Can I tell you a secret?
As a vocal coach, some of my favorite students are guitarists.
That’s because without learning to play guitar, I never would have become the singing teacher I am today.
I actually didn’t even care about my voice until I started playing and singing in the train stations of San Francisco every day.
At that time, I would play and sing until my voice gave out, which usually didn’t take very long.
After months of this, I finally decided enough was enough:
It was time to take a singing lesson.
And within 30 minutes, my teacher had me singing notes I didn’t think were possible.
Why do I bring this up?
Because I’ve been there.
And now as a singing teacher I get to help guitarists get the most out of their voice every day.
And if I can learn to sing better, I guarantee you can too.
So if you’re a guitarist that needs some vocal help, this article is just for you.
The truth is that as a guitarist, you need some vocal techniques that are different from someone whose only job is to sing.
So today, I want to show you my 10 favorite vocal tips just for guitarists.
And I promise that if you practice these techniques regularly, you won’t believe how much better you sound!
Ready to get started?
Tip #1: Keep a Tall Posture
Here’s the bottom line:
Fixing your posture is one of the simplest things you can do as a guitarist to improve your singing.
Unfortunately, most guitarists forget good posture the moment they strap on a guitar.
So, if you’re looking for a simple way to improve your singing, start with your posture.
Now, before we get into the right posture for singing, let me say this:
You can fix a lot of posture problems immediately by standing up when you play guitar.
That’s because when we sit, we’re more tempted to slouch over and collapse the muscles that support great singing.
Now that that’s out of the way, the correct posture for singing is called the tall posture.
Tall posture simply means that you’re keeping your body upright and your chest comfortably lifted.
Here’s how you stand with tall posture:
1) Stand so that your feet are about shoulder width apart.
2) Using your feet as a guide, make sure that your hips are in line with your feet.
Your feet and hips should be in a line like this:
3) Keep your shoulders even on your side so that your feet, hips and shoulders are all in a line down your side.
4) Next, keep your chest and neck lifted comfortably so that your entire posture is straight and tall.
Your posture should look something like this:
You should feel that this posture automatically makes singing feel a lot easier.
Tip #2: Keep Your Head and Neck Straight
This is a big one for guitarists!
Keeping your head and neck straight is one of the best ways to improve your vocal tone.
That’s because if you’re constantly craning your neck to see what you’re doing on the guitar, you’re losing support from some of the muscles that help you sing.
Don’t make this mistake!
Luckily, keeping your head and neck straight is super easy to do. It just takes some practice.
Try this the next time you’re singing a song:
1) Standing with your tall posture, pick a spot on the wall directly in front of your gaze.
2) Make sure that the spot you pick is in a straight line in front of your face.
3) Now, play the song but keep your gaze fixed on that spot, making sure that you don’t raise or lower your chin as you sing.
It should look something like this:
You should feel that your voice already feels stronger and more resonant in this position!
Tip #3: Breathe from your Diaphragm
Can I tell you a secret?
Most voice teachers make breathing way too complicated!
Actually, singing from the diaphragm is easy when you learn how to do it correctly.
Unfortunately, many guitarists don’t breathe deeply enough when they sing.
That’s because when you’re holding a guitar, you’re more likely to breathe from your shoulders, rather than from your belly.
But you’ll be amazed at how breathing from your diaphragm improves your vocal power and tone.
That’s why learning to sing from the diaphragm is one of the most important steps in learning how to sing.
So let’s learn how to do it right!
Here’s how to breathe from the diaphragm:
1) Standing with tall posture, place your hands around the bottom of your belly like this:
2) With your hands around your stomach, inhale and exhale feeling the movement of your belly as you breathe.
3) Now, inhale so that when you breathe in, your belly moves outward.
Your inhale should push your stomach out like this:
4) Next, exhale so that when you breathe out, your belly comes back in like this:
5) Finally, practice this diaphragmatic breath making sure that your shoulders and chest are not moving as you breathe.
