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How do I teach someone to sing harmony?

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SharonA 03 Jul 08 - 01:07 PM
Vixen 03 Jul 08 - 01:49 PM
GUEST,leeneia 03 Jul 08 - 02:08 PM
Leadfingers 03 Jul 08 - 02:12 PM
Roger in Baltimore 03 Jul 08 - 02:13 PM
GUEST,Jonny Sunshine 03 Jul 08 - 03:51 PM
Helen 03 Jul 08 - 03:57 PM
GUEST,Jim 03 Jul 08 - 05:16 PM
Richard Bridge 03 Jul 08 - 05:20 PM
Valmai Goodyear 04 Jul 08 - 07:46 AM
GUEST,Rapunzel 04 Jul 08 - 08:56 AM
GUEST,leeneia 04 Jul 08 - 10:21 AM
Jess A 04 Jul 08 - 10:33 AM
Jess A 04 Jul 08 - 10:48 AM
GUEST,JeffB 04 Jul 08 - 10:53 AM
GUEST,HSA 04 Jul 08 - 11:08 AM
Jess A 04 Jul 08 - 11:13 AM
WyoWoman 04 Jul 08 - 11:37 AM
GUEST,Kevin Parker 04 Jul 08 - 01:45 PM
SharonA 04 Jul 08 - 06:14 PM
Tangledwood 04 Jul 08 - 08:03 PM
The Fooles Troupe 04 Jul 08 - 10:13 PM
GUEST,Shimrod 05 Jul 08 - 04:03 AM
The Fooles Troupe 05 Jul 08 - 05:51 AM
Cap n' Ella 05 Jul 08 - 07:30 AM
SharonA 08 Jul 08 - 12:34 PM
GUEST,Russ 08 Jul 08 - 07:32 PM
The Fooles Troupe 08 Jul 08 - 07:49 PM
Dave the Gnome 09 Jul 08 - 09:13 AM
Jess A 09 Jul 08 - 01:07 PM
GUEST,Russ 09 Jul 08 - 01:50 PM
PoppaGator 09 Jul 08 - 02:08 PM
Artful Codger 09 Jul 08 - 06:03 PM
The Fooles Troupe 09 Jul 08 - 08:33 PM
The Fooles Troupe 09 Jul 08 - 08:35 PM
M.Ted 09 Jul 08 - 08:52 PM
The Fooles Troupe 09 Jul 08 - 08:56 PM
Artful Codger 10 Jul 08 - 03:32 PM
The Fooles Troupe 10 Jul 08 - 07:02 PM
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Bert 10 Jul 08 - 08:22 PM
Artful Codger 11 Jul 08 - 03:03 AM
SharonA 12 Jul 08 - 01:35 PM
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Subject: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: SharonA
Date: 03 Jul 08 - 01:07 PM

Over the last year or so, a couple of friends and I have formed a trio and have played some gigs. We're all amateur songwriters and we back up each other's songs in addition to doing some trad blues, folk/country and swing covers. We also sing in two-part and three-part harmony occasionally and we'd like to do that more often.

Of the three of us, I'm the one with the most experience singing harmony -- I grew up singing alto in church choirs, playing in school bands and orchestras, and taking piano lessons, so hearing the harmony-notes within a chord and singing those notes is second nature to me.

Not so with my bandmates. The bass singer has the advantage of also having a friend who is a voice teacher and retired opera singer, and that guy has helped my friend learn to harmonize and to sing the root of a chord. It's not a comfortable habit for him yet, but he's making great strides and is getting there.

The other guy sings in the tenor/high baritone range and can carry a melody very well while the rest of us are harmonizing with him, but when it's someone else's turn to sing lead and his turn to harmonize... well, let's just say it's a challenge for him. He sometimes sings something that sounds good but then his voice wanders off in dissonant directions. He often ends up singing along with the melody or with the other harmony-part without even realizing that he's doing it. However, when I try to give him the note that he is supposed to sing (by singing or playing it for him), he has difficulty mimicking that note. I play an E, he sings a C# and asks, "Is that right?" Arrgh.

On the plus side, when a harmony is written out for him note by note on staff paper, he can learn it (as if he were learning a new melody), and I've heard him continue to sing it to himself pitch-perfect when rehearsal's over and we're carrying instruments to our cars. So there's hope!

But how do I go about teaching him to sing his part when he's singing with the rest of us? He has no training or experience with choral groups, shape-note sings, or any of that (and his business keeps him too busy to attend sings with any regularity -- besides, we need him to learn to sing our songs first so we can perform them at gigs!). I could write out his part for him, for every song in our group's growing repertoire, but how do I teach him to find his part by ear? He brings a little electronic recorder to our rehearsals and records the other two of us so that he can sing along while he's working or driving, but so far it hasn't helped; I suspect it's because we aren't there to tell him that he's latched on to one of our parts again.

Any suggestions or references to helpful websites, teaching materials, etc would be appreciated! Are there any exercises that he could do alone or that we could do with him? Any tips for me (the most temperamental of the three of us) about maintaining my cool and being patient while he learns?!? Help!

