How to figure out vocal harmony parts

Written by stan mack
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A vocal harmony happens when two people simultaneously sing two melodies in the same scale, forming chords (more than one note played at the same time). But not all notes sound good together. A basic understanding of how chords are formed will go a long way to helping you figure out vocal harmony parts. But even a novice can test the waters of vocal harmony construction. All you have to do is listen carefully to the notes and, one by one, match each note of your melody with a harmony note.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

Things you need

  • Song melody
  • Keyboard or piano
  • Accompanying singers

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  1. 1

    Learn the core melody. It is the sequence of main notes that make up the basic structure of the song. For example, try whistling a simple folk tune that you know well. Each note you whistle makes up part of the overall melody.

  2. 2

    Play the melody on a keyboard or piano. If you do not have one, you can use an online virtual keyboard. Write down the notes you play.

  3. 3

    Compare the notes you have written down to a list of musical scales. Rule out any musical scales that do not contain the notes you wrote down. You will be left with just a few scales that contain all your notes. Your melody belongs to one of these scales, so the harmony notes will be found there as well.

  4. 4

    Ask a friend to play the melody while you play notes from each of the possible scales. Decide which scale sounds best for accompanying your melody. Choose the scale that sounds the best to you.

  5. 5

    Find the harmony notes. Match the notes of the core melody to other notes in whichever scale you have selected. This will take a lot of experimentation. If you want a droning sound, only pick one or two notes from the scale. If you want a dark sound, choose notes that sound like they clash a little. If you want a bright sound, choose lots of different notes that blend well.

  6. 6

    Determine which of the singers will sing certain notes. For example, if one of your singers has a deep, baritone voice, ask that person to sing the low notes.

  7. 7

    Practice singing the main melody while others sing the harmony. Allow everyone to experiment a bit. Over time, the two parts will merge together as everyone gets comfortable with their part.

Tips and warnings

  • In the end, your best guide is your ear. If two notes sound bad together, drop one. If they sound good, keep them together. Over time you will develop an ability to pick out harmony notes quickly.

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