Have you ever tried to sing harmony and didn’t know where to start? Did you feel awkward when you had a hard time finding your starting pitch? Singing harmony can be tricky at first and can often make a musician feeling vulnerable. It takes a little practice and a little patience but once you can start singing harmony it’s a very powerful tool you can use in your bag of tricks as a musician. Everyone has a voice and I feel everyone can learn to sing at some level. Now, if you’ve been playing music for awhile learning to sing harmony won’t be as hard as it seems. You’ll begin to hear the “split” or the intervals one needs to sing harmony successfully. In this post I’m going to go through a few tips you should use if you’re first starting out singing harmony. I will use the song “Amazing Grace” as an example for singing some basic harmony. We will also talk about using intervals to recognize pitches and where to start. This post will help you get started learning how to sing harmony!
So you want to sing harmonies? Let’s get started!
The first thing you should know is what note that the lead part starts on. So often people are trying to sing harmony but the lead singer is unsure of the lead part.
Simply make sure the lead singer knows what his or her line is and that way you’ll know where to begin. The second thing you need to know is what chord you’re starting on. This is vital for obvious reasons. Thirdly, you’ll need to know the I, III, V notes of the chord. Now, here is where it may get a little tricky.
Lets take the song Amazing Grace. For this example we’ll be in the key of G. The I, III, V notes are G, B, D. They make a triad or a chord. It is very helpful to have all your major triads memorized as it will help speed along this process. Overtime you will begin to know them like two plus two. The melody starts on the 5th note of the chord. The fifth note of the G chord is D. OK, you have two options now. One can either sing the I which is G or the III which is B. Listen here
So, from here you can follow the melody line as it changes by singing either the I, III, or V note of each chord. Typically the melody will fall on the I, III, or V of each chord. As a harmony singer you need to sing one of the notes that the lead part is not singing. As a general rule you want to either stay above or below the lead line. It wouldn’t sound as smooth if you were singing above the lead and then shifted down below the lead line and back up again. Again, rules can be broken and they may need to be in certain cases but for now either be above the lead or below. To determine what part you’re going to sing it’s good to know your range and if you’re a bass, tenor, alto, or soprano. That may be a an entirely different post. Go ahead and experiment with both parts and see which part feels more comfortable.
The problem that you may run into is when the song changes chords you may catch yourself singing the melody. If you’re not used to singing harmony it’s a very common mistake to fall into singing the lead line. You should know your part like it is the lead line. When you practice make sure you know your line perfect. Let it sink into your whole body. It should resonate within yourself. You should feel your part “fit” in between the other two parts (if you’re singing three part). Another problem that many harmony singers face is if they are singing the low part they often jump up and sing the high part. I’ve found it is a lot easier to sing higher than lower. And that’s because you can often get more volume when you sing high. Singing low you might have a hard time hearing yourself and you will need to use more breath for support
One thing to help your harmony singing skills is to begin understanding and recognizing intervals. This will really begin to strengthen your ear! One trick is to match certain intervals with popular tunes. I will give just a couple examples here.
There are many things to consider when singing harmony with others but I encourage you to just start with the basics with some of the things I’ve mentioned above. This should act as a launching pad for you beginners out there. I can’t stress how important it is that you are sure of the lead line. If the lead line keeps changing then you’ll have to change the harmony and that can become frustrating especially if you’ve been working on your part! I’ve also given you some common mistakes that people often make when they first start out, so be aware of these. Remember, start basic, pick an easy song and don’t complicate things. Singing harmony of any complexity is often very enjoyable!