So you have some guitar chops and want to go next level and add some vocals to harmonize with your playing? How can you use these hard-earned guitar skills to help speed up the “Learning To Sing” curve?
Any developed guitar playing skills can assist aspiring singers in improving their singing ability and confidence. Playing guitar and singing along to scales, chords, and other melodies will significantly improve a singer’s understanding of their voice and the instrument.
Let’s take a deeper look into how we can apply some of what we have learned on the guitar to help get our singing abilities into performance condition.
Singing along with scales is a great place to start.
I’ll start by saying this. I believe that singing and matching notes with my voice while simultaneously playing them on the guitar has been the single most effective activity for improving my voice and ears.
The more you do this activity, the more you will start to recognize intervals and chord changes while listening to a piece of music. The notes really start to stand out clearer and more vibrantly when trying to learn something by ear.
So, what exactly is this activity?
Essentially it is the practice of finding a scale within your vocal range, playing the scale on an in-tune guitar or piano, then using your voice to match the tones that are flowing out of the instrument.
It can feel a little awkward at first, but it becomes very natural after a little practice and is actually an enjoyable activity. It feels good to listen to the notes in your voice/head vibrating in unison with the vibrations coming out of the guitar.
This practice of singing and playing scales helps to commit these different notes and intervals to memory. Soon enough, you’ll be listening to a song and think to yourself, “That note really sounded like the Open High E String,” or “Wow, I can just tell that is an A Major Chord.”
Now, if you have no familiarity with music theory or would like a quick refresher, check out our easy to follow music theory quick guide here.
Take a look at this video below from Spare_Change_Music on youtube. This video gives a great example of how to sing along with scales on the guitar.
Notice that the instructor is just picking a raw vocal sound to match the notes. Do this yourself, pick a sound like “Lah” or “Nah,” and practice matching that sound to each different guitar tone.
Another easy place to start with training your vocals is to just simply “hum” the notes. This can be done very quietly in a separate room and won’t bother others in the house with your initial vocal training exercises.
This activity isn’t just limited to playing/singing the major scale. Try it with any scale that you know.
For Example, look up these scales and try to sing along with the guitar:
- The Minor Scale
- The Pentatonic Scales (major and minor)
- The Harmonic Minor Scale
- The Blues Scale
- The Country Scale.
Give them a try. You’ll find out how easy it can actually be to match the tones coming from an instrument.
Next comes Solfege.
Solfege is a system of vocal sounds used to assign a specific word to each unique scale degree. The Major Scale consists of 7 scale degrees. I, ii, iii, IV, V, vi, and vii.
This video plays through the C Major scale on the piano and displays each Solfege sound for its matching scale tone/degree.
Practice this a few times every other day for a couple of weeks. After a little time and repetition, you will start to notice that you can easily predict the next interval you are going to sing.
The example above uses the key of C Major. You can use any key signature that you want for this exercise. For example, let’s say you start out attempting to sing solfege along with the C major scale rooted on the 3rd fret of the A string.
If your voice feels comfortable in this range, then great! If not, try a different major scale to sing along with. Personally, the most natural/singing one-octave scale for me is the E major scale rooted on the 7th fret of the A string. (This exact E Major scale can also be found rooted on the 2nd fret of the D string or the 12th fret of the low E string.)
Move around the neck trying different scales to find which one suits you best.
You can also extend the range of the scale past one octave to reach a little further while practicing your vocals.
For instance, if the higher octave “Do” of the scale isn’t maxing out your range and causing your voice to feel strained, extend the scale a few tones. Like this:
“Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Ti, Do, Re, Mi“
Notice the added two scale degrees after the first octave. This goes the same for singing the scale lower than one octave.
You can try this descending the scale:
“Do, Ti, La, Sol, Fa, Me, Re, Do, Ti, La, Sol“
This example adds three scale degrees lower than the octave.
Don’t get discouraged if descending the scale is more difficult to execute. Most people(myself included) have a harder time singing the scale backwards.
Give all this a try for a few weeks. I’m confident you will notice a difference in the way you hear notes in music. Some of the intervals will start to become noticeable to your ears.
Strum out a chord and match the notes with your voice.
This is the point where the solfege and singing vowel along with scales actually turns into real singing. We will be harmonizing a melody along with a chord being played on the guitar. Sound complicated? It’s not, and it’s enjoyable to do.
From our Music Theory knowledge, we know that any major chord is built by extracting the 1st, 3rd, and 5th degrees from its respective major scale. For instance, to make a C Major chord, we need the C Major scale:
C, D, E, F, G, A, B
And to build the chord we need the 1st, 3rd, and 5th:
C – E – G
Great. Our singing exercise will be to play a C major chord and pick out the notes we hear one by one with our voice. See this video below for a visual demonstration of the exercise.
*Note that the instructor uses a 4 tone chord, but we can keep it simple in our own exercise and use only a basic major chord.
(Lesson Starts at 1:47 into the video)
You can use any chord on the guitar that feels comfortable to sing along with. In fact, you should try this exercise with every single chord that you know.
Some chords will have too low or high notes for you to match with your vocal range, but you can adjust the note and sing a higher or lower octave along with the chord.
