May 14, 2022

About the Author: Stefan Joubert

Stefan Joubert is the manager of the London Singing Institute. He is passionate about helping adults find their voice. He truly believes that no one is too old or not talented enough to start singing. To get started with your singing lessons contact Stefan at enrol@londonsinginginstitute.co.uk

While many budding singers dream of singing lead, there is actually a tremendous amount of skill in learning how to sing harmonies and backing vocals. The lead vocal seems the ‘easiest’ and most natural to gravitate towards but try signing a counter melody along with it and suddenly it’s a whole different ball game! Learning how to sing harmonies is a fantastic way to train your ear, improve your dexterity and hone your arrangement and composition skills. Here’s how you can tap into that area of your musicianship.

Sing Along to Existing Harmonies in Songs

The easiest way to get started is to analyse and learn existing harmonic arrangements in other songs. It’s best to start with something straightforward. ‘Lean on Me’ by Bill Withers is a great example, as the harmonies use major triads which are relatively easy to sing. You can dissect the arrangement on your own or with the help of your vocal coach, learn the harmonic melodies and try to sing along to them. Over time, you’ll learn to maintain that tune alongside the lead melody.

Once you feel comfortable, you can isolate the lead melody and sing the harmonies by yourself or ask someone else to sing lead with you. Take this one step further by coming up with your own harmonies to your favourite songs and sing the counter melodies along with the lead line. Over time, this will become second nature and you’ll find it easier to pitch intervals and chords that work to complement the main vocal melody.

male singer with group

Try Improvising Your Own Melodies

Improvisation is a fantastic exercise for pitching, composition and arrangement. It’s commonly used in jazz music, however, all musicians and vocalists can benefit from learning to improvise.

To start with, pick a chord progression or find a backing track to sing along to. As it plays, try improvising a melody over the top. Listen closely, make it cohesive and ensure it complements the song well and fits with the rest of the elements. While improvising, utilise different sections of your range and see what feels comfortable or natural to you. Switch up the rhythms, intervals, and scales to add as much variety as possible.

Sometimes, we can overthink our harmonic arrangements and pitching. Improvising can be a great way to learn to let go, choose notes and pitches that feel natural and intuitive without looking at the keyboard, guitar or trying to replicate a specific melody. You might surprise yourself just how well you’re able to improvise when you are not holding yourself back and go with the most intuitive musical choice.

hand writing music notes

Learn Music Theory

Of course, the foundations of improvisation, composition and arrangement skills are rooted in a good knowledge of music theory. Learning scales, chords and intervals will give you the basic understanding on how music is structured so you can use these to build upon in your compositions.

Not to mention, learning music theory will give you insight into why certain harmonic choices work or don’t work together. A great way to make the most of it is to also familiarise yourself with the sonic differences between intervals, chords and scales. This will train your ears to easily and intuitively make choices that work well to form a great arrangement, composition or improvisation.

Your vocal coach can help introduce you to the basics of music theory. We would also recommend learning an instrument like piano or guitar, as it’ll make it much more accessible to understand. Breaking down existing songs, analysing their chord structure, melodies and harmonies will also help to level up your music theory knowledge.

choir singing together

Join a Choir or Singing Group

There’s nothing like learning how to sing harmonies when you join a choir or singing group! Immerse yourself in that environment and watch your singing confidence grow. We would recommend joining a section that doesn’t sing lead for the purposes of increasing your harmonic capabilities.

The great thing about joining a choir is that you can lean on other vocalists in your section to help maintain your harmonies. Singing in a group is also linked to a number of mental and physical health benefits. Plus, it’s a great way to meet likeminded people and musicians, especially, if you are new to singing.

It’s also worth mentioning that some of the greatest vocalists of our time grew up singing in church choirs, so it truly is a fantastic way to lay a foundation for your singing career.

woman recording her song

Experiment With Different Types of Backing Vocals

Lastly, if you still don’t feel comfortable singing harmonies, start with adlibs, call and response and other backing vocal techniques. This will help you make the first steps in singing other parts alongside lead vocals, without trying to hold a harmony at the same time as the main melody.

Once you’re comfortable, start off with some simple harmonic choices. Octaves are a great place to start, as these will incorporate the same notes, only an octave above or below. Major and minor thirds and perfect fifths also feel very natural and relatively easy to sing. When you have mastered those, move on to more complex harmonic choices like fourths, sixths and sevenths to create tension, add richness and even dissonance to your arrangements.

woman singing with microphone

Learn How to Sing Harmonies With London Singing Institute!

At London Singing Institute, we specialise in providing adult singing lessons to budding musicians and aspiring professionals alike. Our experienced, knowledgeable coaches will help you tap into your own unique vocal talent, guiding you through best practices used by world-class singers. You can learn a variety of styles, including classical, musical theatre, jazz, blues, rock and pop. Designed with you in mind, we offer one to one sessions, intensive courses as well as group classes that are perfect for meeting likeminded musicians. You will learn in an encouraging, safe environment at our beautiful Central London premises or online, wherever you are! Enquire today and you’ll be matched with a coach who will create a custom learning experience, according to your needs.

Tags: Singing Tips, Motivation, Singing advice, Singing lessons for adults, Everybody can sing!

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Tags: Singing Tips, Motivation, Singing advice, Singing lessons for adults, Everybody can sing!