Why Singers Should Learn an Instrument, Part I

Why Singers Should Learn an Instrument, Part I

I have dealt with singers who are completely committed to their craft, which is great, but they resist learning any instrument besides voice.

What are they missing out on? A lot!


There are areas of musicianship best developed with an instrument. A piano or guitar will give you the essentials of melody, harmony, and rhythm in a most solid fashion.

Most musician complaints about singers have to do with their basic levels of musicianship. Let’s look at how instruments can help.


The voice is not a fixed instrument, meaning it can easily be out of tune. Spending time on piano or guitar will help increase your ear and allow you to better guide your voice to the correct pitch.

The more time you spend focusing on pitch against your instrument will insure you are able to lock in with the music and be spot on with your intonation.


This is something the lone voice is not able to do, since it can only produce a single note at a time.

Chords are basically three or more notes playing at the same time and provide the harmonic elements of music.

In order to be a good musician, you should be able to clearly hear the chords and know where you are in the harmonic progression. This will not only keep you from getting lost in a song, it will also help guide you with note choices for vocal riffs and improv, and will make you ear stronger for singing harmonies.

Again, piano and guitar are perfect for helping develop this skill as they are very chord driven.

The more songs you learn to play, the more your ear will learn to identify common chord progressions. The better you can hear the progressions, the better you will be able to follow and perform the song as a singer.


This is probably the greatest area of weakness for most singers. The ability to keep solid time (not speeding up or slowing down) allows the singer to interact with musicians on a greater level.

If you have a strong sense of rhythm and timing you can more easily phrase and bring unique aspects to your performance.

Amy Winehouse and Frank Sinatra are two examples of singers who had expert phrasing. Their strong sense of timing allowed them to move their vocal lines around the beat, to create musical tension and feel.

Both piano and guitar are very rhythmic instruments and will help you get you inner musical clock ticking in time.

What to Learn

By now I’m sure you’ve guessed that I recommend piano and guitar as the best instruments for singers.

One reason is they are polyphonic, which means you can play more than one note at a time (as opposed to the violin, which traditionally does not play chords). You can also accompany yourself while singing, something that is not possible with a brass or woodwind instrument.

In our next blog post I will cover other benefits of learning to play, and why you don’t need to become a great player in order to receive fantastic benefits.