This exercise isn’t limited to only playing major chords. Use any chord that you know and understand.
- Major Chords
- Minor Chords
- Major 7th chords
- Minor 7th chords
- Dominant 7th chords
- Suspended chords
- 9th, 11th, 13th chords
- ….any other chord
Now, note that the more complex a chord is, you may find the notes and intervals a bit tough to reach, but this all gets better with more practice.
This exercise’s real purpose is to train your brain to match what you are hearing with the pitches you are creating with your voice.
You can count out the tones along with the chord like the instructor from the video above:
“One, Three, Five, One, Five, Three, One”
But that isn’t the only way to practice. You can use different vowel sounds or solfege. Like:
“Lah, Lah, Lah, Lah, Lah, Lah”
“Do, Me, Sol, Do, Sol, Me, Do”
You can also choose your own sound like:
“Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey,”
“Me, Me, Me, Me, Me,”
Whatever is comfortable for you to start matching what you are hearing. Just get used to the ability to extract sounds from the chord and project that sound with your voice.
This is a fun and effective exercise to improve your vocals. Give it a shot for a couple of weeks. Practicing this leads to our next discipline, listening to a song and transferring the singer’s vocal melody to notes we play on the guitar.
Using chords to find what the vocal melodies are in a song.
Now that we know how to pull notes from a chord with our voice, we need to use that skill to figure out what notes a singer’s vocal part is performing in a piece of music.
Pick a song that you have a good grasp of the guitar chords, and that has vocals not too far outside of your easy vocal range. Something that you can sing along with relative ease.
Play through the chords of the song once or twice to really get the key set into your memory. Then slowly strum the chords while lightly singing along, trying to match tones from the chords with your voice.
As you play a chord, pause your playing but continue to sing out the note with your voice. Now, with your voice still ringing out, pluck around the guitar neck and find that exact pitch to match with your voice.
Play that note a few times while and match the note with your singing.
Remember that you have some clues to work with based on the underlying chord that is being played when you’re looking for the note on the guitar.
For instance, if the chord being played in a song is a G Major chord, our Music Theory understanding tells us that the notes “G – B – D” are being played.
There is an excellent chance that the note you are singing is one of these chord tones.
With that being said, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes the vocal melody may not be using a note found within the chord. Instead, the singer may be using a note as a passing tone or as a way to add color to the underlying chord.
Start with the notes found within the chord as a baseline and then search around the neck from there to find the exact pitch.
This practice definitely takes a little time to get used to, just as everything on the guitar and music in general does. Stick with this exercise. This will be paramount when it comes to learning more music by ear(which is what you are doing by the way).
No tabs, sheet music, or instructor. Just you with your voice and guitar pulling notes out of a song and recalling them with your voice or the strings.
Your ear will become better and better and better over time using this strategy. Trust me, I know first hand. I COULD NOT SING before practicing like this.
Now, I can easily pick up songs by ear. In the past, I used to think that I wasn’t one of the “lucky people” who can learn music by ear. It comes from practice, not from birth.
Here’s a video from Make It In Music on youtube. The instructor has some examples of matching song melodies to notes on the guitar
Learn the entire vocal melody on the guitar.
Now, once you start putting in some effort in the above exercises, you will have the tools in hand to transcribe the entire singing melody from a recording. This way, you can simultaneously practice singing the song’s melody while having the exactly matched pitches flowing out of the guitar.
As you practice playing and singing the exact same pitches together, you will begin to CLEARLY hear when your voice is not singing in tune.
The majority of modern popular music has singers that reach higher in range than the typical undeveloped singing voice can comfortably reach.
I mean, it makes sense that the people that have a hard-to-obtain talent are in higher demand and thus make their way onto the radio for us to enjoy.
What I’m getting at here is that most songs that you try to learn to sing are probably going to have some high notes that are harder to reach and keep sound good.
So, you(and the rest of us) are going to have the tendency to sing flat(at a lower pitch) at moments when you are learning a song.
Having the exact melody for the song you are trying to sing transcribed onto the guitar can help keep your vocals in check. You’ll have a guide to play along with that keeps you in pitch as you learn.
Transcribing an entire vocal melody and playing it while you learn a song will really help commit that melody to memory. It really makes it stick in your head.
It takes some work to get the melody figured out but will pay great dividends when it comes to performing the song.
Repeat the process on different songs and styles of music.
Use all these practice strategies to learn different songs in different styles of music.
We all have a different way we view music because we each have a different set of influences that shape our sound and taste. Personally, I think it is a great practice to push the limits on what kind of music you like and what you can play.
Look around for some songs that teach you something new. A new guitar riff, or way of projecting your voice.
Keep learning as many new songs as you can. It is great when you return to a song that you haven’t played in a while and have improved your skill level in the meantime.
Sometimes songs that seemed very difficult in the past now play much easier.
Be aware that the process of learning how to sing doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a legitimate effort and time dedication. But if you put in the effort, the results will come.
Having your guitar assist with your singing doesn’t have to be limited to what I have written above. Add something yourself to the repertoire. Experiment with the notes you find from your voice and the instrument.
Challenge yourself and stick with it. It’s worth the effort.