POLL: Singing harmony

As I’ve mentioned probably too many times, I go to a weekly open mic night with friends. More often than not what I do is sing harmony to someone on lead, to the point that I have a nickname of “harmony trollop.” Sometimes, for me, it’s much more satisfying to create a neat or just pretty harmony rather than sing melody. I do it in the car, in the shower, in my head walking around the mall, etc. I’ve realized there are songs I particularly enjoy harmonizing to, especially if it means adding a third harmony. These songs include:

“Anybody Else But Me” - The Odds

“Fred Jones, part 2” - Ben Folds

“Mystery” - Indigo Girls

“Love’s Recovery” - Indigo Girls (actually, most IG songs)

“Ticket to Ride” - The Beatles

So my questions for you are:

  1. If you are someone that can harmonize without any trouble, do you prefer to do that, given the choice of that or melody?

  2. Do you have particular songs that you like to add harmonies to?

  3. Do you have any fun stories about singing harmony? (I have a fond memory of an impromptu “Amazing Grace” in three part harmony with 2 guys at a party, all of us properly drunk.)

  4. If you do karaoke, do you find yourself doing harmony from your seat along with whomever is up singing?

Yeah, I’m a dork. What’s it to ya? :stuck_out_tongue:

Now that I’m officially an alto after mis-spending my younger days as a first soprano, I live for harmony. On what songs? Every song. If I’m alone in the car, I constantly sing the standard harmony or write my own: Hey, the car is my private recording studio! If I’m singing in public, I hate, hate, hate having to stick to the melody, and the choir director knows this about me! I don’t do karaoke, though…don’t run with that crowd! When singing hymns I try to stick to the standard practice of first verse unison, next verses harmony, last verse unison because that’s when the organist vamps. If she sticks to the score, I switch back to harmony! But on rock 'n roll, I was born to be a back-up singer!

1) If you are someone that can harmonize without any trouble, do you prefer to do that, given the choice of that or melody?

Even if it’s a song in which the melody is in my range, I always slip into harmony whether I want to or not.

2) Do you have particular songs that you like to add harmonies to?

I’ll Fly Away.
Omitting the other questions. No stories and I don’t do karaoke.

  1. I can only harmonize above the melody, not below the melody (unless I’m surrounded by an entire alto section doing that - and even then, it’s a struggle). The problem is that I’m a very low alto (hell, my range most closely matches tenor range - but most choir/choral/music directors really, really want women to sing alto at lowest). So I don’t get the chance to play that much when other people are listening.

But in the car…

I am a hack of a singer and can barely get the melody out, so that is what I sing. My wife, however has a beautiful voice, a natural knack for harmonies and an introverted nature. She is constantly adding harmonies to songs on the radio and when I sing - I dig it.

I developed the ability to sing harmony at a very young age. My mom and I would sing songs in the car on long drives. She’d sing the melody, I’d sing the harmony. I don’t do karaoke, but I record my own multitrack demos and play all the instruments and sing all the voices. I’ve got a demo of The Kinks’ “Waterloo Sunset” on which I am singing 9 vocal parts. I can’t hear a melody without also hearing the harmonies that go with it. My biggest obstacle now is that I’m a baritone. Sometimes I would almost give anything to have been a tenor. If that’d happened, I would have been a singer for a living. I’ve got the phrasing and the breathing and the expression thing down, but my highest note before having an aneurysm is F#, just above Middle C. There is little or no market for baritone lead singers…

Compulsive harmony singer checking in.

(1) definitely! I almost always harmonize.

(2) Yes, but you haven’t heard of most of them. But I often find myself harmonizing to songs I’ve never heard before.

(3) Singing along once, from the front row, with some friends who were performing a folk concert. At the break, they told me that at first they thought it was some kind of weird feedback, but then they realized that it was in tune! And then they saw me singing and put it together.

(4) Never done karaoke. We go to a lot of folk-type concerts and I get my singing kick there.

As an alto (okay, I sometimes sang tenor in high school, but I’m still a girl, dammit), I love the harmony. There are a lot of songs out there where the melody just isn’t in my range.

