Norms, culture, and expectations for BHS Education Events
New to barbershop? New to the Barbershop Harmony Society? Find your fit in the barbershop world by considering a few common situations and practices you may encounter at a convention or education event.
Music and singing practices
All students are welcome to sing regardless of gender. One need only consider the vocal range. Many charts might be too low for some to sing the bass/baritone part; sing whichever part feels comfortable.
Barbershop voice parts
Tenor: Tenor is the highest part, harmonizing above the Lead. Notated in the top stave, Tenor stems always point up. Tenor singers should have a light, lyric vocal quality. Male tenors usually sing this part in falsetto.
Lead: Lead is the second highest part, singing the melody. Notated in the top stave, Lead stems always point down. Lead singers should be prominent and have a dramatic and compelling vocal quality.
Baritone: Baritone sings above and below the Lead. Notated in the bottom stave, Baritone stems always point up. Baritone singers should have a lyric vocal quality. Because the Baritone is constantly filling in different parts of a chord, the unusual voice leading can be very challenging, especially to the novice barbershop Baritone.
Bass: Bass is the lowest part, singing foundational notes. Notated in the bottom stave, Bass stems always point down. The Bass part should be as prominent as the Lead, with a big, robust vocal quality.
Vocal range and octave choice matter in barbershop. We do have a cultural request that singers not sing anything up or down an octave of the arrangement because of the way chords stack. Warm-ups don’t count.
Barbershop publishers use the familiar voicings of TTBB, SATB or SSAA on the cover. However, once you open to the sheet music, all three voicings are presented as TLBB: barbershop Tenor, Lead, Baritone and Bass. Again, the octave matters. See About Our Music for a concise discussion of barbershop notation and vocal ranges.
Freely Interpreted Rhythm/Tempo
Songs with moderate or fast tempi are typically performed as written. However, most slow barbershop songs and introductions are sung freely in a rubato or speech-like style. Barbershop performers often slow down at cadence points to emphasize special harmonies, with the last few chords significantly longer than notated.
Barbershop music vocabulary
Barbershoppers are very much like any music style with their own words and expressions that may seem odd at first. Here are a few that you will encounter:
Tag: a tag is music that is added to the end of the song, often introducing new harmonic progressions, similar to an amen. Tags are very popular in barbershop culture as standalone musical excerpts. Because they are often taught without using sheet music, tags are a wonderful way to introduce new singers to barbershop chords in just a few minutes by ear, rather than learning an entire song.
Hanger/Post: One of the voice parts holds one long note on a single vowel of a word, while
the other voice parts change chords and words around the singer, and can be as long as 30 seconds. Ask to learn the tag “Behind” from someone at HU.
Swipe: A glissando (slide) from one note to another.