Frustratedly,
Sharon


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: Vixen
Date: 03 Jul 08 - 01:49 PM

Hi Sharon--

I'm harmonically-challenged, so Reynaud (who, I swear, dreams in harmony) gives me each note, and I sing it as if it were a melody, like your tenor. I still get pulled off my part, but I'm getting better at hanging on.

Patience, patience, patience is what I need, because the only way for me to successfully practice harmony parts is with a live person with a good ear who will stop me and get me back on track when I go off. I just can't concentrate on the words, the notes, *and* how it sounds with the other voice--too much. It's hard on my dearest, because I think dissonance is physically painful for him, but he does, bless him!

Good luck!

V


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 03 Jul 08 - 02:08 PM

Here's what I think.

Step 1 - you have to know the melody by heart

Step 2 - have an accompaniment going. Try to be aware of it, but don't try to copy it.

Step 3 - start softly and try singing harmony notes. If they don't work, try something else. Do this until you have a something good.

This has worked in my church choir many times.


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: Leadfingers
Date: 03 Jul 08 - 02:12 PM

Three Part is relatively easy IF you play strings or keyboards ! Just check the Chord , and pick a note that the others are NOT using ! Thats what we did when I was trying to get harmonies with Fools Gold !i


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: Roger in Baltimore
Date: 03 Jul 08 - 02:13 PM

Sharon,


Go to Homespuntapes.com. They have a 3 CD teaching set called "Learn to Sing Harmony". It was created by Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer with Robin and Linda Williams. Like Vixen, I am harmony challenged. The CD's helped me. I got to sing along with someone else who is doing the harmony and then try singing the harmony myself. I found it helpful. After that it is practice, practice, practice.   Cost is $37.50.

Big RiB


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: GUEST,Jonny Sunshine
Date: 03 Jul 08 - 03:51 PM

Try singing some rounds, it's a really good way to get someone to sing harmony whilst only having to learn the same tune as everyone else.


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: Helen
Date: 03 Jul 08 - 03:57 PM

When I was trying to learn songs I made a cassette tape of them and played them over and over in the car. When your friend tapes the other two parts it would probably help if you sang or played his part - solo - so he could tape it and listen to his part over and over until it is set in his mind, and then practise singing it over the tape of the other 2 parts.

I was in a choir a few years ago and was singing alto. I had to memorise the "melody" of the alto part so that it was set in my mind and so that I could remember the "tune" of my part while singing with the others.

Helen


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: GUEST,Jim
Date: 03 Jul 08 - 05:16 PM

This is something that becomes easier the more you do it. I belonged to a bluegrass group for a few years and at first I had to memorise the harmony parts. It has now become natural to sing the third (what bluegrassers call the tenor part). I still have trouble with the fifth (what bluegrassers call the baritone part).


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 03 Jul 08 - 05:20 PM

Drink beer and sing the chorus to "Rolling Down to Old Maui" several hundred times.


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: Valmai Goodyear
Date: 04 Jul 08 - 07:46 AM

You could come to Coope Boyes and Simpson's third all-day vocal harmony workshop at the Lewes Arms on Saturday 18th. October this year. We haven't started taking formal bookings yet, but if you'd like to go on the list of interested people please PM me with your postal address.

Best wishes,

Valmai (Lewes)


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: GUEST,Rapunzel
Date: 04 Jul 08 - 08:56 AM

For me, the most important thing about singing in harmony is listening to each other. Some make the mistake of concentrating so hard on their own parts that they don't hear what's going on as a whole and then slip out of tune.

(I learnt this back when I used to sing in choirs and one choir master mixed up the whole choir so that no-one singing the same part was next to each other. I was singing alto and I was sandwiched between a tenor and a soprano with basses behind and in front! It meant you couldn't rely on the person beside carrying you and you had to listen to the whole piece, not just the part you were singing - a good experience.)

Sometimes the best harmonies evolve with instinct and practicing together rather than trying to set out parts, but you can only do this by listening well.


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 04 Jul 08 - 10:21 AM

I think it would be a good idea to play recordings of vocal music when home alone and practice singing harmony to them while working around the house. That way, there is nobody to hear, criticize or be irritated.

You will have to find recordings by people who sing in tune.


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: Jess A
Date: 04 Jul 08 - 10:33 AM

if he's struggling to sing a note back to you, it sounds like he might benefit from some exercises to train his ears and try and get a connection between what he hears and what he sings.

I'm not a music teacher so have no idea what exercises there may be designed to help with this, but off the top of my head it sounds like what you're already doing (playing a note at him and getting him to sing it back) is a good place to start. Also, playing two notes and getting him to say which is higher or lower. Plus interval recognition, singing scales and arpeggios, getting familiar with the concept of seconds, thirds, fourths fifths etc, and then playing a note and getting him to sing a third above or a fifth above or whatever.

The thing he needs at this stage is feedback - was what he sang right or not? and if not was it too high or too low...? Not sure whether an electronic tuner type device would help with this so he could practice on his own, but they might be too sensitive and therefore unhelpful. Your ears are probably the best measure of whether he's getting it right or not - so doing a series of this type of exercise as warmup at the start of every practice might be helpful.


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: Jess A
Date: 04 Jul 08 - 10:48 AM

just had a quick google and in fact there are any number of websites about ear training, many of which have free online ear training programs. Might be worth checking some of these out, computers being infinitely more patient than people...


