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How Communal Singing Disappeared From American Life – The Atlantic

May 22, 2017 - 11:46am

Barbershoppers can sometimes take for granted the easy joy of singing together.  We get to do it every week. When we gather at conventions, we no longer marvel at a lobby full of people making music just for grins.

But as this chestnut from The Atlantic points out,

Adults in America don’t sing communally. Children routinely sing together in their schools and activities, and even infants have sing-alongs galore to attend. But past the age of majority, at grown-up commemorations, celebrations, and gatherings, this most essential human yawp of feeling—of marking, with a grace note, that we are together in this place at this time—usually goes missing.

The reasons why are legion. We are insecure about our voices. We don’t know the words. We resent being forced into an activity together. We feel uncool. And since we’re out of practice as a society, the person who dares to begin a song risks having no one join her.

This is a loss. It’s as if we’ve willingly cut off one of our senses: the pleasure center for full lungs and body resonance and shared emotion and connection to our fellow man.

via How Communal Singing Disappeared From American Life – The Atlantic.

Howto Cite Information on an Essay

May 22, 2017 - 5:37am

Here are a number of excellent article subjects that children may possibly discover simple to compose. It appears this sort of poetry writing is easy and fascinating. The poems within this kind hold the love affair of the shepherdess as their fundamental idea. Friendship is among the most magnificent things in existence. Everybody advised me to do away with my married man, but I didn’t should nerve to do therefore. Perhaps this is called’blind love.” If there’s any question from syllabus, you simply attend it. Your answer must be concise and to-the-stage. Pupils are commonly provided the issue in the previous instant and so a listing in this method can provide them with a rough concept regarding what kind of matters may be predicted.

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What’s a Software and Why Does an Author Need One

May 22, 2017 - 5:37am

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Just how to Do Tips about the App Our First Dog

May 22, 2017 - 5:37am

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Howto Write an Essay Introduction

May 22, 2017 - 5:37am

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Why faculty should be gone to by police officers

May 22, 2017 - 5:37am

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How to Arrange an Essay

May 22, 2017 - 5:37am

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The format is especially among the most essential components besides the grammar, punctuations and the articles. Therefore, composing a great essay isn’t a way tough but it isn’t very simple as well, it is essential for you to consider several points before writing a very great article which largely incorporate a right structure, topic selection, dissertation declaration etc.. It normally features an archive of software. Averting research is the simplest thing on the planet. The steps of this type of evaluation give you the ability to locate areas of contract in the shape of your audience therefore you are more persuasive. It must be a overview of the comprehensive research realized by an essayist. The intro has to be so that it supplies the reader a idea of the entire composition. It should to have an excellent intro though.

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You’ve got to analyze all the supplied info. Inside this method, price data is offered changeable expenses and fixed expenses shown individually with the intention of managerial decision making. If you’re composing a history synthesis, sometimes it might be suitable that you provide an interpretation of the content or have a placement ( thesis ). On the opposite palm, you happen to be able to take some thing as straightforward as and do a few especial classification of the exact same. Because you are able to notice, compartmentalization by shape is among the finest and most straightforward procedures to classify leaves.

A dashing vicar detective is presented by Masterpiece in ‘Grantchester’

May 22, 2017 - 5:36am

In the human body of the article there’s a lot you need to state seeing the publication. Here is the acceptable place for one to actually communicate your own personal outlooks on the book. Make note of the battles within the novel. This really is specially correct to those previous novels and classical books. There’ll be areas of the book you might must focus on within the article. Be distinctive mention of the objective of the publication. In the remainder of the paragraph explain the contradiction within the novel. Concentrate on the emotions inside the book. It is going to demand each of your authorship and imaginative abilities to retain up the identical pace which you will also find in the book.

Remember, increased detail is better.

Watching it might permit you to assemble the resolution you will need, in addition to the nerve, to finally begin your own personal journey to self publishing. The following part of your essay outline concentrates in your primary quarrels. Utilize this complete composition structure to create a detailed outline to your own essays. Discover the intention of the article. It truly is my hope that this can assist you with your essay. Book documents like any one of the other essays have an overall construction. Think of your own introduction for a map of your own article, or maybe for helpful tips. The purpose of the section is really to recognize the readers on spothere which to expect in the remainder of the essay.

