About Barbershop

Barbershop is a style of unaccompanied four-part singing in harmony as one voice to create beautiful music. The four parts are called tenorleadbaritone and bass.

One of the defining properties of the style is that the melody is sung not by the top voice, but by the lead, whose part is roughly in the range of second soprano for ladies. This allows the harmony to be built around a full-voiced melody.

The tenor, who harmonises above the melody, sings with a somewhat lighter quality than in most other styles so as not to overpower the melody.

The bass takes the low notes, usually the roots or fifths of the chords, giving barbershop harmony its characteristically ‘solid sound’.

The remaining middle notes are provided by the baritone, the ‘artful dodger’, who weaves around the lead, abandoning conventional voice leading for the sake of filling out the harmony with complete four-part chords.

The influence of barbershop music on other popular forms of singing is profound. ‘Old Blue Eyes’ himself (the great Frank Sinatra), sang in a barbershop quartet before he became famous as a singer with the Tommy Dorsey band. The vocal quartets of bands such as Dorsey’s and Glenn Miller‘s were also greatly influenced by the barbershop style. In the latter half of the 20th century, the close harmony style has been the hallmark of ‘pop’ and jazz groups such as The Beach Boys, The Four Seasons and The Four Freshmen.

Although it started in America, there are choruses and quartets singing in four-part harmony barbershop style in many countries worldwide. The repertoires of choruses include popular songs from all areas (including contemporary), as well as songs from Broadway shows, Gospel songs, spiritual and folk songs – and long may it continue to delight and unite everyone in the joy of singing – or just sitting and relaxing to the sound of voices singing in harmony.

Find more information on the Making Music website: An introduction to: Barbershop