Niche it!
BobbyGs Info
Sign up for PayPal and start accepting credit card payments instantly
Barbershop music

Music Sound

Barbershop music

Back | Home | Up | Next

Barbershop harmony, as codified during the barbershop revival era (1940s-present), is a style of unaccompanied vocal music characterized by consonant four-part chords for every melody note in a predominantly homophonic texture. Each of the four parts has its own role: the lead sings the melody, with the tenor harmonizing above the melody, the bass singing the lowest harmonizing notes, and the baritone completing the chord. The melody is not sung by the tenor or bass, except for an infrequent note or two to avoid awkward voice leading, in tags or codas, or when some appropriate embellishing effect can be created. Occasional brief passages may be sung by fewer than four voice parts.

Barbershop music features songs with understandable lyrics and easily singable melodies, whose tones clearly define a tonal center and imply major and minor chords and barbershop (dominant and secondary dominant) seventh chords that resolve primarily around the circle of fifths, while making frequent use of other resolutions. What sets barbershop apart from other musical styles is the predominant use of the dominant-type seventh chords, which are however not true dominant seventh chords, but justly tuned otonal tetrads; where for example the voices are at frequencies in the proportion 4:5:6:7. Barbershop music also features a balanced, symmetrical form and a standard meter. The basic song and its harmonization are embellished by the arranger to provide appropriate support of the song's theme and to close the song effectively.

Barbershop singers adjust pitches to achieve perfectly tuned chords in just intonation while remaining true to the established tonal center. Artistic singing in the barbershop style exhibits a fullness or expansion of sound, precise intonation, a high degree of vocal skill, and a high level of unity and consistency within the ensemble. Ideally, these elements are natural, unmanufactured, and free from apparent effort.

The presentation of barbershop music uses appropriate musical and visual methods to convey the theme of the song and provide the audience with an emotionally satisfying and entertaining experience. The musical and visual delivery is from the heart, believable, and sensitive to the song and its arrangement throughout. The most stylistic presentation artistically melds together the musical and visual aspects to create and sustain the illusions suggested by the music.

Slower barbershop songs often eschew a continuous beat, and notes are often held (or speeded up) ad libitum.

The voice parts in men's barbershop singing do not correspond closely to the correspondingly-named voice parts in classical music. Barbershop singing is performed both by men's and women's groups; the elements of the barbershop style and the names of the voice parts are the same for both.


Ringing chords

The defining characteristic of the barbershop style is the ringing chord. This is a name for one specific and well-defined acoustical effect, also referred to as expanded sound, the angel's voice, the fifth voice, or the overtone. (The barbershopper's "overtone" is not the same as the acoustic physicist's overtone).

The physics and psychophysics of the effect are fairly well understood; it occurs when the upper harmonics in the individual voice notes, and the sum and difference frequencies resulting from nonlinear combinations within the ear, reinforce each other at a particular frequency, strengthening it so that it stands out separately above the blended sound. The effect is audible only on certain kinds of chords and only when voices are rich in harmonics and very precisely tuned. It is not heard in chords sounded on keyboard instruments, due to the slight tuning imperfection of the even-tempered scale.

Gage Averill (2003) writes that "Barbershoppers have become partisans of this acoustic phenomenon" and that "the more experienced singers of the barbershop revival (at least after the 1940s) have self-consciously tuned their dominant seventh and tonic chords in just intonation to maximize the overlap of common overtones."

What is prized is not so much the "overtone" itself, but a unique sound whose achievement is most easily recognized by the presence of the "overtone." The precise synchronization of the waveforms of the four voices simultaneously creates the perception of a "fifth voice" while at the same time melding the four voices into a unified sound. The ringing chord is qualitatively different in sound from an ordinary musical chord e.g. as sounded on a keyboard instrument.

Most elements of the "revivalist" style are related to the desire to produce these ringing chords. Performance is a cappella to prevent the distracting introduction of even-tempered intonation, and because listening to anything but the other three voices interferes with a performer's ability to tune with the precision required. Barbershop arrangements stress chords and chord progressions that favor "ringing," at the expense of suspended and diminished chords and other harmonic vocabulary of the ragtime and jazz ages:

The dominant seventh-type chord... is so important to barbershop harmony that it is called the "barbershop seventh..." [SPEBSQSA (now BHS)] arrangers believe that a song should contain anywhere from 35 to 60 percent dominant seventh chords to sound "barbershop."

