How to Sing Harmony

Posted on 17th July 2014 in Harmony

What is Singing Harmony?

singing harmony

What Vocal Harmony Is..

Vocal harmony happens when the main vocal melody of a song (the lead singer) is complimented by the adding of other voices, either higher or lower to create a more fuller, richer sound.

While these supporting voices add backup to the lyrics at a pitch which is either above or below the main vocal line, the idea is to match the harmony with the chord progression.

An important step in learning how to sing harmony is knowing how to sing the melody to a song.

What is the melody in a song?

Melody is the structure of notes in a rhythmic pattern to form a musical composition.

That was the long, drawn out, technical definition of the term.

To make it really easy to understand, think of the melody as the main theme of notes that a lead singer will produce as the basis for accompanying singers to harmonize with.

To illustrate: Think of a song with harmony like an apple pie. There are several ingredients that are added to make the whole pie. Agreed?


However, what is the main ingredient ? Apples.. you say.

So think of the main melody like the apples in the pie.

When we add the other ingredients or harmonizing voices, we enrich the song just as the sugar and the spices add a fuller flavor to the pie.


Voice Types and Singing Harmony


In another discussion, we talk about the different voice types. It is important to understand these in order to know your place in an arrangement that uses harmony.

Depending on the voice type of the person singing the melody, the harmonizing singers will either sing above or below their pitch.

Changing Roles

For an example, we will use the three voice types: Soprano, Alto, and Tenor.

If Soprano is the melody voice then the accompanying harmonies will be sing at lower intervals:

Soprano (melody)

If Alto sings the melody then there will be one above and one below:

Alto (melody)

If Tenor sings the melody then  both harmonizing voices will be above.

Tenor (melody)

Harmony Using Scales & Chords

Scales & Harmony

As described earlier, harmony is when one person sings a song using one pitch along with a second person or more singing in a different pitch and/or adds notes that surround the original pitch.

Singing harmony starts with becoming familiar with the major and minor scales. It sounds like it may be too technical, but it is actually quite simple, once when you get the hang of it.

A scale is really only a set of 8 successive notes within one octave(meaning 8), named with the letters A to G.

The difference between the major scale and the minor scales are as followed:

The major scale has note intervals that run whole-whole-half-whole-whole-whole-half.

Whereas the minor scale has note intervals that run whole-half-whole-whole-half-whole-whole.

*Note: In most cases harmony is created using the notes from the major scale



Chords & Harmony

To simplify our understanding of the mechanics of harmony we will look at a major chord.

A chord is a simple example of how harmony is constructed of different notes that vibrate well together.

A major chord is generally made up of 3 notes consisting of a root, a major third, and a perfect fifth called a triad. Basically meaning the first, third, and fifth notes of a scale.

When we break the notes of a chord down and sing each individual note, we have the parts of our harmony.

The video below easily explains this process:



Locating the Two Voices

beatles harmonyHarmony involves one person singing below or above the original pitch and melody of the original notes the first person is singing.

For example: suppose you were singing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.

The very first “twinkle” note you are producing is the base note of the melody.

The second “twinkle” is a higher note, as you are aware. If you sang the first “twinkle “note and had a second person singing the second “twinkle” note simultaneously, you have just created a harmony.

Think of the chords that are played on a guitar or piano, often this combination of notes played together to form “harmony”. This, of course, is a basis for understanding the building blocks of singing harmony.

Two or more simultaneous pitches blending together, whether higher or lower and sometimes the same as often used by bands like the Beatles.

As you develop a better understanding of scales and octaves, you can begin manipulating sounds of any song and learn to naturally harmonize with the singer you are listening to.

Putting Harmony Into Practice

stock-footage-smiling-couple-singing-together-in-the-countrysideThe first step in learning to sing harmony is to get really comfortable with your chosen song.

It is recommended by instructors that you learn both voice parts, the high and low.

Get together with a friend and give it a try!

For some, it can take a lot of practice to make harmony work, and for others, it feels natural to join a melody at a different pitch with ease.

It’s called ‘on-the-fly’ harmony because the harmonizer just jumps right into the song and begins to find his higher or lower harmony to match the original notes.

Similar to the steps used in ear training, after listening to the melody for a small amount of time, there are some that able to naturally determine the pitch and melody and then start singing.

Ear training exercises are a great way to develop harmony skills as well.

For example, you can play a particular note on a guitar, piano, what have you and determine the pitch.

From there you must imagine yourself singing it. Next, you would actually sing it along with the note on your chosen instrument.

Try it again, however, this time, try singing a note higher than the note played on the piano. The third time, sing a note lower than the piano note.

This is where taking online singing lessons can be a huge advantage. Many of these programs have interactive pianos and voice feedback.

With the aid of such software, you can practice matching pitch and then go higher and lower, very quickly and easily – advancing your ability to harmonize.

Practice is the best way to ensure you develop the accurate pitch.

Harmony Is Everywhere
singing harmony

Harmony is used in many different types of singing, from rock to country, to pop music.

Some harmonies are strictly for back up vocals others are full bands.

The 90s R&B band Boys II Men were famous for their ability to blend four very different voices into a melody with two or more harmonizing.

Recently, A Capella has made a comeback on shows like America’s Got Talent. Many developing artists are now demonstrating their harmonizing skills to create awesome sounds, even without the accompaniment of instruments.

These skillful harmonizers can make it look difficult. In reality, though, anyone who puts in the effort can develop these skills as the principles behind this type of singing are actually not difficult to comprehend.

There’s no doubt, that it will take practice to learn how to correctly identify pitch and then drop higher or lower. Once you learn these concepts, there will be no stopping you!

For more singing tips, please feel free to browse through the various categories.

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