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Fun & Free Things to Do in Las Vegas Right Now

May 11, 2017 - 2:51pm

The travel section on Thrillist puts it succinctly:

Everybody wants free stuff — especially in Las Vegas. Regrettably, the days of wildly cheap buffets and gratuitous drinks at casinos are pretty much long gone. But here’s the good news: There’s still a little bit of free fun to be had in Las Vegas. You just gotta know where to look.

Read more: Fun & Free Things to Do in Las Vegas Right Now – Thrillist.

You’ll also find a wealth of links and travel tips in their Ultimate Las Vegas Travel Guide.


Discovering Hidden Member Talents…

May 9, 2017 - 6:27pm

The Healthy Chapter Initiative has published a sample “Chapter Member Talent Survey” that chapters can utilize as a resource in discovering talents of their members. 

Serving as a potential starting point for your nominating committee to dive into finding individuals to serve in various positions with your chapter, this also primarily serves as a tool in finding capabilities of your members to match with the needs of the chapter.  

Click Here to view and/or download the sample Chapter Member Talent Survey on our “Chapter Solutions” web page of the Healthy Chapter Initiative


Intro to Barbershop: Performing for audiences, judges, and the barbershop community

May 4, 2017 - 9:35am

Getting together with your quartet or chorus each week to sing is a pretty rewarding experience in itself, but most Barbershoppers like to perform for an audience – any audience. Public performance and competition provide worthy goals, benchmarks to strive toward, and the rewards of applause, recognition and the exhilaration of a job well done.

No matter the ensemble, your performance career usually consists of several distinct channels and audiences:

  • Major shows staged and produced by a chapter – the traditional “annual show”
  • Casual community performances and entertainment for hire
  • Barbershop festivals, outreach and convention activities
  • Barbershop contest

The broader the mix of performances you undertake, as a singer or as a listener, the richer your barbershop life becomes. Never become glued to a single form of participation — try them all!

And needless to say, whenever you perform — be good, be sensitive to your audience’s needs, and never outstay your welcome!


Producing a chapter show

“The annual show” has been a staple of the barbershop culture for decades, serving as both a musical/artistic focus, and also a financial engine for the chapter through ticket sales and program advertising. A typical chapter show is a fully-staged production in a quality performance hall, and might include 7-12 songs by the chorus, chapter quartets, and often headliner quartets of distinction.

That model has evolved in recent years, with many  chapters now scheduling multiple major stage performances each year; holiday and seasonal shows are particularly popular, as are more intimate  casual-seating cabaret shows.

In either case, the financial success rests with the chapter, which hires the facility and performers, sells the tickets, etc.

Casual on-site performances — entertainment for hire

In contrast, there are ample opportunities to take your act on the road and get paid to sing — in shopping malls, corporate events, and as guests on other barbershop shows. Quartets are often more successful getting these gigs because they have fewer staging requirements, needing just a good sound system and a ready audience. Singing Valentines, too, are huge part of the community singing life, and can be even more profitable than a produced show.

Good will and service

Barbershoppers provide hundreds of hours of community service by singing at organizations such as hospitals, nursing homes, and retirement communities. We enrich the lives of countless people through the joy of making music together. Fees are optional, memories are guaranteed.

Attending a Barbershop Convention

A Barbershop convention of any size can be described as part contest, part family reunion, and part concert, with singing to be found at nearly every moment in nearly every location. At local conventions at the Division or District level, attendees number in the hundreds, while the Society-run Midwinter Convention and summertime International Convention bring together thousands of Barbershoppers from around the world. If you’ve only experienced your local chapter or quartet, attending a convention will open your eyes to a whole new level of participation and fellowship.

The major national events have vastly expanded the range of activities and ways to have fun singing and watching. Dozens of class offerings, music reading sessions, Harmony Brigades and special Tag Zone activities, and All-Chapter Chorus offerings make it possible for every Barbershopper to find a great singing activity beyond the contest stage. Division and district conventions are increasingly bringing these offers closer to home.

