Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Creating Harmonies

I like the idea of being able to play harmonies but know nothing about creating them. Is there a lesson that focuses on harmonies and the theory behind how to create them. Or is being able play and sing harmonies something you just have to be able to hear and play.

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At it’s most basic, harmony is created from the triad (1, 3, 5) of the chord you’re in.

Example: key of G
chord of G
lead/melody note = B (very common in G)
Harmony = 3rd above = Start on the B and count up the G scale to third note = B is 1, C is 2, D (called “Tenor” in country vocals)

The next harmony part would the the 5th
in this case the 5th of B in the chord/scale of G is…G!

Notice how the three parts together (B, D, G) make up a triad/chord that fits in the G scale.

If you think of the different “3rd” double stops you can play on the mandolin it can help finding this faster if you know whether to use the major or minor third (stay in the scale of the chord you are in).

There are three basic ways to build 3 part harmonies.
Above I explained “two above” where both harmonies are higher notes than the lead note.

There is also “two below” where harmonies are both lower than the lead. The Osborne Bros sang this way a lot.

Last, there is “straight” three part = the 3rd is higher than the lead and the 5th ( in this case often referred to as “3rd below”, or “baritone” in vocals) is done below the lead. This is probably the most popular way of singing 3 part bluegrass harmonies.

All of this can be used for either vocal or instrumental arranging…

There are several cool things you can do on a mando or fiddle to find harmonies, but I’ll stop here for now.
Hope this helps…if you have any more questions feel free to ask.

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Outstanding summary on typical Bluegrass harmonization Fiddlewood!

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Thank you Fiddle_wood for your help. I want to apologize, but sometimes I’m a little slow in understanding. How do you know what the lead note should be. Is it just the third of G if the song is in the key of G, or can it be different. And how would this be applied to a solo. Do the chords of the song still remain the same for the harmony. I hope My question make sense.

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@Annie_Simms

How do you know what the lead note should be.
The lead note is the note of the melody

Is it just the third of G if the song is in the key of G, or can it be different.

I could be a different note. . Usually it’s what the main singer/instrument is singing or playing I used the B for example because many bluegrass and folk songs use the 3rd of the chord very often as a melody note.

And how would this be applied to a solo.

A solo is “alone”. Most basic solos are the melody (built from scales of the chord you’re in) with some fancy stuff added

Do the chords of the song still remain the same for the harmony. I hope

The chord progression stays hte same. All you would be doing is adding harmony to an existing melody note.

I hope My question make sense.

Those were great questions!
No need to apologize…we are all here ot learn. This is the kind of stuff this forum is for!

Hope this clears things up a little…

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Fiddle_wood, thank you again for all your help.

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You’re welcome!