What is Barbershop Music?

Barbershop music ...

  • Is sung a-cappella, that is, without accompaniment
  • Is sung in four parts:
    • Lead – a second tenor voice that usually sings the melody
    • Tenor – a first tenor, or counter tenor voice that sings harmony above the melody
    • Bass – a bass, or deep baritone voice that sings underlying harmony notes, typically roots and fifths of the chord
    • Baritone – a baritone, or second tenor voice that fills in harmony notes not sung by the other parts; these harmonies can be above or below the melody line
  • Focuses on songs anyone can sing – while some difficult pieces are not out of the question, good barbershop can be sung by almost any amateur voice
  • Produces sounds that “ring” – the beauty of the human voice is that, when certain conditions are met, overtones are produced that enhance the fullness and brilliance of the sound (the sum is greater than the parts).  These conditions include:
    • Singing in tune – not going flat or sharp unintentionally
    • Matching vowels – striving to match vowel sounds across the four parts enhances the “ring”
    • Balancing chords – ensuring that the melody is predominant, and that the surrounding harmonies are properly balanced with respect to the chord at hand
  • Employs vocal and visual enhancements – whether through vocal colour, dynamics, or visual choreography, anything that makes the song more ‘believable’, is a good thing
  • Includes songs from different periods - for example, arrangements of songs from musical shows (like "The Phantom of the Opera") and popular music from the 20th century (Beatles, Queen, Manhattan Transfer, The Beach Boys, etc.)