Welcome to part III in the Harmony series. In this, the final portion, we will look at one of the simplest ways to find a vocal harmony. This little “trick” will work every time, as long as there is just you and the melody. If you add a third part, it could still work, but might require a bit of adjustment. Unlike my previous approaches, this approach is fun and easy-ha! You don’t need to really understand anything about music theory or chord structure to be able to pull it off. I always present this part last however, because I really believe that we, as singers, should be good musicians as well. I encourage you to always be growing as a singer and a musician. Although this approach is the easiest, I encourage you to work on the first two sections of this article series as well. But when you need to learn a harmony part FAST, this is the way to do it!
For this approach, you will need to keep a chorus in mind for demonstration. I typically use “Draw Me Close” by Kelly Carpenter in my classes because of the simple, yet beautiful structure of the chorus. It is also easily recognized by most everyone in my classes. What I do first is sing the melody: “You’re all I want. You’re all I’ve ever needed. etc.” Then I demonstrate that by starting a 3rd lower (3 musical scale steps), I can sing almost the exact same melody line (only very slight variation that becomes obvious as you adjust for the key signature) and it works. It sounds almost exactly like the original melody. I call this the “alternate melody.” I will then go back to the original melody line to again demonstrate how the two sound nearly identical. Then I explain that either one of these “melodies” could easily have been chose but that Mr. Carpenter chose the first.
The thing about this approach that makes it so doable is that it’s much less intimidating. You are singing a melody line that you recognize, and rather than struggle trying to find each note, you are singing an entire line, and it’s familiar. This trick can typically be used a 3rd or 4th above or below the melody. Your only job is to find the right note to start on. Then you can go!
Another way to do this, and I recommend that teams try this as an exercise regularly so that ALL of their team members can become more proficient at both harmony and improvisation, is to have a keyboardist or guitar player play the song for the vocalists, minus any melody. Have everyone simply “make-up” their own melody to the song. As long as they stay within the chord structure, anything they sing will sound good. I instruct them to stay away from the original melody notes, but aside from that the sky is the limit! They will find that they are making beautiful harmony without necessarily even trying! This is a great exercise to try for you as well. Try making up new melodies for existing songs that you know. Use the original words and rhythm. Stay within the chord structure. It will be fun and sound great.
So, to recap this series:
Listen more and sing less. Stop singing the melody. This will help you to hear the harmonies that are present in the music you generally listen to. Once you can more easily hear the harmonies, try singing along with them.
Develop vocal independence. It’s important to learn how to sing your own notes while listening to others sing theirs—especially when their note is different from yours. Do not cover or plug your ears when you are singing with others. In order to blend and mesh well with others you have to listen.
Learn to sing intervals on command. Being able to accurately sing a half step or a whole step can often mean the difference between finding the right note and the wrong note for your harmony part.
Practice with feedback. As scary as it is to review a recording of your voice—do it. It’s one of the best learning tools you have.
Practice finding an alternate melody. Anytime you get the chance, try making up your own melody to an existing song. Make sure to use the same words and rhythm.
God bless you as seek to sing and to serve Him.