Let’s assume you’ve just formed a new band and you want your sound to feature killer harmony. The first, and most important, thing to do is to practice your parts without instruments. Vocal rehearsals are as important to the success of your band as instrumental rehearsals.


Get the Blend

The next thing is to choose one person in the band to lead the vocal rehearsal. It’s difficult to write or learn vocal harmony parts by committee. The leader should listen to the singers and decide who should sing what parts. Keep in mind that a great blend does not always come about by assigning the lowest parts to the lowest singer and the highest parts to the highest voice. What constitutes a great blend? Tight harmony, good phrasing, and tone.

Sometimes a baritone can sing a 3rd above the melody at the top of his range and it sounds better than having a tenor sing there. Sometimes a tenor can blend better singing the 5th below the melody. For example, let’s say you are in an all-guy singing group and you have a tenor singing the melody in A. You might want the baritone to sing the 3rd above, adding a rich tone above the melody, and another tenor to sing the 5th below the melody.

Sometimes having the baritone below the melody creates a big hole in your blend, especially if you have two tenors singing the melody and the 3rd or 5th above. So experiment around with different voicings until you find a combination that sounds good to you. This is what practice is for and the payoff can be exceptional.


Write It Down

Another aspect of practice, which you need to pay time and attention to, is writing the parts. Start with the most obvious places for harmony in the song, for instance, the chorus. Let’s take a song like "Johnny B. Goode" by Chuck Berry. The chorus goes "Go, go, go Johnny go," the harmony singers could start one part a minor 3rd above the melody and one part a 5th below and follow along with the contour of the melody. This is only one example of a possible part and a very simple one. The important part for you to work on is getting the parts down by repetition.


Let’s say you wanted to sing harmony in the verses of that song. You would need to figure out what the chords are underlying the verse section. In the first part: "Deep down in Louisiana close to New Orleans," the underlying chord is not just a straight major chord. It’s the tonic with a 5/7 on top, or a 7th chord. So you would need to figure out who should sing the melody and how to arrange the harmonies to reflect the 7th chord in the underlying music. Working out harmony parts takes time, attention, and lots of practice.


If you are in a mixed band, men and women singing together, that requires even more attention to voicings and blend. Men’s voices are naturally deeper. Along with that deepness you might also hear that there is a softer, wider range of tonality to men’s voices in relation to a mezzo-soprano voice, which is the range of most women’s voices (especially younger women).


Women’s voices in the soprano range can be bright and clear, sounding like a focused beam of sound rather than the softer texture of an alto or baritone. You need to mix the voicings in such a way that the brighter voices sound like they are nested in the softness of the deeper voices rather than soaring above them. That way you end up with a much tighter blend. The goal being a blend of harmony and lead that sounds as close to one person singing as possible.


Originally posted 2009-01-09 03:44:28.