When I’m in the car, I’ll usually take the low part in any Indigo Girls song, regardless of melody or harmony, just because it feels best. My best friend and I do kickass renditions of “Closer to Fine” and “Ghost” at karaoke, and I’m forcing her to learn the words to “Least Complicated.”

There’s a lot of songs I add impromptu harmonies to, but for some reason, I usually go a third higher than the melody, unless the song was too high to start with. And I definitely have a tendency to harmonize from my seat at karaoke, but since I’m almost part of the “karaoke establishment” at my usual bars, somebody just drags me up to do the backup at the second mic.

I just realized I’m answering all the questions out of order, but I’m sure nobody cares. :wink: Anyhow, I do have several spontaneous-harmony stories, my favorite being an eight-part spur-of-the-moment rendition of the Star Spangled Banner at four in the morning on a raft in the middle of a river the night of my senior prom. :slight_smile:

I am not great at singing harmony but always seemed called to when listening to David Bowie. Don’t know why.

There is a guy by the name of Dan Reeder who so loved singing harmony that he recorded his own album of himself singing multipart harmonies with himself. To take things to the next level of weird he did all this with homemade recording equipment and homemade instruments.

Funny thing is that it’s a fun record and great to sing along with. Here’s more info: http://www.ohboy.com/danreeder.html

The medieval recreationist group I’m in (the SCA) has a lot of standard sing-along songs, and there’s been a groundswell of interest for people who are able to to sing harmony. We’ve got a fair number of talented people in our local group and region, and sometimes you can’t hear the melody for all the harmony going on…

**1) If you are someone that can harmonize without any trouble, do you prefer to do that, given the choice of that or melody? **

Usually. Depends if I’m singing with someone else who harmonizes, in which case I tend to lead as I have a strong voice.

**2) Do you have particular songs that you like to add harmonies to?

Pretty much everything. My favourite is the harmony I devised for Skating Away by Jethro Tull. I’ve found that it’s a skill that diminishes when I don’t use it often, though.

3) Do you have any fun stories about singing harmony? (I have a fond memory of an impromptu “Amazing Grace” in three part harmony with 2 guys at a party, all of us properly drunk.)

I used to sing in an a capella group of four guys and four girls. We got on the radio and everything. It was a laugh, though no amusing incidents. I did a ‘natural voice’ course where we learned some African and Eastern European songs with really unusual harmonies. A few years later I managed to persuade a load of friends to learn these songs in four-part, and we used to do them at parties when we drunk.

My brother and I have very compatible voices, and really enjoy singing together. A few years ago we were at our grandfather’s house, just hanging out reading the newspapers in silence, when we both spontaneously started singing the same song… in the same key… in harmony… halfway through the second verse. Extremely weird.

**4) If you do karaoke, do you find yourself doing harmony from your seat along with whomever is up singing? **


Can you imagine all of us at a Dopefest together? That’d kick serious ass, lol.

You reminded me of something else I wanted to ask. How many of you find it easier to sing the harmony above rather than below? For a long time I only sang above, but I think switching to alto at the end of high school helped me learn how to hear harmonies below and now I do that a lot. At open mic last week, I sang a harmony below to Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel.” A musician friend-of-a-friend complimented me on my harmonizing, and said something to the effect of lower harmonies being rare or unusual.

Is it generally considered harder to do a harmony below the melody? I mean sometimes it just depends on where the melody sits in my range, where it would be too hard to sing above it anyway, but I’m really curious about this now.

I also find it much, much easier to harmonize above the melody, whether or not the harmonies are something I can reach. I can usually do simple thirds, but that’s about it; I don’t usually ‘hear’ the low harmonies unless they’re already being sung or played. I sang alto in an SSA choir (meaning that I was in the low section - it was a girls’ school) in high school, but I still don’t hear those harmonies most of the time. My father and brother, who hear (in a harmonic sense) much better than I do, also find it much easier to go higher than lower, even though they’re basses.

I type this while harmonizing to Coldplay’s Clocks, mostly high, but doing low harmony during the ‘you-oo are’ part. With a few exceptions of songs I’m confident of, I only sing harmony either very softly when with friends, or at the top of my lungs by myself in the car or my apartment.