  • Division/District – To find your local convention schedule, view the events calendar here!
  • Midwinter –  Our Senior and Youth events take center stage!
  • International - The World Series of Barbershop competitions, plus so much more!
  • Global – Our affiliate organizations hold conventions as well – take your barbershopping overseas!

Singing in an All-Chapter Chorus is a great way to have fun at a convention without competing.


The centerpiece of most conventions are the quartet and chorus contests. These help performers at all levels of ability measure progress, show off the hard work done by the ensemble, and share a musical experience together. Yes, of course, everyone looks at the score sheet to compare themselves with others, and yes, some will win and some won’t, but ranking is only a part of the experience. The ideal adjudication experience includes an evaluation/coaching session with the judges, who not only explain how the score was determined, but guide the performer toward  improvement with specific analysis of the performance.

Ideally, what gets measured gets improved, and the ultimate goal is for the skills built up by focusing on contest performance will help the ensemble perform its entire repertoire to the outer limits of their own skill and talents.  If your quartet or chorus is not taking advantage of this powerful tool for musical development, take a look at your calendar, and ask yourself what other mechanisms are so close and helpful.

Performance resources 

One Month at a Time: Kordsmen friendships are bigger than competition

May 2, 2017 - 3:16pm

.We’ve previously looked in the “embedded journalist” who joined a barbershop chapter in his quest to try new things. In the final chapter, bill Lynch takes the leap, and performs oin stage with the Kanawha Kordsmen in contest.

At the beginning of March, I wasn’t sure I could carry a tune well enough to keep up in rehearsals, let alone be anything but very dead weight when it came to actually performing at the convention. But here I was, prepared to sing…

There’s  more to singing in a group than just the singing. Often, I’ve heard about how important it is to connect with an audience, but it’s just as important for performers to connect with each other — and not just musically.

The barbershop harmony groups believe in people as much as they believe in making music. Throughout the convention, reunions, complete with great big bear hugs, happened every couple of minutes.

Don’t just make a sound, make friends.

I always felt welcome at the Kanawha Kordsmen rehearsals. Everyone was always willing to help or answer a question, even if I wasn’t always sure what it was I wanted to know.

So I learned a lot more than that I can sing.

Read the full story at  Charleston Gazette-Mail | One Month at a Time: Kordsmen friendships are bigger than competition.

The Fabulous Lipitones blends barbershop with themes of identity and acceptance

May 2, 2017 - 2:32pm

First produced in 2014, The Fabulous Lipitones continues to be staged in playhouses across the country. We loved this review of a current staging in Alexandria, Virginia:

[The director] loves how the characters are self-aware that their barbershop passions label them as “different,” adding: “‘The Fabulous Lipitones’ celebrates the connection of people who have a passion for something that mainstream society labels as something of an awkward niche. I think there is a building acceptance of nerds in current society and a broadening of the definition of a nerd beyond science and tech types. I love to see my children and my students proudly wave their flags of difference, but barbershop singing shows that there has long been arenas for people with shared passions, to bond. The play also explores male bonding, as well as racism.”

He said finding the right tone for a play that is so funny, but deals honestly with racism, was crucial to him. “Finding actors who could play this was a challenge, which was made more difficult by the casting limitations,” he said. “Because of the themes of race and age in the play, the casting is quite specific. Furthermore, each character must fit a specific vocal part and the actors have to be able to blend voices in the barbershop style. I was incredibly fortunate to find the foursome we have.”

Read the full review: The Little Theatre of Alexandria Presents ‘The Fabulous Lipitones’.

The show is available for licensing — perhaps a theater in your community would be interested in staging it?

Information for Members Crossing the Border for BHS Activities

May 1, 2017 - 9:00am
The Barbershop Harmony Society shares this information as a guide and is not an authority on, nor does it provide legal advice regarding, U.S. or Foreign Law.  Always consult with a professional when in doubt.

For a Printable Version of this information, please CLICK HERE. This information is specific for members who are planning to or frequently attend meetings or conventions hosted by the Barbershop Harmony Society or its Subsidiaries.

The Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America, Incorporated  (DBA Barbershop Harmony Society) is an educational non-profit, 501(c)3 organization as determined by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.

As a non-profit, membership-based organization, we host convenings for our amateur members to participate in community singing and music education through meetings as well as contests for sport.

The individuals and members who attend our group meetings, conventions and/or contests do not and will not receive any monetary remuneration for attending a meeting. Similarly, they do not receive any monetary reward for winning or placing in a contest sponsored by the Barbershop Harmony Society or its subsidiaries.  The Barbershop Harmony Society Code of Ethics further provides in stanza 7 that, “We shall not use our membership in the Society primarily for personal gain.”

As annotated in the U.S. Foreign Affairs Manual [9 FAM 402.2-4(A)(U)] these individuals should be considered as ‘Visitors for Pleasures’ under a B-2 visa.  

  • (7) (U) Amateur Entertainers and Athletes: A person who is an amateur in an entertainment or athletic activity is, by definition, not a member of any of the profession associated with that activity. An amateur is someone who normally performs without remuneration (other than an allotment for expenses). A performer who is normally compensated for performing cannot qualify for a B-2 visa based on this note even if the performer does not make a living at performing, or agrees to perform in the United States without compensation. Thus, an amateur (or group of amateurs) who will not be paid for performances and will perform in a social and/or charitable context or as a competitor in a talent show, contest, or athletic event is eligible for B-2 classification, even if the incidental expenses associated with the visit are reimbursed.

The members of our organization are and should be considered “amateur entertainers” and will not receive remuneration or compensation for performing or participating in the functions described above.

If a member needs a letter for confirmation of purpose in crossing the border, please contact Society Headquarters at 1.800.876.SING or


One Month at a Time: Taking the stage with the Kanawha Kordsmen

April 27, 2017 - 5:07pm

Journalist Bill Lynch of the Charleston Gazette-Mail is breaking new ground in reporting on barbershop. We’ve seen many behind-the-scenes stories about contest prep before, but this appears to be the first time a reporter has embedded himself in a chorus and actually rehearsed several weeks with a goal of singing in a contest with them. In this second installment, Bill discovers the depth of emotion in the music:

With “I Only Have Eyes for You,” for example, the feeling was romantic awe and wonder. Ted talked about the mood and emotion behind our songs at almost every rehearsal, things to which I’d never given much thought.

And it was something I hadn’t seen before.

I’ve written about musicians for years, talked with I don’t know how many songwriters, but nobody had ever spoken to me about the emotions behind the presentation of a song and what they were trying to convey.

Follow his journey at  One Month at a Time: Taking the stage with the Kanawha Kordsmen.  

Financial Filings Coming Due for Chapters, Districts & Subsidiaries of BHS

April 25, 2017 - 5:16pm
Have you already submitted your required IRS 990 or CRA Filings? THANK YOU! Many of our chapters, districts, and subsidiaries have already filed these reports but may not have reported to Society HQ. Filing these reports with the IRS, CRA, or other equivalent is not just a good idea; it is the law!    The Barbershop Harmony Society also requires reporting to the organization as a matter of compliance for its chapters, districts, and subsidiaries.    For U.S. Entities:  These filings with the IRS and reporting in eBiz are due no later than May 15th.    For FAQ’s about the IRS 990 and tutorial information, CLICK HERE.    For Canadian Entities: These filings and/or reporting in eBiz are due no later than June 30th.    For chapters, please review the Chapter Treasurer Checklist which includes information regarding CRA filings by CLICKING HERE.   Your chapter or entity may not be required to file with the CRA or your local province annually every year. However, the Barbershop Harmony Society requires that you complete and update your eBiz profile nonetheless.    Canadian chapters or entities not required to file with the CRA or Province should upload to their eBiz profile, for the respective fiscal year, with a letter from their Chapter Secretary or Treasurer attesting that their chapter is not required to file with the CRA or Province.   For All Chapters, Districts, and Subsidiaries: For a brief tutorial on how to update your Chapter or District eBiz profile with these filings, please CLICK HERE. If you are a subsidiary organization, copies of your mandatory filings should be sent to   ​ Unfortunately, failing to report to the Barbershop Harmony Society (through eBiz) is grounds for suspension/probation of all entities under our umbrella.   If we can be of further assistance to you in the meantime, please reach out to our Customer Service Team at OR Chapter Leadership & Education team at or 800.876.SING. 


