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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

How to Sing Harmonies

Hi there,

I've worked with lots of great lead singers who say they can't sing harmonies. I reckon if you can sing at all then you can absolutely learn to sing harmony. A music teacher would probably train you in intervals, but I'm going to leave that to the pedagogs and give you tips from the shop floor instead.

1. Treat a harmony like a shy melody.
A good backing singer will be able to pick the obvious harmonies to a melody out of the air and won't need to be told what notes to sing exactly. But if that doesn't come naturally to you (yet), just treat your harmony line like a melody – learn it by itself as a tune and then slip it in with the melody once it's in your head. Go to a site like where you can customize karaoke files and download your song with the lead vocal muted. Listen to that over and over. Once you've got that down, download the track again, this time adding the lead vocal too. If the lead vocal is not pulling you away from your part, you've got it! To truly test yourself, download the entire track with everything bar your backing vocal line and slip it in yourself as you sing along.

2. Tune in on the Wavelength
You probably sing along to the melody of songs on the radio - that's what they're designed for after all. Try to tune into a backing vocal line instead – chances are it will repeat, so by the end of the song the harmony will start to grab your ears. The more you tune your ear to the 'other' vocal lines in songs, the more obvious they become, the more patterns you'll start to notice and the easier it will be to sing harmonies yourself.

3. Make the Bass your Buddy
Some people practise the harmonies at home and feel secure but then imperfect stage sound, nerves and booming Marshall stacks throw them off the scent when it most matters. Ask the sound engineer to put some bass guitar in your foldback wedge. While the guitars and pianos are off playing all sorts of fancy shmancy lines that might throw you, the bass player is playing one note at a time and that note will sometimes be yours.

K-PopStars Girls' Generation, know all about Taking Off.
4. Getting a Smooth Take Off
Lift offs and landings are nerve wracking, right? But when a plane reaches its cruising altitude, it and we all breathe easier. As a harmony singer, you need to get the first line right, then once you're in the zone it's pretty easy to stay there. So your first note is crucial. Listen to the intro of the song when you're practising – maybe the lead singer passes by your starting note on the way to the chorus. Keep it in your head until you need it so it you're not just grasping for it out of the blue. Repetition of course always helps - and it will create muscle memory. You need to listen and sing along with your part until it sticks. Then, even if you start freaking out and reaching for your oxygen mask on the big day, you can just breathe and trust that your voice actually knows where to go.

See you next time,

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