What Is Barbershop?

Today's barbershop is not your grandfather's (or great-grandfather's) barbershop, but the principles remain the same. Today, the songs come from many genres, including modern pop and rock, jazz and old standards, Broadway musicals and gospel—even classical—arranged using a certain set of chords.

Barbershop is a cappella (unaccompanied), four-part harmony built around a melody. The a cappella style and the ear training necessary for independent part singing is a very challenging but rewarding accomplishment. When the music is sung accurately and with good breath support and vocal technique, barbershop harmony produces overtone vibrations that create a unique, resonant ring.

Vibrato, a hallmark of many other music styles, is used minimally. Wide, obvious vibrato tends to hamper the chord "lock and ring" and the expanded sound characteristic of barbershop harmony.

Women of all backgrounds and skill levels can learn to sing barbershop and become chorus members. It's the coming together of unique voices, talents and experiences that creates the space for an exciting ensemble.


You need to be able to:

•      Sing in tune.

•      Hear those around you and blend your voice with theirs. 

•      Hold your own part. In a barbershop ensemble, you often are singing next to someone who isn’t singing the same notes as you.

You should:

•      Have a home practice plan. Practice equals improvement. Do it on a regular basis—reap the benefits.

•      Do a vocal warm-up routine at home before you practice. Depending on what you choose to use for warm-ups, you can specifically work on many different skills at once (for example: flexibility, range, breath control, dynamic/volume control, etc.). 


Many of us are familiar with SATB or SSAA choral music. The melody is usually in the Soprano I line, above the others. The voice parts in barbershop harmony—lead, tenor, baritone and bass—are a bit different from other vocal styles. The tenor and lead read from the treble (top) clef and the baritones and basses from the bass (bottom) clef, but they sing an octave higher than written.


Pitch Pipe Magazine

If you want to stay informed of the all the happenings of the female barbershop music scene, and learn more about barbershop music,  subscribe to Pitch Pipe, which is put out by Sweet Adelines International each quarter. It's full of news, reviews, and previews of coming events and competitions.


History of Sweet Adelines International

After World War II, barbershop singing was growing increasingly popular for men. In 1945, a small group of women wanted to participate in the chord-ringing, fun-filled harmony that the men were singing. So these women organized "Sweet Adelines in America." From its humble beginnings in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Sweet Adelines International, as it is now called, has grown to a membership of almost 30,000 women in countries all across the globe.

© 2018 Harmony Heartland Region 4
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