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Barbershop (musical style)

Table of contents
1 Definition and characteristics of the style
2 Organizations
3 Notable artists
4 External links
5 See also

Definition and characteristics of the style

Barbershop harmony is a style of unaccompanied vocal music characterized by consonant four-part chordss for every melody note in a predominantly homophonic texture. The melody is consistently sung by the lead, with the tenor harmonizing above the melody, the bass singing the lowest harmonizing notes, and the baritone completing the chord. The melody is not sung by the tenor except for an infrequent note or two to avoid awkward voice leading, in tags or codas, or when some appropriate embellishing effect can be created. Occasional brief passages may be sung by fewer than four voice parts.

Barbershop music features songs with understandable lyrics and easily singable melodies, whose tones clearly define a tonal center and imply major and minor chords and barbershop (dominant and secondary dominant) seventh chords that resolve primarily around the circle of fifths, while making frequent use of other resolutions. What sets barbershop apart from other musical styles is the predominant use of the dominant-type seventh chords. Barbershop music also features a balanced and symmetrical form, and a standard meter. The basic song and its harmonization are embellished by the arranger to provide appropriate support of the song's theme and to close the song effectively.

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

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


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

The primary men's organization is the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America (S.P.E.B.S.Q.S.A.), while women have two organizations, Sweet Adelines International and Harmony Incorporated.

All three organizations consist of choruses and quartets that perform and compete regularly throughout North America. In addition, affiliate organizations, for both men and women, exist in the UK, Germany, South Africa, Sweden, Australia, Japan, and many other countries.

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

Notable artists

External links

See also