Shop Member Center Document Center

Intro to Barbershop: Learning the language of Barbershop

February 28, 2017

barbershop (1)

Sort through the alphabet soup of barbershop acronyms and terms

Heard in a chorus rehearsal: “Basses, we need a cleaner swipe going into the tag. Baritones, hold off on the tiddly until I bring you in.” What the heck?

Every subculture, from sports to professions to hobbies, has its own dialect, the specialized lingo, terms, in-jokes and references that are unique to that world. Once you speak the language, you feel more a part of that world -- and until you do, you might feel like a stranger in a strange land.

To get you up to speed, we’ve broken these many terms down into three broad categories:

  • Barbershop Musical Terms
  • Barbershop Culture and Lifestyle
  • Barbershop Abbreviations and Initials

After reading through our guide, you’ll be able to confidently swipe (slide or glissando) from one note to another as you reach the tag of the song (ending or coda) and listen for the baritones top add their tiddly (ornamental sequence of notes for emphasis and pleasure) like a pro!

Barbershop Musical Terms

Barbershop seventh
The cornerstone chord of the barbershop style, consisting of the root, the major third above, the perfect fifth above, and the minor seventh above, as in a chord consisting of F, A, C, E-flat
Bell chord
A musical arranging device in which a chord is sung as a succession of notes by each voice in turn
Overtones
Tones of higher pitch that are present in every musical sound and whose presence determines the quality of the musical sound. Chords locked in tune and proper volume relationship “ring” with reinforced overtones
Patter
A verbose variation on the theme of a refrain as in "Down By the Old Mill Stream", also jokes and emcee work between songs.
Ping
Focused, bright ringing sound.
Swipe
A progression of two or more chords sung on a single word or syllable; hallmark of the barbershop style.
Tiddly
A brief ornamental embellishment heard in one voice part while the others hold a chord, as simple as a repeated two-note pattern and often sung by the baritone part.
VLQ
Very large quartet (octet or larger) or mini-chorus, if you will.
Woodshedding
Impromptu quartet singing without arrangements; singing by ear. Watch a basic lesson here!
(See more: https://racingcitychorus.org/about/barbershop/barbershop-glossary-a-acronyms.html)

Barbershop Culture and Lifestyle

Afterglow
Party after a chapter meeting or show that can include more performances or just casual singing. 
Barberpole Cat Songs
These 12 standard songs are sung by many across the Society and provide an easy way to begin harmonizing immediately with those you know, or with those you have just met along the way.
Barberpole Cat Songs Vol. II
The Barberpole Cat Songbook Vol. II is designed to bridge the gap between Polecat songs and music at a difficulty level that many of our Harmony Brigades sing. This book is designed for the member who has “graduated” from the standard Polecat book.
Fifth-wheeling
Joining in without invitation when a quartet is singing; a breach of manners. Wait for the quartet to finish, then ask if you can sing along.
Frank H. Thorne Chapter-at-Large
An “international” chapter for those who are not active in a specific chapter.
Gang singing
Informal group singing. Sometimes, also slang for poor quality singing.
Harmony University - Belmont (Harmony U or HU)
Week-long summer educational program for Barbershoppers, a cappella singers, directors, and music educators held annually in Nashville, TN on the Belmont University campus. Comprised of many colleges including Directors, Music Educators, Harmony, and Performance.
Harmony Hall
Barbershop Harmony Society headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee.
Harmony Foundation International
A separate, but related organization to BHS, the Foundation raises funds for Society programs, seeks grants and sponsorships for worthwhile barbershop projects and programs, and maintains an endowment fund for the Society.
Registered quartet
A quartet whose name and personnel have been registered at Harmony Hall. Registration gives the quartet exclusive use of its name and only registered quartets may sing in competition. Looking to start a quartet? You'll find a wealth of information here!

Barbershop abbreviations and initials

The organization today known as the Barbershop Harmony Society was legally founded as SPEBSQSA, The Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America. Founder O.C. Cash enjoyed poking fun at the numerous initialed agencies of FDR’s New Deal. The Society today continues the tradition by perpetuating numerous abbreviated designations... some functional and some just for fun.

ACDA
American Choral Directors Association, a professional organization
AHSOW
Ancient And Harmonious Society Of Woodshedders—Barbershop Harmony Society subsidiary devoted to preserving the practice of harmonizing without arrangements; see woodshedding.
AIC
Association of International Champions - an organization of previous winners of the International Quartet contest.
AISQC
Association of International Seniors Quartets Champions
ASCAP
American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers, a licensing agency for musical works. (See also BMI, Broadcast Music, Inc.)
BHS
Barbershop Harmony Society, the primary trade name and preferred designation for the Society.
BOTY/BOTM
Barbershopper of the Year/Month—award presented by many chapters and districts recognizing outstanding efforts of a member.
C&J
Contest & Judging, which trains judges for singing competitions.
District
A regional geographic subdivision of the Society which provides events, education, and support to chapters. See the district map to translate the abbreviations such as FWD, LOL, and SUN into actual locations.
HFI
Harmony Foundation International, the Society’s charitable arm
HOD
House of Delegates, a leadership body at the District level.
NAfME
National Association for Music Education,  among the world’s largest arts education organizations, is an association that addresses all aspects of music education.
PROBE
Public Relations Officers and Bulletin Editors, an organization of Webmasters, Editors and Marketing and Public Relations Vice Presidents of chapters in the Society and related organizations.
SPEBSQSA
Legal name for the Barbershop Harmony Society. Stands for Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing In America, Inc.
YBQC
Youth Barbershop Quartet Contest, an annual quartet competition for men under the age of 25, held at the International Convention. This program was re-named in 2017 and is now called Next Generation Barbershop.
YCF
 Youth Chorus Festival, an annual gathering of youth choruses from around the world, held at the Midwinter Convention. This program was re-named in 2017 and is now called Next Generation Barbershop.