My mom has a very, very beautiful voice and was always being called upon to sing at church functions, etc. In her youth she had offers to go professional, but she chickened out or decided it wasn’t for her.

Anyway, singing and music was sort of a given in our household. As a kid I was usually in some church choir group. I remember one such group which ruined me for soprano and almost for all singing. The choir leader was such a taskmaster, he made it all miserable. I’m borderline soprano/alto anyway, so being forced to sing too high for way too long, with no break, kind of made me hate singing totally.

But gradually I realized that I liked alto; it was more comfortable for me, and that singing harmony was really fun. So that’s the only way I can derive any pleasure from singing—from figuring out the harmony.

I don’t have any great talent for picking out the harmony, but I sometimes can do it by ear. Usually, however, I need sheet music to follow along—it really helps me get my bearings and get started. So usually I sing alto at church, where we have the hymnals to read (which, of course, have the sheet music included). I really enjoy that. I’m also good at traditional Christmas carols—I’ve got most of the harmony to most Christmas carols memorized by now.

When I’m listening to music, I sing harmony sometimes. (I am right now, actually.) I’m a soprano, so it’s always above the melody. However, I’m incredibly unconfident about my harmonizing ability, so I’ve never really tried it in public.

I try to harmonize nearly every song, and find myself doing it unconsciously many times. What’s fun is when I’m singing harmony to some song, only to realize the melody isn’t playing; that must make me sound quite tone deaf! (Thankfully, no more doing it in public, that stage of my life ended in my teenage years.)

If the style of music is suitable for it, I prefer to harmonize. I’m a baritone, and have a voice that’s more suitable for blending than for leading a piece of music, and I find it much easier to find the bottom note of the implied chord and sing that, then to try to follow the melody note-for-note.

I’m a chanter at my church, and we perform a lot of Kievan chant. There are some set pieces that have written out harmony, but most of the stuff we sing is ultimately based off the Russian obikhod, which means that most of our harmonizations are completely improvised as we sing from a text. The Kievan sticheron melody in tone 2 (a tone being one of the 8 groups of melodies in any chant style that ultimately derived its theory from Syriac chant; it’s equivalent to the Western mode) is my absolute favorite to sing, especially when it’s just me and the soprano; the traditional harmonization has the soprano and bass line forming some very nice textures, and the melody doesn’t get old even after you’ve sung it for 10 stichera in a row.

Whenever we do Byzantine chant, I get to be one of the ison (drone) singers, which isn’t technically harmony, I suppose, but it’s almost like a precessor to it, as the drone moves according to what tetrachord one is in in the scale. Tone 1 is my favorite there, as it has a very solemn and heavy feel to it, but doesn’t have a lot of the funky microtonal intervals that one has to keep track of in certain other tones.

In my calculus class my senior year of high school several of us guys would on occasion spontaneously start singing “The Balls Song”, which was a totally improvised barbershop-style piece whose lyrics consisted solely of the word “balls”. In retrospect, spending valuable thought processes on stuff like this may be one reason why I failed that class.

Alas, I have never sung karaoke, nor attended an event where this was taking place.

When I originally posted to this thread, I hadn’t thought of any humorous stories about singing harmony, but now I’ve remembered a couple.

Once, after coming out of a bar where there was karaoke going on, on the walk back to the car, I had to virtually browbeat them into it, but I got 5 guys to sing Billy Joel’s “The Longest Time” as we walked down the street. They didn’t want to do it, but eventually they came around, and I have sort of fuzzy memories of it sounding really good! As the song progressed, they all got less self-conscious, and really got into it. People passing by didn’t look at us like we were nuts, rather, we finished to rounds of applause from up and down the block, both sides of the street.

Another time, with one of the same friends and another set of guys, we used to have musical afternoons at his house on Sundays. I’d take my guitar and we would sing. The best performance we ever gave was to James Taylor’s version of “Handy Man”. I gotta tell ya, when they all came in singing the three-part harmony on the choruses, it gave us goosebumps!