Updated: May 7
"Feel the Rhythm! Feel the Rhyme! Get on up, it's bobsled time!“
This quote comes from one of my favorite 90’s movies ‘Cool Runnings’! In fact I just watched it with my sons this past week on Disney+ and they loved it. They sure don’t make movies like they used to. ‘Cool Runnings’ is based off of true events when a bobsled team from Jamaica made it into the finals of 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Alberta. Throughout the movie you witness the team learning to jive together, not with just their physicality, but with their differing personalities in order to make it to the olympic finals. They must learn to meld their summer track skills with the otherworldly sport of bobsledding. This is just what one has to do in order to sing while playing the ukulele! After you read this go watch the movie..... its a classic!
As a ukulele player... that sings (seriously, many of the world’s best can’t), I’ve heard it more than a few times of how difficult it is to play and sing at the same time. Many people either play or sing well but when they try to put them together they fail miserably! It’s almost as if you needed two brains to do this. Try and pat your head while rubbing your belly at the same time... pretty weird huh?
The ultimate goal is to help you develop an independency between your strumming rhythm and singing rhythm. In other words, we need to be so comfortable with our strumming that we don’t even have to think about it. This will allow us to sing how we please and not have our strumming pattern dictated by the rhythm of our vocal cadence.
Use the tips below to learn how to sing while playing the ukulele.
1. Musical welding!
Like a pianist who uses both hands to play two different rhythms concurrently, or a drummer who uses all four limbs working independently, you need to meld your strumming and singing rhythms so that they sound seamless. If you can believe it, there are drummers that can play with all four limbs and SING the melody! Check this out. This is 18 year old Paulina from the band The Warning. Don’t get discouraged if your mind is blown. Learning to play and sing on the ukulele is a lot easier. But the first thing to learn and understand is playing and singing aren't two separate things.
2. Simple rhythms, simple rhymes...
Don’t complicate the task unnecessarily by choosing songs that exceed your skill level. This will only leave you feeling frustrated and defeated. I know you want to learn the new Shawn Mendes ditty but it may be too challenging off the bat. Start off learning easy songs that you know well. Songs that only have a few chords, a simple strum pattern and lyrics you can easily remember like ’Happy Birthday’. Check out our friend Bernadette‘s lesson for ‘Happy Birthday‘ here. Keep things simple.
3. Build a strong foundation!
Trying to remember how to hold the Em chord while playing is going to make singing at the same time virtually impossible. Your ukulele playing must be at a level where chord changes are effortless. You need to be so comfortable with your strumming that you don't even have to think about it. This will free you up to concentrate on singing.
Its back to basics. Run through chord patterns until they are second nature. Drill scales to strengthen finger dexterity. When you can get to chords quickly without looking at your fingers, you have built a strong foundation.