This may feel a bit unnatural at first, but breathing from the diaphragm is the most powerful breath you can have as a singer.
So take some time and get this breath right so that when it’s time to perform, it feels totally natural to you.
Tip #4: Sing on Pitch
The fact is most people can tell if you’re singing off pitch within a matter of seconds.
So, if you’ve been struggling to sing on pitch, let’s start there.
There are a lot of reasons that you might not be singing in tune but having taught more than 500 students, I can tell you this:
Almost anyone can learn to sing on pitch.
It just takes some practice and the right ear training exercises.
But before we get into ear training, let me say this:
Just because you can’t sing on pitch doesn’t mean that you’re tone deaf.
After all, as a guitar player, you probably can hear the differences between lots of different notes.
But you may still have trouble singing them.
No matter what reason you’re singing off pitch, what you really want is good feedback.
Feedback just means being able to hear where you’re off pitch and how to fix it.
Getting feedback could mean working with a singing teacher or singing into a pitch app on your phone.
While any app can tell you if you’re flat or sharp, a good vocal coach can help you understand why you’re off pitch and how to fix it.
But for now, let me show you a simple trick you can use to boost your feedback so you can sing on pitch.
The next time you practice, play and sing facing the corner of your practice room.
When you sing facing the corner of the room, you can hear yourself better because the sound waves from your your singing travel a shorter distance than when you’re in an open space.
The end result?
You can hear where you’re off pitch and fix it.
Tip #5: Learn to Project
Want to know one simple thing you can do right now to improve your singing dramatically?
Learn to project as a guitarist.
So many singer/songwriters come to my studio for the first time and are blown away at how great their voice sounds after just one exercise!
That’s because learning to project improves your vocal tone and control immediately.
Unfortunately, lots of guitarists think that in order to sing well, they need to sing breathy.
But the more breathy your voice is, the less power and control you have.
Imagine trying to play a hard rock song without a pick.
It would sound totally different than if you played it with a pick.
The same is true if you’re singing too breathy when you sing; you lose some of the same control.
Don’t make this mistake!
Luckily, learning to project your singing is really easy to do.
It just takes some practice and the right singing techniques.
So here’s an easy way to project your voice:
1) Select a phrase from a song that you need to sing.
2) Now, pretend that you’re on stage in an auditorium and speak the words of the phrase out loud in a way that would reach the back of the audience.
Project the spoken words in a way where you’re not yelling or whispering.
3) Next, sing the melody keeping the same power as when you were speaking them.
You should already feel that the notes that you’re singing are way more powerful.
By the way, if you want to see how to apply this to your own voice, here’s a cool video to walk you through it:
Tip #6: Expand Your Vocal Range
Here’s the brutal truth:
Most guitarist write vocal melodies that stay completely in their comfortable range.
But if you don’t have any high notes in your songs, you’re missing out on some major opportunities to make your songs stand out.
Now here’s the good news:
Almost anyone can expand their vocal range.
It just takes some practice and the right vocal warm ups. And there are tons of vocal exercises to help you expand your range.
But today, let me show you one of my favorite exercises for hitting high notes.
It’s called the “Gee” exercise and here’s how you do it:
1. Select a phrase from a song that you’re working on.
2. Now, say the word “Gee” out loud like you’re saying the word “Geese”.
3. Next, sing the “Gee” on each note of the melody in the phrase that you’re working on.
So basically, substitute each syllable of the lyrics with a “Gee”.
4. Finally, go back to the actual lyrics of the song and try to keep the same powerful feeling you got from singing “Gee” on each.
If you’re confused about how to do the “Gee” exercise, here’s a cool video where I walk you through it:
Tip #7: Keep Your High Notes Relaxed
Here’s the bottom line:
No one cares if you can hit high notes if your voice sounds strainy.
That’s why it’s so important to make sure that while you’re expanding your vocal range, your voice is staying relaxed.
