A beginner's guide to Vocal Harmony

As amateur or semi-professional singers, we all are curious about the vocal harmonies gracefully distilled in Simon & Garfunkel or The Beach Boys pieces for instance.

Such associations are the result of vocal harmony, a science that's as efficient as tricky to perform. Indeed, this technique requires a little bit of knowledge of the music theory (chords, key)... or at least a very good ear.

Vocal harmony consists in doubling the lead vocals, with the same rhythm and most of the time the same lyrics, but on a different note. A vocal harmony usually has a lower volume to make sure it does not disturb the lead vocals.

In order to create a vocal harmony, you need to know the chords of the melody. You can find them by playing the chords on your favorite instrument (or find them online). These chords are made of several notes together.

Most of the time, the chord is made of 3 notes together : the fundamental, the third (4 semi-tones above, 3 if the chord is minor) and the fifth (7 semi-tones above). For instance, an F would have F as a fundamental, an A as a third and C as a fifth. Doing a vocal harmony for an F will then be about singing an A to get the third or a C for the fifth.

By extension, a G chord is composed of a G, a B (third) and a D (fifth). To harmonize the lead vocals in G, you can either sing the B or the D.

This is just a basic harmony, and many of them can be found to create a richer harmony. However, this technique is a first step towards more complicated patterns (and you probably won't need to get there to find a great harmony).

In addition, training your ear to recognize and build harmonies is necessary to master this technique. Indeed, karaoke is an ideal way to do so, allowing you to add your voice on top of the lead vocals and try different patterns according to your taste and mood.

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