Recorded Feedback

April 24, 2017 - 3:24pm
Digital technology makes it easy to provide custom feedback to individual singers

As seen in the March/April issue of The Harmonizer, page 28. 

By Dr. Jay Butterfield, Musical Director, Parkside Harmony chorus,


About 20 years ago, when I was director of the Chorus of The Brandywine in Wilmington, Del., we instituted an effective vocal feedback program—effective, but also cumbersome and time-consuming! Fortunately, advances in technology can make critical vocal feedback much more painless.

The old process consisted of the singers holding up what was then a brick-sized or larger cassette recorder to their faces and recording either parts of rehearsal or doing it solo, at home. They’d label the cassette, hand it to a section leader, and the next week (or weeks) later, the men would receive their original along with a feedback cassette.

Fast forward to today: electronic file sharing is a very easy process. Feedback remains a critical step for choruses in our style to enhance the development of individual singers, as well as the chorus as a whole. Here are some details as to how an effective, modern feedback system works:

Provide a platform for home rehearsal. Most barbershop choruses use professional rehearsal tracks with voice predominant, voice minus, and mixed versions. These are an excellent foundation for your program.There are many excellent sources for high quality tracks.  

Establish a voluntary submission procedure. Ask for volunteers to go through the recording and feedback process, to help smooth out the process before it is implemented chorus-wide. The practice submissions might include simply recording your voice at rehearsal on a recording app for your phone and emailing or texting it to the appropriate party. Note: some smartphones have proprietary recording software that produces less common file formats (AIFF, WAV etc). These often use more data and are difficult to convert on the receiver end, so you may consider designating a common app or format for all singers.

Create a practice assignment. Once the volunteers are comfortable, assign a practice submission in which they sing at home with a rehearsal track. This requires both a playback device for the digital file (computer or tablet) and their smart phone or digital recorder to record their voice on top of the audio from the playback device. Be clear with the expectation and make it simple at first. The singing evaluators should check submissions for recording quality and balance. Encourage one headphone in and the other out, so the singer can hear both the track and himself.  

Train the evaluators. After all have successfully submitted once, train section leaders or other evaluators on what to listen for on recordings. In most cases, they will serve the singers best by focusing on constructive feedback aimed at low-level issues pertaining to whether a passage was sung correctly. They should not give feedback on vocal production and techniques unless they are schooled and skilled in these areas. Poor strategies and improper technique have caused many a setback for our singers over the years.

Have section leaders create practice feedback recorders and submit to the chorus music leaders, who will ensure that the commentary is appropriate and accurate. It may take some time before the feedback team is fully prepared.

Give specific assignments to the chorus. Once the feedback team is truly ready, begin regular recording requests, or requirements, depending on your goals and expectations. Don’t bite off more than the music team can chew! Requests need to be specific and in writing to the membership. Example: “Basses, please submit measures 1-38 of “Melancholy Baby” by Sunday, March 26 at 8 p.m. Remember we are especially working on the breathing, so double check this as you prepare.”

Make use of effective feedback strategies. Ask both individuals and the chorus as a whole early on in the program, to be sure they understand and are comfortable with the process and the feedback.Here are some other tips:

  • Evaluators should use the written music, and note concerns verbally as they record both their voice and the submitted track.
  • An excellent variation is to stop the singer track and describe the particular concern, model the passage correctly, then play back that area for the singer to hear.
  • Summarize at the end of the feedback track. Example: “Thanks, Bob, for the submission. Remember the stagger breathing techniques discussed and try these at rehearsal next week.”
  • Send the feedback to the singer as promptly as possible.
  • Develop an electronic tracker for submission dates and feedback dates so you have a record for follow up as needed.

