…coordinate strumming with singing?

If you play the autoharp, guitar or any other stringed folk instrument, and find strumming and singing at the same time to be a challenge, here is my “Seven Step Program” to help you coordinate and move forward.  Note that each step may need more than one round (I recommend three per step):


  1. STOP when something about a song you are singing and strumming sounds or feels “off.”  Continuing to play off-track only solidifies the unwanted habit, making it harder to reverse.
  2. Sing the song aloud with the words, without strumming the strings.  (Voice only.)  Listen to your singing: you’ll probably sing the song with its intended rhythm.
  3. Strumming is about keeping a steady beat with the strumming arm.  In this step, sing again and “strum” in front of your instrument’s strings, without striking them.  (You’ll still hear only your voice.)
  4. Sing and “air strum” again, this time changing chords where shown on the score/lyrics sheet.  (Still, only the singing voice is heard.)
  5. Now reverse what you hear: Sing the song in your head (“air-head singing,” as one of my students calls it!) and strum the strings while changing chords on the instrument.  (You will hear the instrument this time, without the singing voice.)
  6. Sing the song with la-la-la or dah-dah-dah (no lyrics; la or dah take only half a brain) while strumming the song’s chords on the instrument.  (Now you’ll hear both voice and instrument.)
  7. Sing the song’s lyrics and strum the chords.  (Again, you hear both voice and instrument.  Um, this takes both sides of your brain.)

When a step falters, back up one step and repeat it, then trudge forward once more to completion.

In this way, you introduce the operations of singing and strumming gradually before combining them.

I went through this same process many times a thousand years ago in the eighth grade when I was learning to play the guitar.  As I’ve been finding out, this works no matter what the age.  Give it a try and let me know how you do!