Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

High Tenor Lead

I notice that a lot of bluegrass harmony is done with a high tenor lead, but I’m not sure what the two harmony voices below the lead are called. I assume the lowest would be baritone, but what about the middle voice?

Good question, and I don’t know the answer. It could be just bass, baritone, tenor, but if the “bass” guy isn’t singing the fundamental that wouldn’t be what I’d consider accurate. In barbershop you have first tenor, second tenor (often carries lead part, sometimes just called “lead” while the other tenor is just called “tenor”), baritone and bass. When I am trying to describe a part I want I often use the terms “near” or “distant” to describe where I am talking about. For instance if I wanted to sing at the next chord note over the lead and for someone else to pick up the next higher one, I might say, “I’ll take the near, high harmony and you take the distant, high harmony.” It seems to work well with the lady who does most of the harmony with me. I had heard it it described that way from someone else (I didn’t come up with it myself), but I don’t know that it is commonly used. You could also describe the notes below the lead the same way (near, low harmony).

— Begin quote from ____

When I am trying to describe a part I want I often use the terms “near” or “distant”

— End quote

I usually say high, middle or low part, but I figured there must be a proper term. After digging around some on the interweb, I believe that the three parts in high tenor lead (from high to low) are called melody, baritone, and low tenor.