Most people can sing barbershop, but it is challenging to do it well. Barbershop harmony is an a cappella style that is sung in four parts, unaccompanied. Even though the arrangements are often built on simple melodies that are relatively easy to sing, singing cappella and having the ear training necessary for independent part singing, make it one of the most challenging and rewarding accomplishments of a vocal ensemble. Well sung barbershop demands good vocal production, unity, matched vowels and resonance and balance between parts.
With a steady tone production (wall of sound), managed with good breath support, with balanced, well resonating and tuned chords, overtones are created, generating the rich ringing “barbershop sound” that is so unique for this art form. Add to this, artistry aiming at eliciting the most beautiful potential of an arrangement, and you get music that gives you goose bumps and tremendous joy. The message of the songs are enhanced with character, costume and choreography, all for the purpose of giving the fullest musical and artistic experience possible, to the audience.
Each year offer opportunities to compete with other choruses and quartets in our organization, with the potential of qualifying for international competition in North America. The four judging categories (sound, music, expression and showmanship) gives each group a clear assessment of which level they are at in their development. The judging categories are valuable tools in giving the audience the fullest experience possible.
The melody line is not in the top, like in many other choral forms, but in the middle of the chord. Most women can find a range that fits them:
Tenor is the highest singing harmony part, consistently sung above the melody (the lead) and she sings with a light, soft and clear tone, in a range usually between g above middle c and up to high f. A tenor compliments the lead without overshadowing the lead (not to be compared to a classical soprano).
Lead is the melody part, sung with clarity, warmth and authority and not too much vibrato. The range is usually like that of a 2:nd Soprano (from g or a below middle c, to high c). The lead is mainly responsible for the emotional communication and interpretation of the song.
Baritone has about the same range as a lead, but is sometimes above, sometimes below the melody line, filling out the chord with the fourth note. She provides the “glue” for locking the chords. Since the baritone line is winding around the lead line, they need to constantly adjust their balance depending on what position they have in the chord.
Bass is the lowest harmony part, sung with a rich, warm and resonant voice, often from E flat below middle c and up to g above middle c (lika a 2:nd alto or contralto). The bass part provides the foundation of the chord and needs to be sung with more volume and authority.
In a barbershop arrangement the baritone and bass lines are written in the bass clef, but they are sung an octave higher than written. This is due to the tight voicings and to make it visually easier to read.
The barbershop cone
Barbershop harmonies have a different balance than the cylindrical SATB, in that our top voices sing with less weight and intensity than our lower voices. This is called the barbershop cone. This way of balancing the chords is necessary to produce the rich, ringing barbershop sound.
The image illustrates the balance in volume that is strived for in barbershop singing.