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Vocal Harmony Opinions

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by denhou1974, Mar 14, 2008.

  1. denhou1974


    Mar 6, 2008
    I've played bass for about 15 years. Just now getting into singing backups.

    I'm currently playing in a rock cover band (Bon Jovi, ACDC, Journey, etc). The lead singer keeps telling me that I'm singing 'her' line rather than harmonizing. This may be true but it doesn't neccesarily sound bad because obviously our voices are different tones. It just doesn't make sense to harmonize every backing vocal. Opinions?
  2. I-Love-Ratm


    Feb 24, 2003
    Good harmonies in a cover band can really push the band to the next level in my opinion.It is tough to sing harmonies at times when you're not use to singing.At rehearsal maybe two of ye should sit down and go through the harmonies song by song?
  3. kesslari

    kesslari Groovin' with the Big Dogs Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 21, 2007
    Santa Cruz Mtns, California
    Lark in the Morning Instructional Videos; Audix Microphones
    Sometimes doubling a line (singing the same notes in a different octave) works.
    Try workout out some low harmonies, though, and then you can do the one that works best, rather than the one that comes most naturally.

    Big +1 to that.
  4. denhou1974


    Mar 6, 2008
    I agree. We did work on them at the last rehearsal. I'm just wondering if singing the same 'line' is really all that bad. I'm pretty good at doing that, just not harmonizing (yet).
  5. scottbass

    scottbass Bass lines like a big, funky giant

    Jul 13, 2004
    Southern MN
    +1. The only way to be a better singer is to practice. Practice together without instruments, together with instruments, practice alone, sing along with the recording, etc.

    And it is MUCH harder for a bass player to sing harmonies while also playing, IMHO. Guitar players slip into rhythm guitar mode, playing chords (or less!) while they sing. Same with keyboardists. We bass players have to play at least the root note, and that's usually NOT the note you're trying to sing at the same time. And it takes real skill AND practice to be able to play a moving bass line while singing a different harmony part.

    Don't be mad at your lead singer - she's right. Sometimes it is OK to double the lead vocals an octave down, but most of the time it is better to sing a different harmony part. And it's true, good harmonies are what make a cover band stand above the rest, talent-wise.
  6. We have practice time where we all sing a cappela to fix harmonies. 2 people singing the same thing in a different tone will sound OK, but add a third or fourth and it will sound muddy quickly.
  7. Wm. E. Evans

    Wm. E. Evans

    Jul 19, 2007
    Southeast PA
    Singing as a male with a female lead can be tricky too blend wise; I find that when harmonizing with our female lead I need to sing a 6th below melody to get a balanced, blended sound (melody down an octave, then up a 3rd, if that makes sense). This can be really tough to hear, and it is tempting to just sing the melody down an octave as it's usually easier.

    Another temptation is to sing above the melody (which is the way things are usually recorded with the singer double tracking or using a harmonizer), but I find this usually leads to imbalance due to singing the harmony too loud or singing in falsetto [light neutral in CVT; I'm trolling for ric3121 :ninja:].

    A few suggestions (since I attempt this on a weekly basis at rehearsal);

    1) Practice a lot (while in the car, for instance); learn the lead line (down an octave if necessary) and then practice singing harmony.

    2) Get your guitarist to sing. Seriously, it's 100 times easier to play rhythm guitar and sing than it is bass and he has no excuse (unless he's mute).

    3) Do vocal only rehearsal time with only singing members at reduced tempos if necessary to try to get it sounding tight.

    4) Rule of thumb that I've found works; female above male, thinner voice over thicker voice. You wouldn't want Barry White (RIP) singing high harmony over your average pop female vocalist...
  8. denhou1974


    Mar 6, 2008
    Excellent advice, guys. Thanks!
  9. Going through the same thing in my band. So here is my question: Is an octave above the melody line considered a harmony? Or is that still unison?
  10. Wm. E. Evans

    Wm. E. Evans

    Jul 19, 2007
    Southeast PA
    No, it's doubling at the octave. :) It's a slightly different effect than singing in unision. Compare (see YouTube) "Pop Song '89" by REM (studio version here: , unison). Slightly different effect; depends on what you're going for...
  11. bassbrock


    Feb 20, 2007
    Callahan, FL
    I've found that it is easier to work out harmonies without background music.