And unfortunately, many singers add strain in their voices without even realizing it!
One of the most common places that singers have strain is in their larynx, or voice box.
Your larynx houses your vocal cords and you can feel it by gently feeling your Adam’s apple between your thumb in first finger like this:
Now try this:
With your thumb and first finger in place, swallow.
You’ll feel that your larynx rises as you swallow.
But when you’re singing, you want to keep your larynx relaxed to prevent it from rising and making your voice sound “squeezed”.
That doesn’t mean to hold your larynx down as you sing.
Instead, let me show you one trick to keep your larynx relaxed as you sing:
1) Gently, feel your larynx between your thumb and first finger like this:
2) Now select a phrase from a song that’s been giving you trouble.
3) With your fingers gently feeling your larynx, try to sing the phrase without raising your larynx.
4) If you feel the larynx rising, pretend that you’re yawning and add that “yawny” feeling to your high notes.
You’ll find that the “yawny” feeling relaxes the larynx while you sing.
Tip #8: Play and Sing Separately at First
Now that you’re learned to project your voice and expand your vocal range, let’s take a look at a few ways to make sure that your voice sounds its best.
One of the best ways to improve your singing is to start by playing and singing separately.
When you first start learning a song, it can be really difficult to focus on playing and singing simultaneously.
And unfortunately, most guitarists will always focus more on their playing than their singing.
But if you learn the chords, melody and rhythm of the song first, then you’ll be able to focus more on your singing when it’s time to perform.
Try this to get started:
The next time you need to learn a song, play it 10 times through before you sing.
This may sound like a lot, but you want to have your guitar parts so well-memorized that you can focus completely on your singing.
A good test for this is to see if you can play the song without looking at your hands once.
You should find that if you have your guitar parts completely memorized, it’ll be much easier to focus on singing better.
Tip #9: Memorize the Lyrics
Let’s face it:
The lyrics are the first thing to go when you have to sing and play at the same time.
So it’s a good idea to memorize the lyrics of the song before you need to perform it.
Luckily, memorizing lyrics is really easy if you apply some simple memorization techniques.
One of my favorite tricks for memorizing lyrics is to create a story out of the lyrics of the song.
Here’s how you do it:
1) Print out the lyrics of the song you’re trying to learn.
2) Ask yourself what story the lyrics of the song are trying to tell.
Remember, most stories are linear; they have a clear start and ending.
3) On your printout, write a simple one sentence phrase describing the action of the story in the margins next to each paragraph of lyrics.
4) Then use the phrases in the margins to help you remember the order of the lyrics.
Keep in mind that some lyrics don’t follow a clear story pattern from beginning to end.
For example, Bob Dylan rarely tells a simple story from one verse to the next.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t apply this technique!
In songs with more poetic lyrics, take a key image from each verse and make up your own story to memorize the order.
You’ll find that memorizing a song is way easier when you break the lyrics down into a story format.
Tip #10: Keep Your Focus on Your Singing
Let’s be honest:
Most people can’t tell the difference between a C major and C minor chord, but they can instantly tell a good singer from a bad one.
We’ve all seen guitarists who are way more focused on their guitar playing than their singing.
They’re so busy making sure they hit every note perfectly that they completely forget they’re playing in front of an audience.
Don’t make the same mistake!
So when you’re performing, focus more on your singing than your playing.
The truth is that everything else, the rhythm, tempo, and chords can all be suspended slightly if you’re singing is perfect.
That’s because your singing ultimately tells the story of the song you’re playing.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that to completely forget about your guitar playing.
Intead, practice the song enough that you can completely focus on your singing.
If you’re able to focus more on your voice, I guarantee you’ll be amazed at how much the audience connects with you!
By now, you should be ready to sound your best as a singer and as a guitar player.
And while some of these techniques may take some time and practice, if you work on them daily, you’ll be amazed at how much your performance improves.
Now, strap on your guitar and show everyone your amazing voice!