Have you ever really noticed and paid attention to the harmonies that beautify songs and are so common in all kinds of popular music? Harmonies are the “background voices” that reinforce songs, (usually only certain parts of songs) and lifts them up to new levels. Today we are going to take a look into harmonies, how they are built, and even how to sing harmony yourself. It is tons of fun and it is one of the things that can give you The Musical Edge™ and open up new doors for you when you are playing music with other people. let’s start:
There are a few different kinds of harmonies: “Echo & Response” / “Ahhhh” and “Ooooo” kind of harmonies / singing a different note in the chord to add “depth” to the vocals (Chordal harmonies) / singing either above or below the pitch range of the main vocalist – for example when the lead singer is a man with a Baritone range, and there will be a woman with a Soprano range singing the higher pitched harmonies. (this form is only “Harmony” if it is sung on different notes. (Chordal) If the other singer is singing exactly an octave below or above so it’s not harmony in the pure sense)
Try to get your ears used to pick up on the different kinds of harmony when they come up in songs you listen to.
To begin with – here are a few examples of songs with interesting harmonies in them so we will be on the same page.
Notable Songs And Artists That Feature Harmonies
The Grateful Dead – Sugar Magnolia. The Grateful Dead are very famous for “chordal” harmonies. You can hear them clearly at the first part of “Sugar Magnolia” and on some of the other parts as well. The chordal harmonies are probably the most common kind of harmonies music-wide. What happens is – Jerry Garcia who’s the band lead vocalist is singing the main melody part, and on top of him one or two more band mates are singing different notes from the same chords while he is singing the root. It creates beautiful harmonies that makese the vocals sound like a guitar chord for themselves. This is a school for how to sing harmony! Also demonstrated well on Truckin’, Uncle John’s Band. The Beatles were also commonly using this type of harmony.
The Mamas And The Papas – California Dreamin’. This unforgettable anthem owes a lot of it’s success to the perfectly made harmonies! The harmonies here are mostly an “Echo & Response” type of harmonies where the girls repeats what the boys sang in “echo” and in a higher pitch.
A cover of Otis Redding – Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay by a high school acapella group. Here you can hear the kind of “Ahhhhh” and “Ooooooo” kind of harmonies all the way during the verses. This is another great way to backup a song.
*In this video and explanation in the following link you can see a good breakdown of how different harmonies can be built. In the video you’ll see a very easy to understand example on the guitar.
Click here for my post about the 13 Best Harmony Songs – Perfectly Performed Vocal HARMONIES.
Unique Benefits Of Singing Harmony
- It opens up a whole new level of creation for you in your music and jams.
- When you will jam with other people and someone else sings, you will be able to “jump in”, reinforce and complement the other person’s voice and make your song’s performance a whole lot more cooler and pleasant to the ear.
- Even if your voice is not nice enough and you think you might not be able to always sing lead, it lets you still take part in the singing. There are professional harmony singers that singing harmony is almost exclusively what they do! It’s a whole world.
- You get a massive ear training and pitch training. It’s challenging to sing harmonies correctly and it’s all about your ears, and therefore you will see the results with any other instrument you play! How exactly?
You will see in the videos below.
Alright. Where Do I Start? How Do I Sing Harmony Myself?
First of all realize that there is a lot of trial and error and sometimes you are going to sound very OFF in the beginning… This is perfectly fine, keep going and you will get it.
We are fortunate to have the internet today that can teach us anything. When I looked in YouTube to learn it myself, I have found a few very valuable sources that helped me be able to get on track and sing harmonies myself like I wanted and make my jams way more enjoyable. Here are the videos that helped me the most:
“How to: Basic Harmony”: This is the most comprehensive tutorial you can find. It is actually a playlist of 9 videos that will go with you through the basics and then show you examples on familiar songs. It might look like it’s more female oriented but it’s 100% applicable to anyone. You can also check out their covers – they are really good.
“How To Sing Harmony” on Howcast channel: This is a short and to the point video that will give you another point of view on chordal harmonies. Recommended.
“A Simple Ear Training Exercise For Singing Harmony”: This is a great exercise that will open up your ears completely! Play around with it and you will see how everything becomes clearer.
Sing Harmonies app for harmony singing training. Very useful.
That’s it. You’ve got everything you need to start your journey with singing harmony.I’ll repeat that – you might not sound good at all in the beginning. Don’t let it get you down, keep going and eventually your ears will get it and it will be a second nature for you to find a good harmony line.
Start by practicing in your cars singing harmonies to songs that you are very familiar with. preferably start with slower songs that it’ll be easy to cope with. Play around with the different possible kinds of harmony. You will slowly see how it starts to click and you will have moments where you’re gonna wish somebody was recording that…
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