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I find this a very difficult thing to do, and also not easy to put as much energy into singing, while playing piano.

I have started off by just trying the chords on the piano, though it is still quite difficult.

Is there anything else I should be doing to reduce the amount of time it will take before I am good at this?

My primary concern is that I will not sound as much engaged in the singing (aka. not putting my heart into it), if I am playing piano.

Is it better to do learn to get good at the song separate first, or learn both singing and piano part at the same time?

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What kind of songs are we talking about, here? –  The Chaz 2.0 Mar 5 '12 at 21:01
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At first, some slower songs, such as Over The Rainbow / What A Wonderful World, or some hymns. What I am hoping for is Busted by Ray Charles, but that of course is more difficult. Also, I do not usually use sheet music unless it is conveniently available. (music without paper) I am able to modify/simplify the piano side of things if necessary. –  musicwithoutpaper Mar 5 '12 at 23:49
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If you play by ear, you might want to try songs from notable singing pianists, such as Elton John, Joe Jackson, or even Elvis Costello. –  cornbread ninja Mar 6 '12 at 21:35

5 Answers 5

I play guitar & sing in a rock 3-pieceso have to do this for whole gigs at a time - It's possibly a little different doing this on guitar to piano, but here's how I've managed it:

1) Assuming you can play the chords already, concentrate on getting the singing part right (as Marian suggests). get the rhythm of the syllables and the notes etc all sorted out so that you're comfortable with this. As you say, if anything 'lapses', you really don't want it to be the vocals so I'd suggest making this drive things.

2) On a guitar, if it's a "strummy" kind of song like "Come up & see me" by Steve Harley & the Cockney Rebel, the rhytm is simple. On a guitar it translates to waving your arm up & down as you strum. That acts as a kind of metronomic 'pulse' which a part of your body is setting up. (more on this later)

3) Learn how the syllables fit with this pulse/beat- sometimes that might mean slowing it right down and going over which syllable the beat occurs. For example the"Smile" of "come up & see me make me smile" is sometimes right on the beat, sometimes (later in the song) he delays it just a little.

4) As I mentioned, on a guitar the strumming gives a pulse if it's a simple rhythm, but funkier tunes like. . umm .. "Play that funk music white boy" it's a bit more choppy. Assuming it's a repeating riff, I've found a good way is to get very comfortable with playing the riff repeately so that you can kind of "set it going" while you use some other part of your brain to start singing the lyrics. this is also where looking closely at where the syllables fit with the beat (3) becomes important.

Sometimes I tap my foot or something to get that 'pulse'. On a piano, I'm not sure how you produce a rhytm like that but if you need the pulsing thing (f'nar again), then tapping your foot in time should do it.

I hope this helps- it's definitley what's worked for me.

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One important aspect, would say is: Make sure you play and sing the songs in a key suitable for your vocal range.

Find the key by trying out, usually starting with the key used for the song that you can match, from a popular singer.

Also, make sure the fundamental chords for the song are correct. Later you can diverge.

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This question is not about the range of the piece. It is about the physical aspect of singing and playing at the same time. –  American Luke Oct 23 '12 at 16:24

Learning to play in canon with yourself is invaluable for this, as it helps your brain do two things at once. Choose a very simple, repetitive piece that is also a round, such as London's Burning or Frere Jacques. You need to know it very well for that automatic quality to give you some support. Sing as the first part, then bring in the piano as the second part, one phrase behind the vocal part. You may have to build it up a phrase at a time. It's better to lead with the voice, as that gives you an internalised song shape and pitch feel for your hands to follow. You can challenge yourself further by choosing different canons and varying the time between vocal and piano parts, as lots of simple pieces can be reduced to just one beat apart. It's quite fun hearing which things work, and which don't. I've been shown this exercise by several teachers who use Kodaly methodology.

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You could try to record the song on piano first, and then sing to the playback afterwards. As to improve the combination of playing and singing at the same time, this will be easier as you get more experienced in your playing.

Basically the answer to this is really (as with most other issues with getting better): Practice!

When you are good enough on the piano to just play the chords without having to think much about how you play, you can start to sing along while playing.

Then when you feel you master this, you can begin to explore playing more advanced than just flat chords.

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The only way to do it is practice.

Simplify the parts until you can play and sing them at 1/2 tempo and then work on increasing the tempo.

It worked best for me when I played something I could play on autopilot and then worked on the singing.

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Agreed. The only way to begin really is to have one part down so perfectly that you don't have to think about it. After much multitasking practice you should be able to do both with less familiar pieces, but either way, it's all practice. –  Matthew Read Mar 5 '12 at 19:40
    
Seconded! Think of how it was difficult to play hands together at first, and how it eventually becomes second nature. –  Hannele Mar 6 '12 at 16:52

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