Historically barbershoppers used the word "minor chord" in a way that is confusing to those with musical training. Averill suggests that it was "a shorthand for chord types other than major triads," and says that the use of the word for "dominant seventh-type chords and diminished chords" was common in the late nineteenth century. A 1900 song called "Play That Barber-Shop Chord" (often cited as an early example of "barbershop" in reference to music) contains the lines

Cause Mister when you start that minor part
I feel your fingers slipping and a grasping at my heart,
Oh Lord play that Barber shop chord!

Averill notes the hints of rapture, "quasi-religion" and erotic passion in the language used by barbershoppers to describe the emotional effect. He quotes Jim Ewin as reporting "a tingling of the spine, the raising of the hairs on the back of the neck, the spontaneous arrival of 'goose flesh' on the forearm.... [the 'fifth note' has] almost mysterious propensities... It's the consummation devoutly wished by those of us who love Barbershop harmony. If you ask us to explain ... why we love it so, we are hard put to answer; that's there our faith takes over." Averill notes too the use of the language of addiction, "there's this great big chord that gets people hooked." An early manual was entitled "A Handbook for Adeline Addicts."

He notes too that "barbershoppers almost never speak of 'singing' a chord, but almost always draw on a discourse of physical work and exertion; thus, they 'hit,' 'chop,' 'ring,' 'crack,' and 'swipe....' ....vocal harmony... is interpreted as an embodied musicking. Barbershoppers never lose sight (or sound) of its physicality."

Historical origins

As a result of scholarship by Lynn Abbott and Dr. Jim Henry it is now generally accepted that barbershop singing originated in African-American communities in the U.S. around the turn of the century, where barbershops were, and remain today, social gathering places. The four-part harmony of the form has its roots in the black church, where close harmony has a long tradition.

The first uses of the term were associated with African-Americans. Henry notes that "The Mills Brothers learned to harmonize in their father's barber shop in Piqua, Ohio. Several other well-known black gospel quartets were founded in neighborhood barber shops, among them the New Orleans Humming Four, the Southern Stars and the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartette." [1]. Although the Mills Brothers are primarily known as jazz and pop artists and usually performed with instrumental accompaniment, the affinity of their harmonic style with that of the barbershop quartet is clearly in evidence in their music and most notably, perhaps, in their best-known gospel recording, "Jesus Met the Woman at the Well", performed a cappella. Their father founded a barbershop quartet, the Four Kings of Harmony, and the Mills Brothers produced at least three records in which they sang a cappella and performed traditional barbershop material.

  • Abbott, Lynn. Play That Barber Shop Chord: A Case for the African American Origin of Barbershop Harmony. American Music 10 (1992) 289-325.
  • Henry, James Earl. The Origins of Barbershop Harmony: A Study of Barbershop's Links to Other African American Musics as Evidenced through Recordings and Arrangements of Early Black and White Quartets. Ph.D diss., Washington University, 2000

Female Barbershop music and "Beautyshop" quartets

Traditionally, the word "barbershop" has been used to encompass both men's and women's quartets singing in the barbershop style. Harmony, Inc. calls itself "International Organization of Women Barbershop Singers" while Sweet Adelines International calls itself "a worldwide organization of women singers committed to advancing the musical art form of barbershop harmony."

Some women's quartets, particularly in U. S. schools, have used the term "beautyshop quartets" for women's quartets singing in the barbershop style.

Notable female groups include:

  • The Cracker Jills [2] with Renee Craig
  • Ambiance [3]

Barbershop groups with both male and female members are known as mixed barbershop groups. [4]


Singing a cappella music in the barbershop style is a hobby enjoyed by men and women worldwide. The hobby is practiced mostly within one of the three main barbershop associations, which have a combined membership in the neighborhood of eighty thousand.

The primary men's organization in the US and Canada is the Barbershop Harmony Society, previously known as the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America (SPEBSQSA). Women have two organizations in North America, Sweet Adelines International and Harmony Incorporated.

SPEBSQSA was founded in 1938 by Tulsa, Oklahoma tax attorney O. C. Cash. The name was a lampoon on the New Deal "alphabet agencies". Sweet Adelines, Inc was founded in 1945 by Edna Mae Anderson, also of Tulsa. Harmony, Incorporated split from Sweet Adelines in 1957 over a dispute regarding admission of black members. SPEBSQSA and Sweet Adelines at that time restricted their membership to whites, but both opened membership to all races a few years later.

