Do you have trouble hearing or singing harmonies? Creating harmony with other human voices is great fun and can be a profound musical experience. If you can sing a melody in tune, you can teach your ears how to sing harmony lines as well. Like most things in music, harmony singing is a skill that can be practiced and mastered.
Here are four effective (and fun) ways to learn how to sing harmony:
1. Sing along with the harmonies of your favorite recordings
This is how I taught myself to hear harmonies. I started by singing along with harmony lines that were already present in recordings. To help myself lock into the harmony line, I would focus on the timbre of the singer’s voice. If the melody and harmony were both sung by the same voice, I would focus on hearing the highest or lowest voice (depending on whether the harmony was above or below the melody).
Once you feel confident and at ease singing along with harmonies, it’s time to try creating your own. Try harmonizing with all the vocals you listen to. The car is the perfect place to work on this skill: it’s a great use of your time. What could be more fun then singing duets with your favorite artists?
￼If you’re looking for some recordings to practice your harmony chops on, here are a few good ones:
Above the melody
Below the melody
2. Join a choir – (anything but 1st soprano)
When I first arrived at music school, I realized that the altos had better ears than I did. As a soprano, I had always sung the highest part (often the melody line) in every group and choir. I couldn’t hear harmonies below the melody. To catch up with my peers, I joined a church choir and sang alto for a year. When I was finished, my ear for harmony was much improved.
Singing harmony in a group is a great way to learn because singers with stronger ears can help guide you. As your ear develops, you can lean on the other singers in your section less and less.
3. Practice harmonic ear training exercises
Grab your guitar or sit down at a piano. Play a chord for yourself and try to pick out each chord tone. Start with major triads (root position, then add inversions). Try to sing the lowest voice first (the tonic in ￼root position). Then sing the highest note. Once you can hear the top and bottom notes, go for the middle note, which is the hardest to hear.
Jump from chord to chord, aiming for a different chord tone each time. For instance, play a C Major chord and try to sing the middle note. Then play a G Major chord and aim for the top note. Then play an E♭ Major chord and aim for the root, etc.
4. Apply your music theory knowledge
If you are having trouble hearing a harmony, you can use your theory knowledge to map out a harmony line.
For example, to find the first note of your harmony line, all you need is the first chord and the melody note. Let’s say the first chord is an A Major chord (A-C♯-E) and the melody line starts on C♯. That gives you two choices of where to start your harmony line: A or E.
Once you have a starting point, it’s much easier to find a pathway. You can even go through the song and give yourself anchor pitches on each chord change to help guide your ears.
I hope these tips on how to sing harmony inspire you to practice! Harmony singing is a great skill to add to your musical bag of tricks.