Finding the Harmony

Singing along with the radio or my personal music in the car is awesome–and yet it poses a unique challenge for me, as a person with perfect pitch. Whenever I go anywhere in the car, I challenge myself to find pretty harmony to sing along with the songs I hear, without any help from other instruments to find the “correct” note.

My Personal Experience with Vocal Harmony

With any singer, I can generally add either a harmony line below the melody line or above it, as appropriate for my vocal range. (My normal vocal range is from F-sharp below middle C to F-sharp above C above middle C, which is two octaves. I can get down to E below middle C and get up to A above C above middle C fairly comfortably, buuuuuut not all the time. :D)

I sing either soprano (high) or alto (medium-high) harmony with female singers, and either alto or tenor (medium-low) harmony with male singers. It’s kinda funny to sing harmony that goes below where a guy singer is singing, but it does happen–listen to “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor for a perfect example of a song that I sing below the melody line on.

Another song that I can do really cool harmony on is Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep”; I sing a harmony line that is generally a third above her melody, making a haunting, lovely chord (even if it does get a teensy bit close to the top of my vocal range, LOL).

Why Bother Doing This?

Firstly, it’s fun; it adds a new, personalized twist to the songs you love to sing along to. Secondly, it’s a great way to keep in practice if you’re a harmony singer in a singing group–it gets you used to picking out harmonies. Thirdly, it can train your musical ear to “hear” these harmonies better in general, whatever instrument you play, whatever kind of musical training you’ve had.

Try It At Home!

Even if you don’t have a sense of pitch that helps you make harmony on-the-fly, you can still do it using an instrument. I use a physical piano keyboard; you could also use piano sites, like Virtual Piano, or apps like LittlePiano (for Androids) and Magic Piano (for iPhones)! (Since many band and orchestra instruments are tuned differently, you’ll probably want to stick with a piano for picking out melody and harmony–I find it’s easier. But maybe that’s the pianist in me talking. LOL)

First step is to pick out the original melody. Easiest way to do this is to listen to the song in the background and then try to match the notes you hear, one at a time.

Then, you’ll want to add a second line of notes to what you’re playing, either below or above the melody–this will form your harmony line. Follow the key signature and the sharps and flats that the key has for these steps; for instance, “Rolling in the Deep” is in C minor, so the E and A will be flatted (they are the third and sixth steps in the octave, respectively), and after you hit the A-flat, you’ll go up to a B-natural for the seventh step (called a “raised seventh”).

I’ve made up a small sheet-music-style selection of the melody and proposed harmony lines from the first two lines of the chorus of “Rolling in the Deep,” below. (Please forgive the fail quality of these–this sheet music approximation was all I could do using Microsoft Paint and a laptop mouse. LOL)


This is the original melody, with no harmony put in.

This shows harmony a third above the melody, in light blue. This is what I usually sing in the car along with the song. ^_^

For those who do not read sheet music (or if the images aren’t showing up), here’s the translation for playing it on the piano.
(“Bb” = “B-flat”; “Eb” = “E-flat”)

Original Melody

“We could have had it all – ll, roll – ing in the dee – ee – eep”
(G) (Bb) (G) (Bb) (G) (C) (Bb), (Bb) (G) (Bb) (G) (C) (D) (Bb)

Proposed Harmony

“We could have had it all – ll, roll – ing in the dee – ee – eep”
(Bb) (D) (Bb) (D) (Bb) (Eb) (D), (D) (Bb) (D) (Bb) (Eb) (F) (D)

More Tips on Finding Harmony

Singing an interval of a third above the melody (like I’ve done in my example), or a third below the melody, or even singing in intervals of sixths above or below the melody line make generally pretty harmony. In some cases, you may have to change the intervals slightly for harmony that fits better in a chord (such as changing a third-above interval to a fourth-above interval so it doesn’t sound out-of-key), but otherwise it usually works out okay.

A Note (tee-hee) About Voice Timbre

If you sing this along with the song, try matching voice timbre with the singer as much as possible–if he or she sounds a little more nasal than full-throated, try to match that, or if they have a lighter, bouncier voice rather than a big, heavy sound, try matching that. If you match how they sing really well, the harmony ends up sounding like a seamless part of the song. (Matching Adele’s bell-like pronunciation of the “ee” vowel on the word “deep”, while singing the higher E-flat…chills and goosebumps. It’s COOL 8D)

Summary

If you’ve never tried finding vocal harmony before, I encourage you to try it. It may take a couple of tries (or more), but it’s something you can use to train your ear and give you a new way to enjoy your favorite songs.

(And I don’t own any rights to “Rolling in the Deep”–I used it as an example in this post because it’s a lovely song, and the chorus is easy to translate into sheet music.)

2 thoughts on “Finding the Harmony”

  1. I used to be in a singing group and I love singing but I haven’t met anyone else who is as passionate as me about it who can sing with me. I would really like to harmonise with someone. I got a lot of practice out of being in a choir and such. I am an alto-soprano, but a lot of the time I was put as alto, until my voice developed and I did soprano. I still struggle, I am more of a high alto now.

    Harmony doesn’t always follow the melody, which is where I find it difficult. I can easily sing a few semitones higher than someone and keep the changes in pitch… but when you get into more complicated stuff, ahhh.

  2. Yeah, choir definitely helped my sense of harmony, too–I’ve been in choirs consistently since I was 12 (15 years, now!), so I’ve grown to love harmony and being able to find it. 🙂 I sing mostly alto, but can do a few higher notes, especially on “good voice days.”

    And I totally agree with you on finding more complicated harmony! The places where the composer randomly makes the altos jump intervals of sevenths or from accidental to accidental…my head asplode. LOL

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