All three organizations comprise choruses and quartets that perform and compete regularly throughout the US and Canada, and Sweet Adelines International also has a portion of its membership outside North America. Organizations affiliated with the Barbershop Harmony Society and Harmony Incorporated exist in the United Kingdom, The Netherlands, Germany, Ireland, South Africa, Scandinavia, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, and elsewhere. Some national and regional barbershop groups include:

  • Sweet Adelines International (SAI) [5]
  • Barbershop in Germany (BinG) [6]
  • British Association of Barbershop Singers (BABS) [7]
  • Ladies Association of British Barbershop Singers (LABBS) [8]
  • Dutch Association of Barbershop Singers (DABS) [9]
  • Ladies Association of Dutch Barbershop Singers (Holland Harmony) [10]
  • Society of Nordic Barbershop Singers (SNOBS) [11]
  • Southern Part of Africa Tonsorial Singers (SPATS)
  • New Zealand Association of Barbershop Singers (NZABS) [12]
  • Australian Association of Men's Barbershop Singers (AAMBS) [13]
  • Irish Association of Barbershop Singers (IABS) [14]

A worldwide association for mixed groups, the Mixed Harmony Barbershop Quartet Association [15], was established in 1995 to reflect the growing popularity of male-female barbershop singing.

BHS (Barbershop Harmony Society) Districts:

Barbershop Harmony Society Districts. Barbershop Harmony Society Districts.

Cardinal District(CAR), Kentucky & Indiana
Central States District(CSD), Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota
Dixie District(DIX), Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Carolinas
Evergreen District(EVG), Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Idaho, Montana, western Canada
Far Western District(FWD), California, Arizona, Nevada, Hawaii
Illinois District(ILL), the entire state of Illinois
Johnny Appleseed District(JAD), Ohio, West Virginia, western Pennsylvania
Land O'Lakes District(LOL), Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Michigan UP, central Canada
Mid-Atlantic District(MAD), Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, New York City Metro/Long Island
Northeastern District(NED), eastern New York, all of New England, eastern Canada
Ontario District(ONT), the Canadian province of Ontario (east of Thunder Bay)
Pioneer District(PIO), lower Michigan and Windsor, ON
Rocky Mountain District(RMD), Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, Utah
Seneca Land District(SLD), most of New York, northwestern Pennsylvania
Southwest District(SWD), Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico
Sunshine District(SUN), Florida

Notable artists


Acoustix, 1990 international quartet champions
Bluegrass Student Union, 1978 international quartet champions
The Buffalo Bills, 1950 international champions, appeared in stage and screen productions of The Music Man, frequently appeared on Arthur Godfrey's radio show
The Chordettes, women's quartet, recorded a number of mainstream popular hits during the 1950s, notably Mr. Sandman
The Dapper Dans of Disney, who regularly sing to visitors at Disneyland, and who sang as The Be Sharps in a Simpsons episode, and, more recently, as the Singing Busts in Disney's 2003 Haunted Mansion movie
The Gas House Gang, 1993 international quartet champions from St. Louis, Missouri
The Haydn Quartet, early 1900s quartet
FRED, 1999 international quartet champions, comedy quartet
Platinum, 2000 international quartet champions
Michigan Jake, 2001 international quartet champions
Four Voices, 2002 international quartet champions
Power Play, 2003 international quartet champions
Gotcha!, 2004 international quartet champions
Realtime, 2005 international quartet champions
The Singing Senators, a quartet of Republican U.S. Senators


