Learn To Sing Vocal Harmony

  • August 21, 2019

Vocal harmonies add so much to a song to enrich and fill it with greater colour and brilliance. When we think of bands like the Pentaonix, the Eagles, the Mamas & Papas we can't help but feel the distict energy that comes from a team of vocalists perfectly blending their voices to create awesome harmonies.

Singing harmony is not easy for many singers. Singing on their own is fine, but when attempting to harmonize with others they will not understand which notes to hit, or in the case of someone is harmonizing with them, they will often get distracted and drift off key while singing the melody.



Is Singing Harmony For Every One?

Have you ever tried following along with a song you like and tried to sing the harmony behind the song's chorus? Only to find that you might be able to hit some notes but it's usually hit and miss. Or perhaps you are in a choir and want to improve singing within a group of the many types of voices to work within. There are many good reasons for learning to sing harmony with others. 

This might be confusing for those who normally feel confident when it comes to good pitch and voice matching their favorite songs to sing. So how can you take your singing to another level when it comes to be able to make beautiful 2, 3, or 4 piece harmonies with other singers? 

Is there a simple way of understanding how harmonies work? Can you use this to build on those skills? The answer to both is yes. We will start with some basics and explain how simple chords played on an instrument can make it fun and easy to grasp harmony.

For this reason it is important to understand some basic fundamentals regarding what harmony actually is and how to easily understand the concept of using certain combinations of notes that create harmonies.

Once you begin to learn these concepts, singing harmony becomes a lot of fun. To the point where you begin to have an 'ear' for the music and where you begin to sing the higher or lower ends of a melody more naturally and fluid.



Fundamentals of Vocal Harmony


In simple terms, vocal harmonies are made up of two or more melodies sung at the exact same time.  The idea is to create a vocal blending in a naturally flowing way that adds more color and volume to a song. Some songs may even have acapella parts where there is a break in the instruments playing and the combined singing voices will ring out the chorus.  

In a band environment you will find that 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. What does that mean in simple terms? 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.

What is the relation between chords and harmonies?  A chord made up of 3 notes regardless of the instrument being played is called a triad. Quite often a C major chord is used an example of this. It is made up of 3 notes consisting of  C-E-G. Played together form the C chord. However, when these notes are played indivdually, these make up the structure of the harmony. 

Why timing is important when singing vocal harmonies? If for instance you are singing a three part harmony in a band when singing the chorus together. It is critical for the voices to blend only if they are sung in the same time and duration.

What Does Apple Pie and Singing Harmony Have In Common?

To illustrate: Think of a song with harmony like an apple pie. There are several types of 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.

4 Tips On How To Learn To Sing Harmonies

 

Having two or more singers work together to create a vocal blend takes time and a focussed ear. Listed below are a few tips and habits to help you can approach singing vocal harmony. 

  1. 1
    Singing with others. A very easy way to navigate your way to hitting the accompanying notes of another singer. You can decide on a couple of lines from a familiar song or you can focus on a note by note basis. Have fun with it. Work up a scale together.
  2. 2
    Actively engage with the song. Play a song you want to learn the hamonies to. Tip: put on a set of headphones and close your eyes. Now,  try and focus on the structure of the song. Try and work on developing the abliblty to single out the various instruments. Actually tune in to the complex aspects from the music.  Can you hear the bass line? Can you distingish the rhythm and tempo. Listen to the song several times and then try to sing it minus the melody.
  3. 3
    Practice with an instrument. To start with attempt at playing a few strings of random notes using a keyboard or guitar while remaining in a single key, as well as move scaling up and downward while singing in symphony with it. singing in parallel thirds, fourths, fifths, and sixths. To achieve this, play the beginning note of the instrument part (like a C), after that play the beginning note of the vocal part (such as E), to acquire it in your mind. Following that whilst singing this pitch, begin playing the C. Repeat this several times. Now transfer your voice, and the note on the instrument, each up one scale degree (playing C goes to D, while singing E goes to F).
  4. 4
    Sing often as you can. They say practice makes perfect. You should try singing harmony as often as you can, and at every opportunity you get. This will give you lots of chance to experiment with trying things in different ways. This is probably the most important thing you can do.


Voice Types and Singing Harmony



Different Roles When Singing Harmonies. 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)
Alto
Tenor

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

Soprano
Alto (melody)
Tenor

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

Soprano
Alto
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. As we discussed earlier, an easy way to understand the mechanics behind a harmony we will look at a major chord. 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 difference in the pitch between two notes is called their interval, a word we used earlier to describe the separation of notes in the Major scale.

The fullness and color of the harmony multiplies increases with each and every added note. Two-note harmonies possess a single interval. Three-note harmonies contain three intervals, in between each note and so on. Four-notes harmonies possess 6 intervals, etc.


Breaking It All Down


Harmony 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



The 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.

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. Bands like the Pentatonix famous for their ability to blend multiple voices to create pure acapella magic.

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!

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