Barbershop Harmony 

is a uniquely American musical art form.  It began in the late 1800s and remained popular through Vaudeville until the mid-1920s.  Prior to the advent of radio and television, people entertained themselves by singing.  Popular songs of that era were written to be sung and played by the common person, rather than by the experienced musician.

Benefits of Barbershop Singing

Barbershop melody lines are simple and lyrics are easy to understand. Singing in a barbershop quartet can help singers develop and refine tuning and performance skills, self-confidence and teamwork. A chorus with multiple singers on each voice part can produce a satisfying barbershop sound, while providing a supportive environment for weaker or timid singers.


In barbershop harmony, the four voice parts have different names and functions than in other vocal and choral styles.  Although the ranges for the four voice parts are similar to traditional music, the strength of the barbershop chord structure lies in its cone-shaped sound.  The tenor sings the highest note in a chord; the bass sings the lowest; the lead sings the melody, and the baritone sings the note to complete the chord.  The lightest production, without sacrificing clarity or brilliance, must come in the top part (tenor) and each of the three lower voices sing with increased weight and/or intensity.

Bass range—(F below middle C to G above middle C)

Baritone range—(B flat below middle C to C an octave above)

Lead range—(Middle C to D or E an octave above)

Tenor range—(F above middle C to G above the staff)

To maximize the effect of the natural overtone series, the roots and fifths of all chords are sung a little louder than the thirds and sevenths.  The melody is tuned to the tonal center, and the harmony parts are tuned to the melody part.  Clarity and matching of good vowel sounds and balanced volume relationships by each of the voice parts reinforce the natural harmonic series (overtones) to produce the unique “ringing” sound characteristic of Barbershop harmony.

Harmonic Structure and Notation

The Barbershop style primarily uses major, minor, dominant seventh and minor seventh chords, with occasional half or fully diminished seventh chords.  A good barbershop arrangement should use the "barbershop seventh" (a dominant-quality seventh chord that occurs on any degree of the scale) for at least one-third of its chords.  The chord progressions used in the barbershop style rely on the classical "circle-of-fifths", with a few interesting embellishments thrown in.  Melodies with this type of harmonic variation easily lend themselves to the barbershop style.

The written structure of barbershop style uses a grand staff.  The Tenor and Lead parts are notated on the treble staff.  The Baritone and Bass parts are notated on the bass staff and are sung an octave higher than written.