  • The Big Apple Chorus [16], based out of Manhattan has competed internationally, performed in Russia, and makes up the "Singing Chorus Tree" at South Street Seaport every holiday season.
  • Cambridge Chord Company, twice European champion barbershop chorus and British Association of Barbershop Singers gold medallists, "Choir of the World" International Eisteddfod 2004, based in England
  • The Louisville Thoroughbreds [17], seven-time international champions
  • The Masters of Harmony [18], six-time international champions (1990, 1993, 1996, 1999, 2002, 2005)
  • The MegaCity Chorus [19], based out of Toronto, On. Up and Coming Chorus formerly Directed by June Dale and now Directed by Chris Arnold.
  • The New Tradition Chorus [20], based out of Northbrook, IL, in the Chicagoland area. They are the 2001 International Chorus Champion and current 3rd place bronze medalist. Won a record eight consecutive silver medals.
  • North Metro Chorus, three-time Sweet Adelines International chorus champions from Toronto, OntarioDirected by June Dale.
  • The Singing Buckeyes [21], based in Columbus, Ohio, are eleven-times Johnny Appleseed District (Ohio, the western part of Pennsylvania and most of West Virginia) Chorus Champions. They have competed many times at the international level, achieving a highest finish of third place. The chapter hosts the Buckeye Invitational each August. Men's and Women's quartets, mixed quartets, comedy quartets, and choruses compete head-to-head for the championships of their respective category.
  • Toronto Northern Lights [22], five-time international silver medallist chorus from Toronto, Ontario.
  • The Vocal Majority [23], based in Dallas, TX, ten-time international champions (1975, 1979, 1982, 1985, 1988, 1991, 1994, 1997, 2000, 2003)
  • The Great Northern Union [24], perennial international top 10 chorus, based in the Minneapolis, Minnesota area
  • The Rich-Tone Chorus[25], three-time Sweet Adelines international chorus champions from Richardson, Texas
  • Pacific Coast Harmony[26], two-time International competitor from La Jolla, California, in the greater San Diego area.
  • Voices In Harmony[27], a brand new chorus developing in California's Bay Area, under the direction of Dr. Greg Lyne.

Typical Barbershop Songs

Barbershop Harmony Society "Polecats" — songs which all Barbershop Harmony Society members are encouraged to learn as a shared repertoire — all famous, traditional examples of the genre:

"Down Our Way"
"Down by the Old Mill Stream"
"Honey/Li'l Lize Medley"
"Let Me Call You Sweetheart"
"My Wild Irish Rose"
"Shine on Me"
"The Story of the Rose" ("Heart of My Heart")
"Sweet Adeline"
"Sweet and Lovely"
"Sweet, Sweet Roses of Morn"
"Wait 'Til the Sun Shines, Nellie"
"You Tell Me Your Dream (I'll Tell You Mine)"

There are also several other well-known songs in the genre. Some are considered standards, such as "From the First Hello" and "Goodbye, My Coney Island Baby", while others are well-known because notable quartets are associated with them. An example of the latter is "Come Fly with Me", which gained popularity through association with the 2005 international quartet champion, Realtime.

Examples of other songs popular in the barbershop genre are:

  • "Alexander's Ragtime Band"
  • "Bright Was the Night"
  • "From the First Hello"
  • "Goodbye, My Coney Island Baby"
  • "I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen"
  • "Yes, Sir, That's My Baby"
  • "Come Fly with Me"
  • "When My Baby Smiles at Me"
  • "Fly Me to the Moon"
  • "Hello Mary Lou"
  • "Goodnight Sweetheart (It's time to go)"

"Lida Rose" is a song beloved to barbershoppers from Meredith Willson's musical comedy The Music Man. A barbershop quartet forms an integral part of the story, and was played by the Buffalo Bills onstage and in the screen adaptation. Barbershoppers love the show's flattering portrayal of the barbershop spirit: four bickering school-board members become inseparable singing comrades once the Music Man shows them how to ring one perfect chord. Purists complain about inauthenticities in Willson's own arrangement, which is often modified slightly for barbershop quartet performances.

See also


  • Averill, Gage (2003). Four Parts, No Waiting: A Social History of American Barbershop Harmony. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195116720.

External links

Home | Up | American classical music | American hip hop | American pop | American rock | Barbershop music | Blackface minstrelsy | Bluegrass music | Blues | Bounce music | Chicano rock | Country music | Doo-wop | Emo | Go Go | Gospel music | Grunge | Heavy metal | Hip hop | Jazz | P-Funk | Punk | R&B | Ragtime | Rock music | Salsa music | Shape note | Soul | Surf music | Swing | Western music (North America)

Music Sound, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

Music Videos
Select Interface Language:

English French German Hungarian Italian Norwegian Spanish
Shopping Random Product
Shopping Search

Emporium Contents
Gallery Most Viewed
Gallery Most Viewed
Recommended Software Sites

Montego Scripts - Home of HTML Newsletter

Totally Nuked Mods

EZ Communities - Custom PHP/MySQL Scripts and Solutions

RavenNuke(tm) Test site

Codezwiz Your #1 Help Resource

CSE HTML Validator Helped Clean up This Page!

PC Sympathy - Your Source for PC News and Technical Support

Mantis Bugtracker

Nuke-Evolution - Home of Tricked Out News Mod, FaceBox and SlimBox RavenNuke(tm) mods