But when all the other parts come in, you end up singing the tune instead. What’s going on?
I’ve identified several reasons why this might be happening. I’ll also outline some possible solutions.
1. the tune is more familiarIf you already know the song, then you will be far more familiar with the main melody than any of the harmony parts. Inevitably you will gravitate towards the familiar and well-known.
solution: practice at home by singing your part against a recording of the tune. When you’ve learnt your harmony, sing it in your head whilst other parts are being taught or sung.
2. you heard it firstEven if you don’t know the song, it’s often the main tune which is taught first. That means you end up hearing that part first and most often. No wonder you remember it better than your own part!
solution: focus on something else whilst the main tune is being taught. When you’ve learnt your harmony, sing it in your head whilst other parts are being taught or sung. Practice at home by singing your part against a recording of the tune.
3. sopranos always have the tuneOften the top part of a harmony arrangement is the main tune, so even if you’re sometimes an alto, your tendency will be to join in with the sopranos.
solution: don’t fight it – join the sopranos! Pretend that your part is the tune and the sopranos have just a minor harmony part.
4. melodies are more tunefulIn most not-very-good vocal arrangements, the main melody is often the only part which has a recognisable and memorable tune. Tenors and basses in particular tend to have just a few notes without much variation. There’s not much structure or shape to hang onto when learning these parts, so they often end up hanging onto the most memorable and easy to learn part: the melody.
solution: choose good song arrangements in which every part has a singable melody. If you’re a bass or tenor, make a map in your mind (or on a piece of paper) to help with when your (very few!) notes change.
5. i’ve never sung harmony beforeWhen you try harmony singing for the first time it’s very easy to be put off. Since you’re not used to listening to the space between parts, when you hear a part other than your own it can put you off. Instead of holding your own part and enjoying the harmony it makes with the tune, you’ll tend towards unison singing and join in with the others.
solution: find a buddy from another part who is new to harmony too and practice singing harmony duets together. Practice at home by singing your part against a recording of the tune.
6. they’re too loud!For several of the reasons outlined above (familiarity, learnt first, more tuneful), those singing the main melody tend to be more confident of their part and can end up singing loud and strong. if you’re at all unsure of your own part or can’t hear yourself well, you’ll be sucked into the main tune.
solution: if you’re singing the main tune, be sensitive to the other parts and sing gently. Make sure you stand close to others in your part to help reinforce your harmony.
7. all things being equal, you can still go wrongThe basses often have the most boring, unmelodic part of an arrangement and often get left until last when being taught. But even if we counter this by giving them a tuneful part and teaching them first, they can still end up singing the tune.
My theory is that women’s voices carry well and are easy to hear even when singing the bass part loud. The alto part is perceived by the men to be in a manageable range (albeit an octave higher). Hence they sometimes end up singing it.
Other than that, I have no other explanation of why the basses are so easily put off!
solution: find a female buddy from another part and practice singing harmony together. Make sure you stand really close to others in your part to help reinforce your harmony. Learn to enjoy how the bass part anchors and underpins the whole song, signalling each chord change. Practice at home singing your part against recordings of all the other female parts.
8. over to youI’m sure there are many other reasons why singers end up singing the tune instead of their part. I’d love to hear your theories. I’d also like to hear of any strategies you have when you’ve found yourself drifting off onto another part.
solution: drop by and leave a comment. We’d love to hear what you have to say.
related postsYou might find these posts of interest too:
Singing in harmony – how do they do that?
Learn how to sing in tune – harmonising