Learning to play an instrument is difficult enough, but what about trying to sing at the same time? It’s really not as hard as it sounds! Here, teacher Willy M. takes you through the steps to play the ukulele while singing…
It doesn’t matter what instrument I teach (piano, guitar, harmonica, drums, banjo, mandolin, ukulele, and voice), every student I ever have, with the exception of those playing harmonica, asks, “How do I sing and play my instrument at the same time?”
The ukulele is certainly no exception. Learning how to sing and play ukulele simultaneously is a lot like learning how to pat your stomach and rub your head at the same time. Or is it pat your head and rub your stomach? I don’t know, but you get the idea — it can be hard!
So here are four easy steps to help you learn how to sing and play the ukulele at the same time.
1. Practice singing the entire song with one chord and a simple strumming pattern
First of all, your left brain controls your right hand. So if you are right-handed like most people and are approaching the ukulele, you’ll handle strumming fairly well.
But when you start forming ukulele chords with the left hand, your right brain kicks in and suddenly you’re plunged into a chaotic world of trying to keep up while both sides of your brain are firing off stimuli and building synapses.
And then you want to try to sing. What part of the brain controls that, the middle part? Suddenly, playing the ukulele becomes more like juggling than just strumming and playing.
To make this process simpler, break it down into bite-sized chunks. All you have to do is hold down your first chord and sing along while strumming the main pattern of the song. You see little kids doing this all the time. They get an instrument and strum away, singing whatever song their little hearts desire. This really is the first step to learning how to play and sing. It’s so simple that just about anyone can do it.
Let’s look at a really simple song to help you get the picture. Below are the lyrics and chords for “Froggie Went A-Courtin’.” I would suggest you check out Bob Dylan’s version of the song. It’s a very simple tune with just three chords. This song is in the key of D. Try playing through the song and just play the D chord.
Froggie Went a-Courtin’
Froggie went a-courtin’ and he did ride, ah hah
Froggie went a-courtin’ and he did ride, ah hah
Froggie went a-courtin’ and he did ride,
G D A7 D
With a sword and a pistol by his side, ah hah, ah hah, ah hah
2. Practice singing the entire song with two chords and a simple strumming pattern
The second step to mastering playing and singing at the same time is to add in the second most popular chord in the song. If you are playing a song in G, and D is the second most popular chord, then the only chord change you need to worry about at this point is going from the G to the D chord. Practice the change several times until you feel comfortable with it, and then go for singing the song.
When you play through the song this way, you give little thought to the strumming pattern or the G chord because you already practiced it (and you don’t really think much about the singing either because you practiced that too).
You will find that lyrics you are unfamiliar with might throw you off a little, but the more you sing the song, the easier it’ll be to memorize the lyrics. If you need to take a moment and read through the lyrics, it should help you when you sing. Now the only thing to worry about is changing chords from the G to the D.
Once you learn the essential ukulele chords, you’ll be set to handle most songs. In the above song, the next chord that is popular is the A7 chord. Play though the song and add the change to the A7.
3. Practice singing the entire song with three chords and a simple strumming pattern
Now that you’ve mastered going from the first chord to the second chord, adding the third chord shouldn’t be too much of a struggle. If it is, just keep at it and go slowly over the parts that are hard for you.
Repeat them several times until you have it down. Before you know it, you will be singing and playing most of the song with ease. I recommend learning various strum patterns, that way you’re equipped for learning more songs.
In “Froggie,” the last chord is a G chord. Practice through the song again and add the G chord while you sing and play.
4. If there are other playing techniques, follow the above practice routine
Last but not least, there are often other elements of a song that are tricky.
Does the song switch rhythm for a certain portion, perhaps the bridge or the chorus? Does the song require some complicated finger-picking patterns on a certain part of it? Are there other more complicated chords that give you some grief?
Don’t worry, we all experience these things in our learning process. The key is to just keep working at the hard parts, adding a part at a time until you’ve mastered both playing the song and singing it.
In the final run-through of the song, try adding all of the chords and maybe add some finger-picking to give yourself an extra workout!
So there you have it — four easy steps to help you play your ukulele (or any instrument, actually) and sing at the same time. I hope you find this helpful.
What will really help you is having a qualified teacher walk you through how to break down the harder portions into smaller bite-sized chunks, and TakeLessons is the perfect place to get a teacher who can help you become the best ukulele player you can be! Once you have it down, try to sing and play some pirate songs on the ukulele!
Photo by Dorret