Singing while Playing Guitar: Divide and Conquer by Eliminating Variables

Singing while PlayingSinging while playing the guitar is a perennial headache for beginners. It seems to be this mysterious multitasking ability that the pros have and effortlessly throw out during performances. In reality, it just takes a bit of practice—and the best way to practice is by eliminating variables and starting simple.

Despite lots of hype to the contrary, human beings suck at multitasking. We are capable of doing rudimentary things simultaneously, but research has repeatedly shown that dividing your attention dramatically decreases your performance in all tasks involved.

So how do some people seem to multitask so well, and how can you learn to do it?

In short, you have to practice one thing (for instance, playing the guitar part) until you can do it on autopilot. Think of “highway hypnosis”, where you have enough driving experience that you can subconsciously drive your car while your conscious mind wanders off, talks to passengers, listens to music, etc.—you don’t have to think about driving.

Once you can do one thing on autopilot, you can add another. I’m much more confident in my guitar playing than my voice, so I’ll usually learn the guitar playing cold before adding vocals. If you’ve ever seen a “one-man band”, you know that you can add more and more variables, one after another. As a bonus, this is a guaranteed crowd pleaser. From an outside perspective you seem to have superpowers!

Andy Wahlberg is a great example. With his harp guitar, seen in the videos below, he plays the melody and chords on the guitar neck, the bass lines, sings, plays harmonica, lip trumpet, and more, all while making his shows very funny.

I met Andy in Naples, Florida, and asked him how he could do so many things so well simultaneously. His answer? He starts with one thing—like the bass part—and learns it completely. Then he adds one more variable, such as the main guitar part. Then another—voice/harmonica/etc. As a result, he’s a fantastic performer. Having seen him live, I can tell you that all his multitasking is stupefying.

Check out Andy playing “You Call It Joggin'” and “Bohemian Rhapsody”, and learn more about him at his site: