If you’re a barbershop expert or just starting out, PlayScore 2 can be used as an interactive practice tool for harmonising and learning pieces of music. Using Optical Music Recognition technology, PlayScore 2 will playback your sheet music and accompany you. The app’s built-in functions such as adjustable tempo control and looping options provide an effective and independent way to learn barbershop music.
Barbershop music is a distinctive a cappella form that is characterised by its close harmony of four-part chords. Originating in the late 19th Century in America and following a revival in the 1930s, the genre is still very much alive and popular today.
The barbershop quartet is probably the most well known grouping for this style as barbershop music has four parts: tenor, tenor, baritone, and bass (TTBB). These ranges are different to the classical definitions and the parts have their own rules and definitions in barbershop.
The highest tenor corresponds to the countertenor range in classical music, and this part harmonises above the lead melody. Because it is the highest line in the quartet, this tenor must sing softer than the lead, and so falsetto is often used.
The second tenor part is the line that carries the main melody, and this range is similar to a classical tenor, although it can also be compared to a high baritone.
The baritone completes the chord and usually sits below the lead melody line, but sometimes harmonises above it.
The bass corresponds with the classical voicing range, and this line is always the lowest part. Whether a quartet or a larger choral group performs barbershop, the music is always arranged in these four voice parts.
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Mixed barbershop groups with both men and women have been around since the end of the 20th Century, and there are also female barbershop organisations. Voicing in all-female groups are often referred to as tenor, lead, baritone, and bass as men’s groups are, however in reality they are voiced in the range of lyric soprano, second soprano, baritone alto, and bass contralto. For women barbershoppers looking for sheet music there are a vast range of pieces and arrangements available from Harmony Incorporated as well as the Ladies Association of British Barbershop LABBS.
A great place to start learning songs in the barbershop style for any aspiring singer is with the ‘Barberpole Cat’ also known as ‘Polecats’. This is a barbershop catalogue of 12 traditional songs that are arranged in an accessible way to be inclusive to all singers. The collection means anyone can learn these arrangements and sing together with any other performers they meet. You can download the free sheet music from ‘The Barberpole Cat Program’.
Another great resource to find free sheet music for classic barbershop tunes online is from The Barbershop Harmony Society. They have a collection of arrangements old and new, for men’s and women’s voicing. If you’re looking to perform a modern song with a twist, you can turn it into a barbershop piece by hiring a specialist arranger – here’s a full list of barbershop arrangers.
The British Association of Barbershop Singers