Tips for Singing in Harmony Beautifully

Choir singing in church.

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A favorite pastime at Christmas is getting together with musicians and singing. Harmony makes melodies more interesting and beautiful, which is especially nice when the melody is well-known, such as "Silent Night."

Melody is the tune you hum, and the harmony complements it. The harmony has entirely different notes and often creates a chord with the melody. Those who can sing harmony listen to music in a different way. They learn to take cues from the melody instead of singing in unison.

How to Find Harmony

If you want to learn to sing harmony, start simple. The people you hear on the radio are professional singers. They are paid to sing complex songs. Try finding a folk tune or hymn to start with, instead of a tune you might hear often on the radio. The oldie "Going to the Chapel" is a simple song that's good to start with.

Use Sheet Music

For some, the best starting point is to plunk out a harmony on the piano. That means buying sheet music, sitting down at a piano, and learning your notes. Sing your harmony of choice several times, then learn to sing it without the piano. Then, if you have the ability, play the melody on the piano and sing the harmony with it. You may also bring the tune up on YouTube and sing harmony with whomever you find singing the melody of your choice.


Singing harmony is a skill. If you are uncomfortable singing by yourself, then practice. Knowing the concepts behind harmonies and singing them are two different things. Take every opportunity to practice harmony with friends and in groups.

Sing a Third up or Down

Commonly, musicians harmonize by using an interval of a third, which is a space of three or four half notes. In The Dixie Cups version of "Going to the Chapel," one singer sings a third above and the other a third below the melody. The third interval is also found in the first two notes of "Kumbaya" and "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot."

Sing a Note in the Chord

Sometimes singing the third interval will not complement the chords your instrumentalists play. That is when it becomes a bit more complex for a beginner. When possible, repeat your note exactly. If you can’t, then move one step up or down. If neither of those two options is available, then you will have to leap or skip to a note. Choose the smallest skip possible that still sounds good. It is always safe to sing one of the notes in the chord being played or sung. If someone is singing a G, and the chord is G major (G-B-D), it will sound harmonic if you sing B or D.

Avoid Skips to Start

There is a harmonic rule that says basses are allowed to make large skips and the rest of the voices should avoid them. Rules are meant to be broken, but not when you are a beginner. A typical exception is when you sing "Sol-Do." You might recognize this movement in the harmonies found in "I Hope" by the Dixie Chicks.

Try out Suspensions

Occasionally, at the ends of phrases, you may want to sing a suspension. For instance, if you are harmonizing to "Kumbaya," you may sing in thirds until the second "Kumbaya." This is where you hold the "wrong" note (or the note you just sang) for a beat or two before resolving down to the right one. You know the note is the right one because it is a note in the chord your instrumentalists play.

Explore Echos or Responses

Another way to complement the melody is to echo it exactly or respond to it. You hear an example of this type of harmonizing in the movie musical "The Sound of Music" when Captain Van Trapp sings "Edelweiss" for the first time and Liesl, the oldest daughter, harmonizes to it. Liesl sings in response to "Edelweiss" twice and then sings unison for two lines with the captain. In simple vocal music, you typically switch to unison or singing in thirds for the last line or two of a song when echoing or responding to the melody.