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: GUEST,JeffB
Date: 04 Jul 08 - 10:53 AM

I'm not a natural harmony singer but got by singing in a large group. I had trouble when we introduced some West Gallery (Sacred Harp) pieces into our repertoire because you have to stick exactly to the dots and the group becomes a choir. In pieces like these the lower parts are hardly even tunes, and I found it uphill work.

I succeeded by having a CD of the first couple of verses, which I played and practised with. I know something similar has been tried with your singer, and suggested above a few times too, but the little difference with my CD was that just my part was sung solo, several times, alternating with full parts with my part on slightly higher volume. That really helped. Being rote learning it depends on frequent repetition, but shouldn't take too long. It'sjust a start really. Learning other parts later gets easier, and harmony singing starts getting normal.

Singing rounds sounds like an excellent idea too.

He can learn a melody and sing it unaccompanied in perfect pitch, so he'll be fine after a while. Just needs to practice different stuff as often as possible. Let him know when he comes up with a line that really works. Confidence is a big part of it.


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: GUEST,HSA
Date: 04 Jul 08 - 11:08 AM

I think some people naturally hear harmonies and some hear the melody loud and clear. Sadly (from the point of view of singing harmonies) I am one of the latter. We have to really work at it. The best way I found was indeed to write it down and learn it as if it was the tune. Then sing your "tune" alongside a recording of the person singing the melody. Until you have it off perfect.

Then you will never be able to sing the melody again!!! But I can still sing "my" harmonies against other people singing the melody.

I'm still not very good at improvising. However often I try singing along in the car I still spring back to the meolody.

Helen (a different one!)


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: Jess A
Date: 04 Jul 08 - 11:13 AM

another tip for those wanting to come up with harmonies to an existing melody is to sing a drone (i.e. one note all the way through) and then once you've done that for a while and got a feel for which bits sound unpleasant or clashy, vary just those bits by one note (i.e. a tone down or a tone up)


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: WyoWoman
Date: 04 Jul 08 - 11:37 AM

All of the above, yes. Especially what Jess A. said: "Also, playing two notes and getting him to say which is higher or lower. Plus interval recognition, singing scales and arpeggios, getting familiar with the concept of seconds, thirds, fourths fifths etc, and then playing a note and getting him to sing a third above or a fifth above or whatever."

I'd start with just one note, then add another and learn to recognize if it's higher or lower than the original one. This may sound like baby steps, but ... even those of us who have sung harmony so long it has become automatic for us actually started out this way. Then practice singing a third above that one note until you can absolutely nail a third above any note you're given. Then a third above two notes, then three, etc. Then learn different intervals -- fifths and fourths mostly -- just a tiny bit at a time.

Part of what happens in trying to learn harmony is that we try to do all of it all at once and there's too much going on for our brains to distinguish what we personally ought to be doing. And then we tell ourselves we're stupid for not being able to and that we just aren't a "natural" harmony singer. It's all learned -- with some of us, it was learned so early that it seems intrinsic, but it's all learned.

My bandmate Lynn started really working on her harmony singing about four years ago and has had a huge breakthrough in it now. When we rehearse, we break down the harmonies -- sometimes note by note repeatedly -- until we nail it. What I notice about the process is that what gets in her way the most is her telling herself she's stupid and harmony-challenged and will never get it. As soon as she shifts into the "just working it out" phase and starts to listen to the notes instead of her own self-deprecation, VIOLA! there's a harmony.

Onward! It's completely do-able. If you can hear, you can harmonize.

--WyoWoman


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: GUEST,Kevin Parker
Date: 04 Jul 08 - 01:45 PM

For those of you in, or near to, Edinburgh, the Scots Music Group run a fantastic harmony singing class lead by Yvonne Burgess. Everything done by ear, excellent warm-ups, and a real emphasis on listening to what the other voices are doing. I stayed in the class for several years, even after 'learning' to sing harmony, for the sheer joy of it - the group makes such a beautiful noise!

Otherwise I very much agree with WyoWoman's comments - if you can hear you can harmonize.


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: SharonA
Date: 04 Jul 08 - 06:14 PM

I knew I'd come to the right place with this problem. Thank goodness -- and Max and all the Mudelves -- for Mudcat!! And thanks to all of you who've posted such helpful advice thus far.

Not only can My Harmony-Challenged Friend (let's call him MHCF for short) hear, he can sing, play swing and jazz chords on guitar, and set his dobro on fire with his flying fingers. He can listen to one of our original songs that he's never heard before and instantly start improvising on either instrument, making the song sound infinitely better. This is why I find it so odd (and so frustrating) that he can't do the same with his voice. I guess that, as WyoWoman says, it's a learned skill, and this guy just never learned to "play" harmonies "on" his voice.

Jess A's idea of having MHCF sing a drone note is something we have tried already with some success. In fact, he asks us to just give him one note to stay on. Sounds a bit like singing along with a robot, though! Anyway, thanks for the tip about googling "Ear Training" (I'd tried the keyword "Harmony" with no success!). MHCF has dial-up internet service, but he may be able to navigate some of the simpler training sites. I'll pass 'em on!

Roger, our bass singer loaned MHCF his set of CD's on harmony singing. I'll ask whether that was the same course as the one you recommend.

