for us guitarists?
Your brain and your musical ‘ear’ will be aligned as one.
One thing that every single great guitarist has is a great ear. Being able to sing a note in tune requires not only the vocal technique, but also the ability to hear that pitch and reference it against the original.
Simply put, your brain and your musical ear, or ‘inner ear’ as I call it, need to be aligned to be able to sing. The better these two are aligned, the more accurate you will be able hear notes in your head and in music you listen to.
Anyone can learn to sing. Unless you are actually tone deaf, then don’t make excuses. Over the past few years, I have started to make a bit more effort with my singing, and doing so has helped me become a better guitarist.
Here are seven really useful ways that learning to sing will make you a better, more authentic guitarist. By the end of this post, you’ll know exactly why you should be singing, with or without the guitar in your hand.
#1 – You will find it much quicker to learn songs by ear
When I started to learn songs by ‘ear,’ I would struggle. Often I could get little bits of the song but would give up after a while because I wasn’t quite getting anywhere. I’m sure you have been there too at some point.
You work out the first chord, maybe the second chord, but get stuck on the third chord. It often seems easier to check out YouTube and find out the chord in a split second.
This is easier but less beneficial to you as a guitarist. When you can sing to a decent standard, you hear pitches, tones and harmonies much better. This helps when working out songs for yourself.
Next time you want to work out a song, try humming the bass notes along with it. Make sure you are in tune and do this for a minute or two. Now, find those bass notes on the guitar. These will be the root notes for the chords.
Once these root notes are established, working out the full chord and the rest of the sequence is so much easier. Use a bit of logic and learn your chord progressions. Do this along with singing or humming along with the song, and you’ll be well on your way to working out lots of songs for yourself. This will save you loads of time and give you more confidence along with an impressive skill to show others.
#2 – Your guitar playing will be more entertaining
What’s more entertaining than a couple of friends getting together and jamming out some old campfire classics while having a good old sing song?
It’s amazing to play your favourite solo pieces and fingerstyle classical etudes, but sometimes just blasting out ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ with some friends is as good as it gets.
These classic singalong songs are wonderful at parties or any fun event and are sure to get the crowd going.
Imagine playing through a classic such as ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ at a party with 20 other people and no one was singing along. That would be a pretty dull party. Yuck, I’d rather be stuck in watching X-Factor than be at that party.
Now if everyone gets singing along, the party gets to life, and who’s the one who can get everyone singing along? Yes, it’s you, the guitarist.
Most people are pretty shy about singing and won’t do it unless someone else is doing it first. Be the guitarist and the singer and get everyone involved.
You don’t have to be amazing – just in tune will do for now. Do so and you’ll be the star of the show and invited to loads more parties too.
#3 – You will write more (and better) songs
One of my favourite things to do on the guitar is pick it up and let inspiration take over. Every day I’ll try to write a little riff of melody. Yes, I’ll often scrap what I have come up with or at least never use it.
That doesn’t matter to me though. The reason why is that as a legendary guitarist used to say (forgot who):
“If you can’t remember it and it doesn’t get stuck in your head all day, it’s not worth remembering”.
Great quote and very true. I love writing music. It makes me a better guitarist and engages the creative part of my brain, which is definitely a good thing for brain health.
It’s also fun and is a way to put together all the things I have recently learnt. Singing more encourages me to write more.
I’m not exactly sure why, but I’m guessing it’s because now I’m finding that I’m just humming more melodies everywhere I go. When I hear something I like, I’m keen to find out what chords work underneath it.
Also, your guitar melodies will be stronger for it too. When you hum or sing a melody and then replicate it on the guitar, you often add a natural vocal quality to it.
For example, when we sing, we often add a little bit of vibrato and always stop singing the melody for a split second to take a breath.
When you replicate a vocal melody on the guitar, you will have to take the above on board to make it sound authentic. Doing so will add a natural human touch to your guitar playing. In short, it gives it a little more soul, and that’s always a good thing.
Keep practicing your singing, and your song writing will improve, along with your guitar playing and overall musical qualities.
#4 – You’ll be able to hear where notes are located on the fretboard before playing them
Something magical takes place when you are a singer and you have developed that solid ‘inner ear’.
You’ll be much more ‘aurally aware’. This means you’ll start developing the skills of perfect pitch. Perfect pitch is simply the capability to know exactly what note is being hit at any time simply by listening to it.
