Vocal Harmonies Can Add Excitement

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.
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Background singersVocal harmonies are a great way to add that all-important sense of variety and energy to your musical performance. But using vocal harmonies usually doesn’t, indeed shouldn’t, mean that you use them all the time. You need to be judicious and careful about how and when you add harmonies to your melody. I’ve got some ideas for you to consider that can add excitement to your song.

Three part harmony is the kind that gives you a very full and complete sense of the harmony, since three parts (melody and two other) will cover all the notes of most chords.

But there’s no need to always be giving full chords. And in fact, sometimes there can be listener fatigue that sets in if they aren’t given a moment or two of unaccompanied melody.

Here are some basics to keep in mind when harmonizing your melody. I’ve given these suggestions in previous blog postings, but they definitely bear repeating.

  1. If the melody dwells in and around the tonic note (i.e., the key note), consider adding an upper harmony part that stays mostly a 3rd higher than the melody.
  2. If the melody dwells in and around the dominant note (i.e., the fifth note of the key), consider adding a lower harmony part that stays mostly a 3rd lower than the melody.
  3. Three part harmony adds a nice sense of fullness to the vocal sound. While you can use your ears and experiment to do 2-part harmony, 3-part may require a bit more understanding of chord structure. But in general, here’s what will work nicely: Add a harmony above and one below the melody by using the tones of the chords you’re using. Then add passing tones to connect each voice’s part, so that they don’t have to jump from one chord tone to the next.
  4. Constant vocal harmony becomes tiring; Use your discretion when adding harmonies, and save them for moments where you need to increase energy, like the chorus of your song.
  5. If your chorus melody is identical to your verse melody, adding harmonies to the chorus is a great idea.
  6. Using harmony on one isolated word within your melody will draw attention to that word, and can be a great way to direct your audience’s attention to certain aspects of your lyric.

Keep in mind that adding one harmonizing line to a melody works best if both lines move generally (not necessarily always) in the same direction. And in such a case, dwelling on the interval of a 3rd or a 6ths works best. Dwelling on 4ths or 5ths give a stark sound that can add an edgy quality to the music.

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