I love Helen's idea of recording MHCF's part (solo), and JeffB's idea of using recordings alternating between MHCF's part and all the parts together. How would we make MHCF's part slightly louder on the all-the-parts recording? Is there a way to engineer it, or do we just have a fourth person sing MHCF's part louder for the recording?

Harmonizin' exercises as an integral part of every group rehearsal -- sounds like a great idea, not just for MHCF's benefit but for our bass singer's too. I don't know if MHCF is ready for rounds yet, but it's a good goal for him... hmmm, maybe I should write a song with a round in it, for us to perform!

Richard, I got a much-needed good laugh out of your "Old Maui" advice! Thanks. Seriously though, chanties might appeal to MHCF more than rounds; I'll ask him. Want to keep him interested in the learning process, after all!

Okay, gotta encourage him, boost his self-confidence, patience, patience, patience... got it.

Again, many thanks to everyone for your thoughts and suggestions. Please keep 'em coming!

Sharon


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: Tangledwood
Date: 04 Jul 08 - 08:03 PM

Last year I attended a singing workshop. We sang quite a few rounds simply divided into three or four groups. After a while the coaches got us to walk around the room quite randomly. At the time it sounded good but just seemed like a bit of fun. I see now that it combined JeffB's round suggestion with Rapunzel's choir master's mixing.

If the singer needs to learn the harmony, one of the computer tools such as Melody Assistant or Finale Notepad might help. Midi tunes can be created for all vocal parts and either played independantly or combined.


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 04 Jul 08 - 10:13 PM

Some people seem to never learn - I'm convinced because they do not have well developed 'self listening skills'.

"what gets in her way the most is her telling herself she's stupid and harmony-challenged and will never get it. As soon as she shifts into the "just working it out" phase and starts to listen to the notes instead of her own self-deprecation"

I knew someone who was told by her school 'music teacher' that she would never be able to sing. This teacher was obviously useless as a music teacher (wonder how many other kids she stuffed up?) - as soon as I showed this lady how to LISTEN to herself, she began to realise how off key she really was, and began to rapidly improve within weeks.


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: GUEST,Shimrod
Date: 05 Jul 08 - 04:03 AM

"How do I teach someone to sing harmony?"

Don't! Harmony singing is an abomination - self-indulgent, melody free dirge would be a better description!


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 05 Jul 08 - 05:51 AM

WAV, is that you in disguise?


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: Cap n' Ella
Date: 05 Jul 08 - 07:30 AM

Hi SharonA

If one or more members of your trio are having difficulty with the harmonies here's what I would suggest, it's a system that works well for us; first of all you as the arranger should record all three parts, the reason you should include your own part is because if it comes naturally to you then you'll find yourself improvising to compensate for variations in the singing of the others and then you'll never achieve consistancy or that 'tightness' of sound.

Next let them have a tape of their part to listen to for a week, then it's time to start putting it all together, first you need to identify any notes that may clash, the best way to do this is to have singer 1 sing the song through with singer 2 then singer 1 with singer 3 then singer 2 with singer 3

Ok now each of you know's that everything fits! this process is really important because other than the obvious point that it means the song will work, what it does is instill confidence in the less confident singer that their part is actually correct (most wandering off is due to this uncertainty)

Now the person who's previously been finding it difficult should sing the song through with the other more confident singer (Not you), it doesn't matter if neither have the melody part - as many times as it takes to get the two voices to mesh (you'll all know when that happens) lastly, you (from the other side of the room) should start quietly singing the third part with them - out of earshot at first then gradually move closer and very slowly begin to increase your volume, suddenly a huge smile will appear on the face of the unconfident singer, at which point you'll probably all have to stop singing as they say Wow was that really us making that incredible sound!!

After that it'll just get better and better and the more you do it the more it all falls into place and eventually even the less confident members will stop hearing themselves and instead hear 'the sound' that's when you know you've really started to crack it!

I really hope that this is of some use to you.

Very Best Wishes
Tony Petty (Capella)


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: SharonA
Date: 08 Jul 08 - 12:34 PM

*refresh*

Thanks again, all, for the wonderful tips and counsel. I'd like to hear more input! What's been your experience with harmony singing? How did you learn, or teach someone the skill?


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: GUEST,Russ
Date: 08 Jul 08 - 07:32 PM

My experience.

I tried to learn to sing harmony and gave it up for a number of reasons.
I learned, the hard way, that the problem is not singing harmony, it is creating a harmony.
I was able to create simple harmonies while sitting at the piano but it was a long and laborious process. I then had to memorize the harmony and hope that I could remember it when it came time to sing it. Sometimes yes, sometime no.
I never got to the point where I could create a harmony on the fly.
I finally gave up.
Be gentle with your fellow singers.

Russ (Permanent GUEST and melody singer).


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 08 Jul 08 - 07:49 PM

I'm sad for you Russ.

As one who can do it 'on the fly' and also do the Bass lines 'on the fly' in several different Bass styles, it's a pity.

No, wait, wait... I'll start again... I'm not WAV in disguise, honest :-)

Russ, some people just don't seem to be able to 'click' with some things, so don't feel bad. At the very least, remember that, having tried yourself, you can appreciate those who can do it. I really can't offer any useful suggestions for learning how to do it, I just was always able to do it - perhaps being around choirs from an early age helped, I don't know.

You have said something that I think is a profound insight:

"I learned, the hard way, that the problem is not singing harmony, it is creating a harmony."

You have worded that in a way that has given me an insight - sometimes the semantics is really important! Only in choirs singing prewritten pieces is 'singing the harmony' important!

Robin


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 09 Jul 08 - 09:13 AM

I was in a choir for a short time, following an SATB score, and for the life of me I could not sing the tenor part on songs that I already knew. Try as I may I just followed the soprano melody line. On songs I didn't know however, if I learned the tenor part from the dots and made sure I never heard the main tune until I know my part I was OK! With me I think it is just conditioning.

I do find I can throw the odd singing harmony in when they are obvious and when I play concertina I play more than a few harmonies by accident:-)

Cheers

Dave


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: Jess A
Date: 09 Jul 08 - 01:07 PM

I sing and play with Crucible and we do teach singing workshops at festivals so I'm always interested to hear other people's hints and tips about this sort of stuff.

My own route in to harmony singing was through improvising (vocally and instrumentally) in sessions and, initially, singing in school choirs. Not sure how I learned about improvising harmonies on the fly, it just sort of evolved as I was growing up. We used to sing a lot as a family, in the car and so on. I absolutely love being part of a big group of voices all singing different notes but making a big fat chordal sound. For that reason I really enjoy singing Sacred Harp although I don't get to do it that often.

I didn't really get into arranging close 4 part harmony till after we formed the band and I am constantly fascinated by different approaches even between the 4 of us who perform together. Sometimes we'll improvise and record our improvisations and pick the best of what we'd made up and then (usually) write it down, sometimes we'll arrange more theoretically on paper making chords between the available voices. Most often its a mixture of those two approaches. Often the creative bit is only coming from 1 or 2 of the band with the others then being given a part to learn, but it's not always the same 2. Two of us out of the four in the band are comfortably musically literate but the other two aren't and using the two approaches gives a big mixture of everybody's input. Not to say that it always works- we've abandoned songs in the past because we just couldn't find a set of harmonies that we liked or were all comfortable with.


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: GUEST,Russ
Date: 09 Jul 08 - 01:50 PM

Robin,

Thanks for the kind response.

To be honest, it is not a big deal for me that I am not a harmony singer.

It was a mild interest in singing harmony and the thought "how hard could it be?" that resulted in my taking a few classes in singing what I think is called "close southern harmony."

As it turns out it is way harder than it looks.

Anyway, my wife is one of the best harmony singers on the planet.
Many of my singing friends fancy themselves harmony singers.
So it is not like we need yet another harmony singer.

I must confess that when multiple harmonizers show up in the same jam, the jockeying for position can get a bit tedious.
I am happy to be out of that loop.

Russ (Permanent GUEST and former harmony wannabe)


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: PoppaGator
Date: 09 Jul 08 - 02:08 PM

I have a degree of instinctual ability for improvising harmonies, developed since early childhood when my mom used to harmonize with us kids, but sometimes I get overconfident and find myself singing a real clunker of a note, or (at other times) unable to come up with anything other than just singing in unison with the lead part.

Given the opportunity to rehearse a given piece over and over, and to work up a vocal arrangement, I'd probably be able to cover pretty much any angle. But the point is, what I can do is semi-unconscious, and therefore virtually impossible to pass along to someone else.

I have long since despaired of understanding the different "learning styles" and musicial difficulties of different people. I've encountered too many folks over the years who are far more accomplished than I am as instrumentalists and/or as singers, but who are flat-out unable to do one or two particular things that come easily to me.

Perhaps this is an oversimplification, but I feel that musical ability consists of a combination of instinctive "feeling" and studied, almost mechanical, training, and that everyone needs a bit of both to participate in music-making at all. But everyone seems to strike a different balance between the two extremes, and folks who are too far apart from each other along this "spectrum" can have great difficulty with musical communication.

It's a good thing so many different suggestions have been offered here. Whatever MHCF's problem might be, one approach might work for him while another won't. Just try 'em all, I guess, and keep at it. Assuming that all three members of the group are sufficiently committed, this is a problem that will probably be solved before too much longer.


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: Artful Codger
Date: 09 Jul 08 - 06:03 PM

One problem people have in learning is that they do things that stress the horizontal aspect rather than the vertical, such as learning a part as if it were a tune in isolation. That's a rather inflexible and dependent approach (someone else has to come up with the part first), and on the next piece you're just as lost.

Singing to a recording is just as bad for someone who doesn't have basic harmonizing proficiency, because a recording doesn't wait for you or give you feedback on where you are in the mix. You may hear that something's out of whack, but you don't know what to do about it; you just feel nervous. So most likely, you'll just give in to the pull to sing the melody.

Many instrumentalists have only developed a manual/visual orientation to harmony; they conceive of it in terms of chord names, fingerings, and passing line patterns. They can play you the jazziest chord in town, but they can't arpeggiate the chord notes by voice.

The essence of harmony singing is to "hear" the harmony in your head, identify the supporting notes, and select the one which is most "right". So I think the most fruitful exercise for your friend would be vocal arpeggiation, to retrain his harmonic orientation.

Another useful exercise is to "simultaneously" sing melody and harmony lines: Step through the parts, briefly/softly singing the melody note, then singing the corresponding harmony note for your part normally. Then repeat the exercise, "singing" the melody only in your head. This develops an aural and muscular sense of part relationships.

I'd also like to add that there won't always BE a good harmony note to sing. At times, it's entirely appropriate to sing unison/octaves, or to SHUT UP (gasp, what a concept!)


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 09 Jul 08 - 08:33 PM

""how hard could it be?""

Famous Last Words,

Russ.... :-)


"I must confess that when multiple harmonizers show up in the same jam, the jockeying for position can get a bit tedious."


I'll slip you a secret 'killer technique'1, Russ. Just sing the "13th harmonic relative augmented note, diminished"...

You don't ACTUALLY NEED to sing flat, it just sounds that way... :-)

I do believe the current resident Mudcat expert WAV is prepared to give free lessons...

1And I'm not kidding about 'killer technique' either...


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 09 Jul 08 - 08:35 PM

Artful Codger

You have expressed the concepts well.


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: M.Ted
Date: 09 Jul 08 - 08:52 PM

There are a lot of different things that can happen in harmony(sometimes called mechanisms). It's a lot easier to write or even improvise parts if you know which one (or ones) you want to use.

First, there is parallel motion, which often would simply be a second line that follows the melody exactly, but, for instance, a third/minor third apart-(you could do any interval, but most wouldn't work well in a folk arrangement).

Next, there is similar motion, where a second line follows the melody approximately, but doesn't always keep the same interval separation--This tends to change pitch less than the melody--often only when a chord change occurs. "Grassroots" harmony often uses this--

Then, there are the various species of counterpoint, where one or more voices move in different directions from the melody. Here's where we fit in the chord arpeggiation that Artful Codger mentioned.

Some harmony is based on creating a chord with the melody note on top, other times, block chords are sung with the melody floating independently.

Old Style R&B used(and uses) the melody line floating over chordal rhythm patterns.

The old 50's early 60's pop/folk groups might have done an arrangement like this:

A couple lines (or even a verse) in unison, then a couple lines to a verse in two part harmony, followed by the refrain starting in two part harmony leading in to a full four voiced chord. Then, on either a bridge or a third verse, there might be a solo while the other voices hum, "lalala", or "Waaaahh" on a a block chord. Then back to unison for the last verse.

When you've made up your mind what you're going to do, it becomes a lot easier.


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 09 Jul 08 - 08:56 PM

M Ted

You've done even better, in a more general sense.


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: Artful Codger
Date: 10 Jul 08 - 03:32 PM

M.Ted: I believe you've misunderstood me. I wasn't pushing arpeggiation as a form of harmonic accompaniment, but rather as a vocal training exercise, developing one's ability to hear and reproduce the vertical harmonic components. It's preparation for any sort of harmony singing. Even when singing parallel parts, as thirds, you almost never keep the same exact interval (e.g. a minor third) throughout, but modify it according to the scale or harmonic progression: sometimes you'll sing a major third instead, sometimes a second or fourth. Unless you have the harmonic progression clear in your head in aural terms, you'll muff the harmony in whatever style. Many of us come by this naturally, and so forget that others don't think in the same sensory dementia ..er.. dimension.

Good harmony singing involves much more, of course: motifs, rhythm, inversions, part crossing, line staggering, suspensions, range leaps, ornamentation, passing dissonances... But before getting into this morass of choices, the fellow must first develop the most basic harmonizing skill: knowing where the hell he is.


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 10 Jul 08 - 07:02 PM

"any of us come by this naturally, and so forget that others don't think in the same"

Which can make it devilishly awkward to explain it...


"the most basic harmonizing skill: knowing where the hell he is"

Actually this sort of skill is also needed for actors on stage... driving a car... life in general... :-)


"ability to hear and reproduce the vertical harmonic components"

Very well said.

"Even when singing parallel parts, as thirds, you almost never keep the same exact interval"

Which where the idea of 'key modulation' wants to come in once you start to think Vertically instead of Horizontally...


"Unless you have the harmonic progression clear in your head in aural terms, you'll muff the harmony in whatever style."

Yep.


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: M.Ted
Date: 10 Jul 08 - 08:07 PM

I didn't misunderstand you, Artful Codger, I was making a pro forma acknowledgement of you post so that it wouldn't appear that I was disputing your comments. Which I don't .

In fact, your comments focus on the vocal skills required for good harmony singing, one of at least three independent skills that need to be developed to answer this question.

This is one of those questions like, "I'd like to sit down at a party and play the piano, how do it do it?" Or, "I've never had any experience with this sort of thing, but how do I write, direct, and produce my own movie?" or maybe even, "I need to become Governor of my state, fast! Any ideas?"


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: Bert
Date: 10 Jul 08 - 08:22 PM

LOL GUEST Shimrod!

A word to all you harmonizers out there. Please NEVER join in with a harmony unless you have asked the singer if it is OK. 'Cos there are musically challenged blokes like me out there and it really throws us off.


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: Artful Codger
Date: 11 Jul 08 - 03:03 AM

Well, if you want to learn to play the flute, Monty Python explained it pretty succinctly.


