Whether you're just starting your Southern Gospel vocal career or simply want to sound better in your church choir, there are certain things you'll need to learn about harmonizing with others. Some people can naturally hear harmony and contribute their voices to it, while others struggle with finding just the right cadence to make it work. Picking the right notes to add at the right time may seem like magic, but there are methods you can use to help you start down the path towards a harmonious blending of powerful sound.
Difference Between Harmony and Melody
When you're singing your favorite song, are you following the harmony or melody of the song? If you're keying off the main tune, chances are that you're singing the melody. Harmony is a musical counterpoint that provides a pleasing support structure to the melody, usually slightly higher or lower in tone.
How to Harmonize (for Southern Gospel)
Southern Gospel is a powerful and moving form of expression that creates a depth of feeling and emotion within the listener. Harmonies are perhaps more flexible than melodies, in that they can be either higher or lower than the main tone of the musical piece. To create a harmony for Southern Gospel, it's important to listen to the music and how your expression is adding to the piece. If you're moving your sound in the same direction as the melody, don't feel compelled to move off of the harmony note unless it sounds pleasing with the main chord. A great way to understand how this works is to listen to the great harmonies from 30 - 40 years ago. This practice allows you to get a feel for finding complementary notes in a variety of different settings.
Let the Melody Lead
Creating the ideal harmony means allowing the melody to shine through, with the harmony offering a supplementary or complementary sound. If you're singing in a group with other voices, you'll almost certainly be singing a harmony part at some point during the arrangement. Creating the perfect counterpoint to the melody involves a great deal of balance:
Maintaining the rhythm set by the group.
Consistently staying on pitch for your part.
Ensuring your volume doesn't overwhelm the melody.
The key to truly mastering harmony is to blend appropriately with other singers to present a unified tonality that is pleasing to the ear. Working note-by-note by yourself with a piano is one way to help train yourself to create a sound that supports the beauty of the melody.
Ready to learn more about harmonizing with others in Southern Gospel music? Join our esteemed faculty July 7-14, 2018 and experience 80 years of musical excellence at Ben Speer's Stamps-Baxter School of Music on the campus of Middle Tennessee State University outside Nashville, Tennessee. We look forward to seeing you there!