I often see students struggle with achieving a correct and effective beginning to a song. If you have ever begun at an inappropriate tempo, failed to grasp the time feel or started singing on the wrong pitch, you have probably found that things don’t get much better from there. Not only can a rough start be frustrating and disappointing, it also reduces your chance of a successful second start, as you have the wrong sounds in your head from your previous attempt. Don’t despair – there are some easy things you can do to avoid all of these problems!
Before beginning to play any song, it is important to hear in your head the way you want the song to sound. Be clear on the tempo and time feel and mentally rehearse at least the first few bars.
Next, strum the first chord and find your starting pitch. If you can’t hear the pitch and sing it from listening to the chord, find the note on your guitar and match your voice to it before you begin playing and singing. If you choose this method, you will probably need to rely on music written in standard notation or a teacher who can tell you what note is the starting pitch and where to find it on your guitar. Just remember that unless you have perfect pitch (which very few people do), you will not be able to sing the correct note without hearing either the first chord or feeding yourself the pitch.
Once you have established the tempo and starting pitch, you will need to decide how many beats to play on your guitar before you begin singing. In general, you will do best with either two or four measures as an introduction. If the song is in 3/4 time, it will probably sound better to play four measures than two, unless the tempo is slow.
When you are counting the number of measures before the melody (singing) comes in, remember that it is very common to have lead-in notes on the melody, so you will need to be aware of where “1” (the first beat of each measure) is. If there are lead-in notes, they will occur as the end of the 4th measure if you are doing a four measure introduction or the 2nd, if you have chosen to do two introductory measures. For example, in the song This Land is Your Land, you would count “1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3 This Land is” with the words being on counts “&4&.” You can understand and implement this easily if you have Getting Started, where you can look at the lead-in notes on the music at the same time you listen to the merging of the guitar and voice on the recording.
Once you have a good beginning, make sure to keep going and keep a steady and consistent tempo throughout the song. As always, the metronome will help you a lot with this.