Tips for Better Singing While Playing Ukulele

Recently, I ran across someone in an online ukulele group asking for vocal tips for amateur singers who want to get better at singing-while-playing the ukulele. Amateur-but-enthusiastic vocalists are my people! I think that I have an okay voice, but it's not winning any awards. I can carry a tune and harmonize, which is helpful, but no one is dying for me to cut an album. But the more I work at it, the more adjustments I can make to my sound that do seem to improve things.

Here are some tips that work for me:

1. Sing a lot. In the shower, to the radio/shuffle/streaming/etc. Hum and whistle, too! Find the melody (or harmony) and try to match it. Make up your own harmonies and see how they work out (I don't necessarily do this in public, but in the privacy of my own home...).

2. Watch YouTube videos from voice teachers with exercises and analysis. Right now, I'm loving Sam Johnson.

3. Record yourself and listen to yourself (audio or video). Note and work on things you'd like to change.

4. Sing in a choir. Church choirs are often inclusive of folks with little-to-no vocal skills. Sing with friends. Have a karaoke party. Join an uke jam sing-and-strum-style group.

5. Know it's okay not to sound perfect. You're likely your own worst critic. Give yourself a break!

6. Trying to strum and play at the same time is a special mental task -- it's not easy for most people right away. If it doesn't come naturally, learn to strum separate from learning the melody line of a new song, then put them together at a slow tempo before speeding it up. You'll strum better on songs you are confident about singing and sing better on songs you are confident about strumming (same goes for picking).

7. Breathe! I find it harder to remember to breathe effectively when I'm playing at the same time as I'm singing than when I'm just singing or just playing. Breathe consciously and deeply. Mark your breaths on your chord sheet if you have trouble remembering when to breathe!

8. Open your mouth to let the sound get out. Play around with your volume and airflow. You may not always need a wide open mouth, and mouth shape affects vowels, but many people don't open up enough, so try it out. Have you seen my YouTube video thumbnails? The algorithm almost always picks the moment I look like I'm trying to unhinge my jaw.

9. Learn to transpose, learn to use a capo, and learn to tune your ukulele up or down a half or whole step -- all of which is to say: play around with keys and find the ones that most often suit your voice. Many times I've thought "I can't sing that song" and then transpose it and find the "magic" key that makes it sound so much better for my particular range.

10. Learn scales (plucking strings) on the uke and sing along with the notes. Try to listen to your ukulele and really match the tones. When that gets easy, try to sing in harmony with the scales!

11. If you can afford it, voice lessons are never the wrong answer. You may find a teacher online, via Skype or other platform, if you're having trouble finding someone local.

What would you add to these suggestions?