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: SharonA
Date: 12 Jul 08 - 01:35 PM

Awesome commentary from everyone. Thanks again!! Keep it up...

Bert: Good point, well taken. By the way, they've changed the rule of "etiquette" at BCFSS music circles: now the audience may sing/harmonize along with the circle performer unless asked not to (used to be the other way 'round). Seems a bit unfriendly, to me, to have the performer (instead of the club) ask people not to sing, but it was getting too difficult to try to get everyone to maintain absolute silence when listening. (I'm one of those who was guilty of trying to hum along quietly to myself... and receiving nasty glares from others.)

Artful Codger: I'm afraid I missed that particular Python skit. Please explain??

Sharon


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: stallion
Date: 12 Jul 08 - 03:32 PM

MMMMMMMMMM stick at it the penny finally drops!


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: M.Ted
Date: 12 Jul 08 - 04:28 PM

Just as an aside, musicians hate singers who "come by it naturally"--because musicians, no matter how good their ears, have to work out all the little details by rote, and the singers just breeze in and get all the attention;-(


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: stallion
Date: 12 Jul 08 - 06:59 PM

mmm ted, the only place success comes before work is in a dictionary, I sing for an hour a day, sometimes more, warming up warming down, warm up for at least a half hour before any sort of performance be it session or otherwise and only last friday someone said "You are really lucky to be born with a voice like that". Truth is a singing voice is an instrument but because it doesn't have a fret board, keys or machine heads the tuning and fannying around with strings and things it's not so obvious to all that it has taken place, just out of earshot and sight. And the "by rote" works the same, ones larynx retains muscle memory on songs and eventually any song sung often enough becomes a "by rote" number. I agree about getting all the attention, don't know why, maybe cos the audience can join in


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: M.Ted
Date: 12 Jul 08 - 11:29 PM

An hour a day is nothing. It isn't even a warm up. You have to put in three or four hours a day to get anywhere on an instrument, and when you're working up new material, or six or eight hours is not unusual.

I know, the voice is a "delicate instrument"--which is why instrumentalists spend a couple hours working out arrangements before the vocalist shows up, and hours cleaning the bugs out after the vocalist leaves. And it's why the vocalist shows up one day and says, "Since I really front the band, and I'm the one that everybody comes to see, I should get more."

And then the record company loves the band, but only signs the singer. So we have to audition somebody else, who loves the sound, but refuses to sing half the material, because "It doesn't show my range", and demands that the rest be rearranged. And the
whole sordid business starts all over again.;-)


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: stallion
Date: 13 Jul 08 - 03:49 AM

Ha ted, how true, but then, as i recall, in the not too dim and distant past session musicians played on the recordings, the singer sang! and the "band" hardly contributed to the recording. I would do more practice but day job and family come first. I personally don't like singing with instrument accompaniment, I have found very few musicians that can do it well, the tendancy is to drive the singer (mad usually) by gradually speeding up til it becomes impossible to annunciate the lyrics and draw breath! As for arrangements, it works like that for voices, sometimes it gets nailed first time around, some we have worked on and off for six months or so, and all songs are "work in progress". Yes we often "busk it" in a session and sometimes we get some incredible sounds, more often than not though it gets lost in the "choir".


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: M.Ted
Date: 13 Jul 08 - 02:58 PM

If they speed up on you, do what my old mentor, Uncle Al, used to do--tap out the correct tempo with your foot, on their feet. If that doesn't work, just find some better musicians--good musicians know how to accompany--


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 14 Jul 08 - 08:29 AM

"good musicians know how to accompany"

One of the useful skills that a lack of, will cause you to fail your Music Grading Exams... :-)

See, there is a good reason to 'Learn Music Properly'... :-P


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: Artful Codger
Date: 14 Jul 08 - 04:21 PM

Sharon: The Monty Python skit parodied "helpful" advice shows. If featured a pair of annoyingly perky hosts teaching people how to do complex things with ridiculously simplistic instructions. The flute bit went something like:

"Well, how to play the flute: You blow across one end, and you move your fingers all up and down the other!"
"Super. Super."


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: PoppaGator
Date: 14 Jul 08 - 05:38 PM

Per M.Ted:
"...musicians hate singers who "come by it naturally"--because musicians, no matter how good their ears, have to work out all the little details by rote, and the singers just breeze in and get all the attention;-( "

Good point, and the further elaborations in the next few posts were also very interesting and on the mark.

However, my first reaction was that of someone who thinks of himself as an (intrumental) musician AND as a singer ~ as do many of us here, I'm sure. (Of course, as a rank amateur, my qualifications in either category are debatable, but that should not detract from the logic of my observations.) Do we, or should we, hate ourselves? Maybe so, maybe not ~ but it shouldn't have anything to do with being able both to sing and to play an instrument ;^)

If I come up with a harmonizing phrase while singing, and do so "naturally," I am likely to forget it next time we sing. Maybe I'll improvize a better line next time, maybe not. Maybe worse, in fact.

