How to Harmonize Using 6ths.


(Continued from Theory For Singing Harmony Part 2.)


In the ongoing quest to understand how to harmonize with our voices,  it’s time to talk about the intervals called 6ths (or sixths).


There are 3 main characteristics of 6ths:


1.  They’re the inverse of 3rds so for example, instead of singing a F with an A above, just put the F on top of the A, and you’ll have a 6th. Same notes, different sound.


Here’s how 3rds and 6ths relate in written form:


3rds and 6ths


2.  6ths, like 3rds, sound good in many situations – but the extra space between the two notes in 6ths creates an evocative, even spiritual feeling.


3.  6ths are commonly used in male/female duets, particularly love ballads from the 1970s and 1980s. The reason is that the high soaring female notes can be paired with the high soaring male notes on choruses, giving the choruses a ‘lift’. 


One of the best examples of 6ths sung in vocal harmony is the Joe Cocker & Jennifer Warnes ballad “Up Where We Belong” from the 1982 film “An Officer & A Gentleman”.


Check out 1:01-1:24 (the chorus of course) to hear a great example of 6ths.


Another beautiful example is Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer”.  Check out :40-:47 to hear their use of 6ths


Compare that performance with their original recording:


Now here’s what I want you to do: record yourself singing “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, then try to find a lower harmony part using 6ths. For this tune, 6ths below actually makes the best harmony choice. (Other songs sound best with 6ths above.)


Next time, we’ll move onto the topic of 3-part vocal harmonies, so check back in for that!


– Lisa Popeil


If you’re serious about singing check out Lisa’s Daily Vocal Workout for Pop Singers CD or downloadable mp3s.


Lisa Popeil is an LA voice coach with more than 35 years of professional teaching experience.  Creator of the Voiceworks® Method, the Total Singer DVD, and co-author of the book Sing Anything-Mastering Vocal Styles, Lisa trains singers in vocal technique, stage performance and vocal health for touring professionals.