What is Barbershop?

Sweet Adelines International is an organization takes singing to the next level. We're not simply one voice and a melody but four-part, a cappella harmony—music created from four different voices that beautifully blend into one chord. It's stunning, it's challenging and it's here for you!

Barbershop singing is one of the most intricate yet rewarding accomplishments of any vocal ensemble. Imagine this: you’re singing a song with three other harmonizing women, each hitting in perfect pitch when bam—you hear it. An overtone vibration, a resonant ring, an additional sound or extra note that isn't being sung by any of the singers! This overtone produces a visceral experience and is a primary characteristic (and thrill) of four-part barbershop harmonies!

Although the voice parts in women's barbershop harmony have different names and functions than they do in other SSAA or SATB vocal styles, the foundation is the same—beautiful music, stunning chords and a passion to create the intangible, moving essence of music that brings us together.


Voice Parts in Barbershop Singing

In simple terms, barbershop harmony is vocal harmony produced by four parts we call tenor, lead, baritone and bass. Finding the right part for your voice is the initial step. Any woman singer - with or without vocal training - will find a part that fits her range.

There are certain things you may want to know depending on the part you will be singing. Most of us are familiar with the SATB or SSAA choral music, where the melody is usually in the First Soprano line, above all others. Although the ranges may be similar, the voice parts in barbershop harmony for women have different names and functions than SSAA. The LEAD voice generally sings the melody and is below the TENOR harmony; the TENOR part sings the highest note in the chord and is not the melody; the BARITONE part fills in the all-important missing note in a chord that may be above and below the melody; the BASS part supplies the harmonic foundation (mostly root or fifth) of the chord. Minimal vibrato should be apparent in barbershop singing. Wide and obvious vibratos tend to affect blending and hamper the “lock and ring” that characterizes barbershop chords.

To read more, visit the Sweet Adelines "Barbershop 101" page, from which all of the above information was taken.