For example, if you are listening to some opera and someone belts out a piercing shrill high note, if you have perfect pitch, you’ll be able to hear exactly what note this is.
You’ll then be able to find this note on the guitar right away. Absolute perfect pitch is useful but not essential.
What is essential, however, is getting closer and closer to achieving perfect pitch on a weekly basis.
If you never achieve absolute perfect pitch, (it takes a LOT of practice) aim to get near perfect pitch. This takes a lot less time and is still incredibly useful.
One of the biggest uses is when you are trying to work a song out for yourself, you’ll be able to hear where the note or chord being played is on the guitar. You can then move onto to the next note or chord and so on.
When you hear a melody in your head or sing one out loud, you’ll find it much quicker replicating it on the fretboard too, saving you lots of time.
That’s one of the best positives for being aurally aware – singing massively helps this skill develop.
#5 – You’ll be much more in-demand as a guitarist
Any guitarist who can sing will be much more in-demand. There are a lot of guitarists out there, but only a fraction of these can sing to a decent or high standard.
In fact, most guitarists who want to sing in a band forget that they need to spend as much time practicing their singing as they do their guitar playing. They wonder why their guitar playing is decent but their singing is poor.
If you want to perform as a guitarist, you’ll often be called upon to do backing vocals or maybe even lead vocals when the current singer has a throat infection or has run off with the groupies.
You’ll also be able to get gigs as a solo artist or as a singer/guitarist in a covers band.
A LOT of tribute bands look to be as authentic as possible, so if the original guitarist was the singer, they will expect you to be too.
For example, a Nirvana or The Beatles tribute band has Kurt Cobain and John Lennon as their singer/guitarists, so they would expect the same in the tribute.
If you can sing and play guitar, you’ll be in more demand in a professional setting and from friends, family and other musicians.
#6 – You’ll be able to practice your guitar skills without actually having the guitar with you.
Practicing guitar can be quite a pain if you don’t actually have a guitar with you. 🙂
Another great thing about singing is you can practice singing and improve you aural skills anywhere.
This essentially means you can practice your guitar skills all day any day as long as there is music about.
I’ve done it myself when I used to work a warehouse job in my late teens. We used to listen to Kerrang Radio, which played some awesome music. We could just sing all day long while we worked and no one cared.
It was a great way to do some practice. Then when I’d get home and play the guitar, I was not only more in the mood to play the songs I was singing, but I was more ‘aurally aware’ too.
Anytime you are in the car, get singing along to your favourite songs. I personally like to this these days when washing the dishes – it makes one of life’s chores way more fun and inspires me more.
Have a think about the best times and places for you to practice singing. Your all-round musical ability and therefore guitar playing will improve for it.
#7 – You’ll be able to remember passages of music better
When you have a great ear, your brain treats music differently than if you didn’t have a great ear.
You’ll find remembering rhythms and passages much, much easier. One bit of advice I give to students is to learn to sing the melody of what they are learning.
For example, if a student is learning a guitar solo, let’s say ‘Something’ by The Beatles (great solo by the way, courtesy of the great George Harrison), they will find it loads easier to play and remember if they can first sing along with it.
Singing along with the solo will help ingrain it in your ear, so when your hands are playing it your inner ear acts as a compass and will tell you when something is right or wrong.
Without having this inner ear skill, you’ll find that you have no compass. When your rhythm is off, you won’t have anything to guide you. When you hit a wrong note, you may not even realise.
If you had learnt to sing or even just hum the passage first, you would have had the piece ingrained in your musical ear to the point that you will know the song or melody far better.
Once you are able to sing it, in months to come, you’ll have a much better chance of remembering the piece too if you haven’t played it for a while. I do, however, recommend you regularly practice your repertoire.
Either way, get singing or humming the guitar parts when learning them. You’ll save lots of time, learning and not relearning things.
Try not to see playing guitar and singing as two separate things. They intertwine and help you learn the world of music as a whole.
Let’s put it this way – all the people I know who are great musicians are also at least adequate singers. Plus, singing and playing guitar is probably one of the coolest looking things in the world.
Remember, if you can sing well, you have great ears, and if you have great ears, you have great control of what a big chunk of all guitar playing is.
That may be controversial, but if you think about it, how many great musicians have great ears? I’ll bet the majority of them can sing too.