    Just have the keyboard player or the gui****ist strum the root note every now and then to keep you in key while you try to sing the song.
  12. You may want to ensure that you have a well-trained technician at the soundboard as well... I'm sure that your lead vocalist will want the harmony in the background, and you'll be focused on a lot of other things until harmony starts becoming second-nature to you!
  13. Jim Carr

    Jim Carr Dr. Jim Gold Supporting Member

    Jan 21, 2006
    Denton, TX or Kailua, HI
    fEARful Kool-Aid dispensing liberal academic card-carrying union member Musicians Local 72-147
    There are lots of styles of vocal harmony, but the only real rule is that if it sounds good, it is good.

    However, IMHO, octave doubling (as a vocal harmony) is an even weaker sound than unison doubling. Vocal harmony lines need to be built of other chord tones, dissonances and passing tones that make a whole greater than the parts. :cool:
  14. I think unison vocals sound bad 90% of the time- especially if they're supposed to be harmonies. It's like you can't pull off the harmonies. Most backing vocals are harmonies...

    I'm pretty decent at picking out a harmony. What I'm not good at is staying with that harmony. If you're the only one doing backup vocals, you can grab a harmony spot and jump around with it. If you're doing 3-4 part harmonies, you actually need to learn a part, not just grab the harmony part that pops into your head.

    The best thing you can do is sing along with the radio or whatever in the car. "Hear" that harmony, and sing it, until you can think it.

    I don't know much theory. I don't understand a lot of the math-based application of theory. I know I can hear stuff, and I can adjust what I'm doing to match what I "hear." I don't know how much theory you have, but if you've been playing for 15 years- you've heard all this stuff before and probably done it on your instrument. The trick is to learn it, apply it to vocals and to do it- then do it while playing. There's gonna be stuff you're not going to be able to pull off. There's songs I've not been able to do, despite working on them for years (and there's the drawback to doing things "by ear").

    Get it out of your head about excuses why you're not doing the harmonies ("I'm stil learning""it doesn't make sense to harmonize every backing vocal") and do it.
  15. Wm. E. Evans

    Wm. E. Evans

    Jul 19, 2007
    Southeast PA
    Alternately, you could get a floor-based harmonizer unit (I think T.C. electronics makes one). I think this is what a lot of 80's hair metal used anyway (Def Leppard was particularly an offender).:) On the same note, singing harmony with someone using a harmonizer is a recipe for disaster...

    With AC/DC, I'm guessing energy would probably be more important than pitch; check out what they can get away with live for backing vox:
  16. eedre


    Feb 26, 2007
    St. Louis,MO
    If you're singing the same thing but at a lower range, you aren't harmonizing!
  17. Deacon_Blues


    Feb 11, 2007
    Doubling an octave down might work. Sometimes. But the best advice here is IMO the octave down + a third, or whatever note in that range. Find chord tones. If you can find the 2nd, it sounds great sometimes as well.

    Sometimes if the lead melody gets lower, you might try a third up with a powerful voice. It often sounds the best, at least if the lead singer also uses a powerful voice.
  19. jive1

    jive1 Commercial User

    Jan 16, 2003
    Owner/Retailer: Jive Sound
    From the singer's point of view, I don't want someone singing in unison if they are off pitch or off time. What happens is that you have to either alter the melody line to match the backup, sing out of key/time, or both. Doing that can take a vocalist out of their comfort zone.
  20. Unisons and octaves are fairly harmonically weak to begin with, and once you consider that your pitch, timing, and articulation have to really be spot on I'd say it's time to get comfortable singing harmonies.

    Start critically listening to the vocal harmonies on recordings, if you can't easily pick them up, try transcribing both (or all 9) vocal parts. Determine which intervals are being sung and note how the different intervals/inversions sound and feel. Find some easy songs to use for interval references until you get comfortable finding the relative pitches on your own.

    The double bonus is that all of these ideas will help your bass playing (especially by-ear transcription and sightreading) a bunch, too.

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