Learning how to sing harmony vocals

I would love to be able to sing a second melody. I am normally able to hold a tune well enough and I am also a decent enough musician to be able to create the harmony line if there isn’t one already. However, the problem is that I am not able to stick to my melody line when singing with someone else. I either end up completely out of tune or I find myself signing in unison with the other person. Any ideas on how best to work in this? Are there any apps or website? Any techniques? Or is it just practice?

I’m not much of a musician or singer, so you’ll likely get much better advice than mine, but I have a friend who’s a musician, and before marriage and kids we used to hang out more, singing and playing guitar just for fun. We had a few harmony songs we’d attempt. He’s a much better musician than me, and I found it very difficult not switching up to his melody line, but he said I did a good job keeping the harmony.

All I did was practice singing the harmony part on my own until it became second nature- practice makes perfect. Then when you sing with someone else focus on your voice and not theirs-- or focus on what your voices sound like together, in harmony.

This. I’m a compete hack as a musician, but I’ve sung in a few choirs and musicals. In a choir, a beginner can usually listen to all the same people singing the same part around them. In a musical, on a crowded stage you may be surrounded by folks singing different parts. You need to really know your part, and the only way is to sing it over and over on your own, preferably to the backing track.

So practice alone, and if you can read music even a little bit, having the sheet music to follow while singing together can make things much easier.

Practice things like rounds — row row row your boad, frere jacques — are you able to keep singing your melody line while other people are singing something different (technically the same thing but one more measures ahead or behind you)? It’s an easy intro to singing in harmony. We teach little kids to do it, after all!

You need to either be at the point where you can memorize and sing your harmony part by itself, on your own, or else be able to read your part and sing what’s written without it needing to be the top part or the part that everyone else you can hear is singing along with you.

There are oodles and oodles of practice videos on YouTube for choir people to learn their own parts. Pick out some simple ones and see if you can sing your designated part while the recording is playing back all the parts (with your part optionally emphasized). Vivaldi’s Gloria is a good one, tuneful lines for all the parts and pretty orthodox, guessable chord changes throughout.

I sing backup hours for hours every day (no, it’s not my job, I’m just singing around the house/in the car/on a bike/along with muzak in a store).

So it’s been hard for me to think of advice to give, because it now comes so automatically to me.

But here goes: Start out by singing along with songs that have a strong backup vocal, so you’ve got a solid guide to follow. Analyze WHY the backup singer is picking those notes (or better yet, find a duet with “close harmony”).

Ah, close harmony… listen to what happens to the sound of two voices a third or a fifth apart (main singer=C, backup singing an E or G). There are actually overtones set up as the sound waves interact. Learn to hear those (eventually, they’ll trigger something like awe in you), and you’ll adjust your pitch to maintain it … and not stray off your melodic line.

Before I started working from home, I was part of a vocal group at work. Our conductor showed each of us on the sheet music where our parts are.

I already am in awe. I just love good harmonies, they can move me to tears.

Thanks for your (plural, to all posters) advice.

This for example:


And this is me attempting harmonies for the opening lines. A bit wobbly. But you are right, the way I went about it there was just to memorize my melody really really well.

(Now my profile pic will make sense at least.)

There are often supposed to be some “rules” Voice leading - Wikipedia which keep the voices smooth and independent. For example, voices should not leap around too much or cross each other, or move in parallel fifths or octaves or otherwise merge together.

That lady on the right seems to have a bunch of coins sticking to her head.

She’s probably had the COVID vaccine.

Practice, practice, practice.

Making up harmonies on the fly is difficult. Try walking before you run - find other harmonies to follow. If you can read music, get sheet music with the harmonies; pick out your line on the piano (or a piano app); if you don’t read music at all, find songs with strong harmonies that you can sing with. These are ways to teach yourself how to pick a harmony out of a song. As you’re doing this, you’re also learning what makes an effective harmony, how it fits into the chords, how it should progress. That’s when you can start making your own harmonies. And even then, you’re going to make mistakes; practice the song again and again and again.

Some of it is a natural “ear”; I’m convinced it can be learned.

Why the directions to Carnegie Hall?


Isn’t that what all singers aspire to?