Defining Barbershop Music
Barbershop music consists of songs sung in harmony in a style known as 'a capella', characterised by constant four-part chords for every melody note in a pre-dominantly homophonic texture. The voice parts are countertenor (known as tenor in barbershop circles), tenor (known as lead or melody), baritone and bass. The melody of the song is usually sung by the lead, with the tenor harmonising above the melody. The bass sings the lowest harmonizing notes, forming the foundation of the chordset, with the baritone completing the chord. The melody is not sung by the tenor to avoid awkward voice leading, except for an infrequent note or two, in tags or codas, or when some embellishing effect can be created. Occasional brief passages may be sung by fewer than four parts.
Barbershop music features songs with understandable lyrics and easily singable melodies. The songs will have a clearly defined tonal centre employing major and minor chords, including what are known as 'Barbershop Sevenths'. These are dominant and secondary dominant seventh chords that resolve primarily around the circle of fifths, and at least 30% of the chords making up a 'true' barbershop song will be Barbershop sevenths. Barbershop music also features a balanced and symmetrical form and a standard metre. The basic song and its harmonisation are embellished by the arranger to provide support of the song's theme, and to close the song effectively.
Barbershop singers adjust pitch to achieve perfectly tuned chords in just intonation, while remaining true to the established tonal centre. Artistic singing in the Barbershop style exhibits a fullness or expansion of sound, precise intonation, a high degree of vocal skill and a high level of unity and consistency within the ensemble. Ideally, these elements are natural, un-manufactured, and free from apparent effort.
The presentation of Barbershop music uses appropriate musical and visual methods to convey the theme of the song and provide the audience with an emotionally satisfying and entertaining experience. The musical and visual delivery is from the heart, believable, and sensitive to the song and its arrangement throughout. The most stylistic presentation artistically fuses the musical and visual aspects to create and sustain the illusions suggested by the music.
Musical arrangements of well-known songs are created to enable them to be sung as closely as possible to the rhythms of speech - not the rhythm that was originally written. This provides barbershop groups with the freedom to change things, as regular practice allows each syllable to be tuned separately to achieve perfect synchronisation. The result is each member of the group knowing exactly what all four voice parts will do with rhythm, vocal and facial expressions, and position on the stage.
Voice Parts in Barbershop Singing
Male voice singing is made up of four voice parts, comprising countertenor, tenor, baritone and bass.
The tenor (also known as a counter tenor) sings the highest voice part, often equivalent to the female alto or lower soprano range. This may be accomplished by singing in falsetto, or with a natural voice. Without regular training and use tenor male voices will often deepen into baritone with age.
The lead (also known as the melody) usually sings the melody of the song. The voice part is strictly tenor, carries the melody of the song with authority, clarity and with consistent quality. In four-part harmony, the lead is the second lowest voice, above the bass and baritone, but below the tenor.
The baritone voice is most commonly the type of male voice lying between bass and tenor. A bass-baritone is a voice that shares certain qualities of both the baritone and the bass, usually being capable of singing the normal baritone range, and also being able to descend well into the bass range.
The bass voice part has the deepest vocal range of the human voice. It is common for bass singers (and who have a full bass choral range) to have a speaking voice sounding higher than would be expected. For this reason, many bass singers can, with training, also sing falsetto.
The vocal skills of individual barbershop singers varies greatly, with the best singers being able to:
sing in tune and with a vocal timbre complementary with the other singers;
sing at controlled levels of volume, matching the dynamics and expression marked in the score or prescribed by the director. Each singer should be able to hear his neighbour, and not sing so loudly as to be detectable as an individual voice within the section;
to pronounce the lyrics accurately in the style specified by the director;
to monitor one's own singing and detect errors;
to stay in tune with the chorus, even in the event the chorus modulates slightly away from pitch.
When barbershop music is sung accurately in key and pitch a fifth voice part is often detectable. The harmonics produced by each voice part add up to produce loud reinforced harmonics high above any note that the group is singing. When this occurs the chord is often said to "ring".
Barbershop singing is still evolving but all four parts have equal prominence, mostly singing the same words at the same time. A-cappella often has three parts humming with one singer carrying the song, and often uses discordant chords that are generally unacceptable in barbershop singing. The only discordant chords favoured in barbershop singing are the dominant seventh, the fully diminished seventh and possibly the half-diminished seventh, while the major seventh is undesirable.
Instruments such as pianos can't be tuned for perfect chords, as perfect tuning for one key would put it slightly out of tune for the next. So each note is tuned to a compromise pitch that sounds good enough. However barbershop quartets and choruses tune a chord perfectly, because they can change their tuning immediately. They know when they are perfectly in tune because they create the fifth voice - the ringing chord.
Barbershop singers memorise their music so that they may concentrate on the music director's instructions. Having to scan music whilst singing means that the director can't have the attention required, and an inferior performance results. Consequently barbershop choruses never have music held up obscuring the director during a performance - rehearsals for performance can only start after the music and lyrics have been memorised, as improvements cannot be made until the fundamentals are in place. To aid the learning process barbershop singers often resort to teaching aids (tapes, CDs or mp3 files), where a part can be learned by listening and singing along.
We take pride in our repertoire, with music to suit all tastes and events. See below for examples of what we can sing for you.
If you have any special requests for particular pieces of music, we will be happy to adapt them for male voice style and perform therm for you at your special event.
|Alexander's Ragtime Band
|Aura Lee / Love Me Tender
|Bicycle Built for Two
|Baby on Board
|California Here I Come
|Can't Help Falling in Love
|Darktown Strutters Ball
|Down By The Riverside
|Five Feet Two
|For Me and My Girl
|Frosty the Snow Man
|Give Me a Barbershop Song
|Heart of My Heart
|Honey Li'l Lize Medley
|I Wanna Grow Old With You
|I Want A Girl
|I'm Sitting on Top of the World
|In the Good Old Summertime
|It's a Long Way to Tipperary
|Irish Medley (My Wild Irish Rose / Sweet Rosie O'Grady)
|Leave Her Johnney
|Lil Liza Jane
|Me and My Shadow
|Memories are Made of This
|My Blue Heaven
|Old St Louis
|Over My Head
|Softly As I Leave You
|Strolling Through the Park
|Sweet Cider Time
|Sweet Georgia Brown
|The Old Songs
|Toot, Toot, Tootsie
|Under the Boardwalk
|While By My Sheep
|Wait 'til the Sun Shines Nellie
|Yes Sir, That's My Baby