A regular feedback program takes a while to get implemented, but it will pay huge dividends both for individual singers and for the chorus as a whole. Good luck!

Breathe life into your singing

April 24, 2017 - 3:12pm

As seen in the March/April 2017 issue of The Harmonizer, page 24.

By Debra Lynn,

Bel canto (Italian for “beautiful singing” ) was the standard of singing technique from 1800 to about 1840, and is primarily concerned with upper body engagement, creating a clear, concentrated, free, resonant tone without force of any kind. Many other singing techniques have come since then, but unless you are an opera singer, these bel canto techniques often yield better and faster results.

There is a famous story about opera legend Luciano Pavarotti as a young voice student. His teacher placed a lit candle in front of his mouth and would tell him to sing while not allowing the flame to move. In essence, Pavarotti learned to keep the tone source steady. This is exactly the type of tone that results in ringing chords in the barbershop style.

The real jewel of the bel canto tradition is its breath mechanics, which are perfect for our type of singing. It may feel odd at first, but understand the body mechanics involved in releasing air over your vocal folds. Think of blowing up a balloon and holding the neck so that it whistles. How long will it whistle? For as long as the gentle air pressure in the balloon is sufficient. In bel canto, the air pressure, stabilized in your rib cage by expanding on inhalation and engaging throughout a phrase, gives that seamless tone-to-tone connection or legato line, just by staying still.

By engaging your body to replicate holding your breath for a few seconds, you can feel the connection required to make consistent, stable tone. Feel how your rib cage naturally engages and stabilizes. Release and gently do it again. This time, when you hold your breath, notice the sensation in your throat; to some it feels like gentle compression downward, to others holding back. Release and relax. That feeling is the vocal folds coming into approximation and closing. What if the question was not “how do I take bigger breaths?” but instead, “how do I take smaller ones?” Less air, not more. This is where this work seems fantastic and unbelievable. The beauty of the technique is that if the ribs engage on each breath, you’ll feel your voice work in an instant. When singers embrace this type of singing, the first comment is often “I made it through the whole phrase and it was too easy. Shouldn’t this be hard?”

By realizing that the primary air management objective is just to sustain gentle air pressure, not to force air through your instrument, you can easily manage your singing. When you are not struggling to control air, effortless delivery becomes more accessible.

The over-pressurization or irregular force across the vocal folds is the primary culprit behind poor quality of tone, inconsistent resonance and intonation, and loss of stability and control. By using this breathing technique, you have the ability to focus on artistry, musicianship and performance. Bel canto offers a transformative experience, as you become an optimal resonating acoustic instrument designed to amplify sound with ease.

Deke Sharon gives incredible keynote speech at Midwinter

April 13, 2017 - 2:25pm

 Deke Sharon, the music director of the Pitch Perfect movie franchise as well as NBC’s The Sing-Off, gave a powerful keynote address at the 2017 Midwinter Convention in San Antonio. The BHS Honorary Lifetime Member encouraged Barbershoppers to make audiences cry while singing a Polecat, addressed the issue of mixed singing, spoke about the importance of video in growing the popularity of barbershop and so much more. It’s a candid yet impactful perspective that warrants the attention of all who love our amazing art form.

“What is this gift that you have that the world needs?”

Tell us, Deke. And let us listen.

What does it mean to sing in tune?

April 13, 2017 - 1:48pm
A quick lesson in physics teaches how to hear when you are totally locked in

- By Jay Dougherty, Asst. Professor, Director of Choices and Choral Activities, Marietta College -

Barbershoppers are ear singers. We sing and tune by ear, so why do so many of us often sing out of tune? Perhaps a more pertinent question would be, “What does in tune actually mean?” Are we singing in tune with a piano? With our neighbor on the risers? With what we remember as “Do” that was blown 45 seconds ago?

The very concept of tuning requires a minimum of two sounding pitches. A solo voice cannot sing harmonically out of tune, because it is not being compared to any other source. Most amateur musicians can tell when an interval does not sound right, and we know intuitively when a sound is disagreeable or when it is pleasurable. If our goal is to sing in tune with another person, we need to know what it means to sing in or out of tune.