If I want to work up a vocal arrangement that can be "set in stone," I'll take each sung phrase that I dream up and play it on my guitar, as a simple series or "line" of single notes, no chords and no full-blown arrangement. That's usually enough of a mnemomic procedure for me; I can more easily remember a series of physical placements of fingers on fingerboard than I can a sequence of notes. Of course, if you can write music, it wouldn't hurt to write the phrase as well. (My knowledge of "the dots" is so limited that I don't generally write down any dots of my own; I am able to scribble down some tab whenever I'm afraid of forgetting something.)

Despite all the jokes and the often-genuine ego problems, a vocalist is a musician. or at least should be one. One's own voice is a unique instrument in a number of ways: most obviously, mechanics and technique are less of a factor than for any other instrument ~ if you can think of a note or phrase, you can pretty much sing it right away, without searching out the correct key or fret or valve, etc. This makes the voice the easiest intrument of all with which to improvise, but also the instrument upon which it is most difficult to repeat or reproduce a bit of improvised music.


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: Rockhen
Date: 20 Jul 08 - 12:40 PM

Forgive me if I have repeated something within someone else's post. I have not read the full thread, yet. :-)

I think it can sometimes be more difficult to teach someone who has a vocal range that is very different to your own. For example, sometimes, young children find it harder to sing along with a male voice than a female, at first as, to them, it means singing the tune an octave or so, lower than they can. They can try to sing the lowest note they can manage rather than the equivalent note, an octave higher.

Or, as another example, for a woman to teach a man to sing in harmony, I think it can be made more complicated by the song being sung higher so the man in question may have to learn a harmony which is an octave and a bit different to the tune as the woman sings it. This is simplifying things a lot, but I think it can make it more difficult. Similar voice ranges have a head start, I think, in working together vocally for those who are just starting out at this.


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: Stringsinger
Date: 20 Jul 08 - 12:51 PM

For someone that doesn't have a concept of harmonization, you have to teach them
a harmony part that works and have them sing it as if it were the actual melody of the song. If you do this with enough songs, they may get the idea.

In the meantime, singing harmony is a cultural thing. You usually grow up with it.
It can be taught as an adjunct to formal music theory as part of a sight-singing course.

For a guitarist, one possibility is that the singer can learn to sing a part of the chord
played on the guitar that harmonized with the melody.

The best way to learn harmony is to do a trial and error approach where the learner
composes a harmony part and sees where it works and where it doesn't. This is the
best way to learn aside from formal music theory.

The most simple parts are best to start in which there is one note held throughout most of the harmony parts. For example, the fifth note of the chords that are being harmonized is held and will harmonize with most moving melodic lines. Eventually,
the learner will begin to hear the third note of the chord. The basic harmonic tones
for harmonizing are the fifth note and the third. The third becomes the sixth inverted.
Simplicity in harmony requires hanging on to one note as much as possible.

Frank Hamilton


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: Lonesome EJ
Date: 08 Oct 09 - 12:42 AM

This is an excerpt from David Crosby's autobiography. I believe he is one of those great harmony singers who can consistently elevate and enrich the other voices around him.

"In two-part harmony you have a lot of room to move around. You can go in relationship from the root, which is the melody, to another note, which can be a fourth, a fifth, a seventh, a sixth, a ninth, even a second, and it can move around. And all of those different intervals have an emotional thing to them. For example a minor third above the root gives one feeling. An open fifth is another kind of feel. With three people, the tendency is to sing what're called "triads", which is the normal three-part chord. Three out of the four notes of the arpeggio, the fourth being the octave. What we did, which made me extremely proud, was sing a lot of nonparallel stuff. I did some of my best work being subtle, moving the middle part around in internal shifts that kept it happening. Those harmonies came out of the Everly Brothers, late-fifties and early-sixties jazz, and classical music."
- David Crosby, pg 155 Long Time Gone


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: open mike
Date: 08 Oct 09 - 01:20 AM

learning to recognize the intervals...
would be essential...

the most common example of a third
might be the ding dong of a door bell

Do, a deer, a female deer, might also
have some good examples...

it is good if the singer can tell what
note to sing when it is written...that
is probably the best way to start...

good luck.

your experience with church and school
choirs must give you a good background
many musicians got their start in church


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: stallion
Date: 08 Oct 09 - 03:31 AM

First three notes of Michael Row the Boat ashore for starters! Can't beat experimenting, also, it helps singing with people who can do it, it rubs off, like training your ears...........get a J-girls cd and sing along with it, better still go along and see them and join in (if you're allowed) Then go see Finn & Haddie, and join in, great you're off then! For the UK there are many, you could get our cd, there are loads of spaces to fill in whilst you're driving about!!!! Anyway, the way I do it is by experimenting singing along with other cd's, even our own (which drives the family mad)to find new harmony lines, it is always work in progress as far as I am concerned..........on the other hand Martin sight reads so he dreams up the harmony and sings it and drags me along with him or usually fills the gaps I leave! Work work work work work at it, when the penny drops it is a joy..........................talking of Joy, you might even get the chance to sing with the J-Girls and Finn & Haddie


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: alex s
Date: 08 Oct 09 - 09:34 AM

some good advice here


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Subject: RE: How do I teach someone to sing harmony?
From: GUEST,Stuart
Date: 06 Apr 10 - 04:37 AM

Great ear training sfotware free at "Ricci Adams" music theory. Very useful and easy to use interval ear trainer


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