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What is Barbershop?

There are several types of harmony singing. Barbershop is one of the more complex because it has four different voices, each with its own role.

Many people are familiar with the traditional Barbershop Quartets, who often dressed in striped blazers and straw hats. Four is the minimum number of members but a group can be much larger with varying numbers of singers for each of the voices.

The melody is not usually sung by the tenor or bass.

The voice parts do not correspond closely to voice parts of the same name in classical music. Women’s groups use the same terminology as men’s.




The thing that makes Barbershop different from other harmony singing is the ringing chord. This is a special acoustical effect which is known by several different names including the overtone, expanded sound, angel's voice, fifth voice, and barbershop seventh. This is a way of combining the parts so that there appear to be more voices than there really are.

There are several Wikipedia entries with more detailed information about Barbershop Music, Barbershop Arranging, Vocal Harmony, Close Harmony, A cappella.

For the technically-minded, these websites make much reference to the dominant seventh, which is another name for the barbershop seventh. Some arrangers  believe that about half of each song should contain dominant seventh chords in order to give the Barbershop sound.

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