You don’t make overtones—they’re already there

You’ve probably heard of overtones, or perhaps the overtone series. But did you know that we cannot “make” overtones? They are always there. Every note you sing, even every word you speak, contains an infinite number of pitches (overtones) above the one you are singing (fundamental). When you sing one note, you are actually singing many notes at the same time. The extra notes you are singing have a very specific order: the first pitch is one octave above the fundamental note you are singing, the second is a fifth higher, and then a fourth higher, and then a third higher, and so on until the overtones become so close together that we don’t have names for them. They eventually get so high in frequency that the human ear can no longer hear them.

But here’s where it gets interesting. These overtones exist in physics. We do not get to choose at which intervals the overtones will sound. As an example, if you sing the note C, you will also be producing a C one octave above your fundamental. There is nothing you can do with your voice that will cause your first overtone (or any subsequent overtone) to be anything other than an octave.

The beats you don’t want to hear

This is important because the intervals between the overtones reside in the most “in tune” place. In other words, overtones happen to exist where there are the fewest possible beats to create an interval. You hear examples of the overtone series in all music, especially on bugle calls like “Taps” and “Reveille.” These songs are a simply a brass player moving up and down on the overtone series, using no valves.

When you hear dissonance, you hear beats in the sound—-small fluttering disturbances in the sound that, if prominent enough, can make you cringe. The fewer beats you hear, the more in-tune you’ll perceive something to be. A great way to learn to hear beats is to sing against a fixed pitch: a pitch pipe works great. As you blow air through your pipe, hum the same note. Now, hum a little flat and hear how the beats are very obvious. Slowly bend the pitch back up, and when you finally match pitch, the sound will smooth out and the beats will go away.

The math of being in tune

There is an easy mathematical solution to determine which set of pitches will be the most in tune. In a purely-tuned major third, the higher pitch will oscillate 5 times for every 4 times the lower pitch oscillates. This repeating pattern of 5:4 produces a harmony that the human ear finds pleasing and considers to be in tune. Not only is this because this tuning of a major third contains the fewest possible beats, but also because it is the exact interval between the 4th and 5th overtones in the overtone series. In other words, we constantly hear this interval in every note somebody sings and even in every word they speak.

By way of comparison, the major 3rd on a piano or electronic keyboard, which is equally tempered and therefore slightly out of tune in every key, has a ratio of 15749:12500. In other words, for every 15,749 times the upper note oscillates, the lower note will oscillate 12,500 times. This ratio is so large that the pattern doesn’t repeat often enough for the ear to hear it as perfectly in tune. Beats are heard when a major third is played on these instruments, but this is the tricky piece: if we have grown up in Western music and heard this “out of tune” sound for a lifetime, we learn to accept it over time … it starts to sound right to our ears. That’s why getting away from the piano is critical for success in barbershop.

So let’s get really technical. We now know that physics determines which overtones are being produced. We also know that the overtones produced are the most perfectly in tune intervals possible. Third, we know that these intervals are produced in every note we sing. Thus, if Person One sings a C, he is unintentionally also producing an octave above that C, and then a fifth above that octave, which is a G. After that we get another C and then an E, and so on. That E, the fifth harmonic (or 4th overtone), does not match the E on a piano.

If Person Two sings an E against a Person One’s C, we find ourselves back to the first question: with what is Person Two supposed to sing in tune? If he or she sings in tune to the piano, this will not be the same E that Person One is already producing in his/her overtone series. Thus, they will be singing out of tune with each other. In order to avoid the beats of dissonance, Person Two must sing the same E that Person One is already producing via the overtone series of his/her C.

How is this done? With practice, we can tune our ears to hearing overtones. But more simply than that, listen for the beats. The fewer beats, the more in tune. Let your ears do the work. It is not about singing higher or lower; it is more about simply singing the “right” note. And that right note is the one that exists in physics, the one that has the fewest beats in the sound, and the one that is automatically produced in the overtone series of the person you’re singing with. When you hear beats, you’re hearing overtones not matching up in low ratios.

If you would like to learn more, search online for “just vs equal temperament” and you will find a wealth of information.