Welcome to day 10 of my creative live metal recording boot camp. I'm recording the band, Monuments, and today Chris Barretto and I are gonna do some harmony vocals. Let's talk about how you construct harmonies.
Awesome, I'd love to.
Harmonies are fun.
You do five part harmonies, four part harmonies, pretty regularly.
And I've dealt with a lot of vocalists who try to do that and there's lots of notes to fix. I find that lots of guys try to do harmonies because they hear great sounding harmonies and they want to do that, but constantly pick wrong notes. You never pick wrong notes. (laughs) So let's talk about that.
Okay. Well I'm a huge fan of stacks in harmonies. My biggest influences vocally in these latter years have been Michael Jackson hardcore and Freddie Mercury. Those two guys, I feel like, are some of the best examples, if not, the best, to talk about vocal harmonies. And essentially, if you have, here's your note. (plays piano note G) G, you know ...
most people, let's say we're in the key of C. Okay, so let's say my note is G. (plays note G) And here the easiest thing to throw in any one of these harmonies is you'll either go to your major third or whatever, or fourth. Let's just say for the sake of this we're in the key of C, so we'll throw an E because that's your major third. Makes life easy, you know? That's pretty standard harmony. (plays tune) You know? But then the fun stuff is like when you have things kind of close together. So, what if I threw the next set in? So, let's say I threw in the sixth in that. In the key of C, the sixth would be an A. So it gives it a little bit more of this tense feel but it's got this nice little rub against it. (plays notes) See? It almost has this little bit of magic to it. You know what I mean? Just cause of that major second there. And you get all the fun sounds in the extensive notes. And what that means is outside of your normal chord. A normal chord normally entails your root, your third, your fifth and your seventh.
Sometimes, sometimes. But let's say for this argument, we say yeah. This is the case. So it can be your C major. Maybe major seven. Minor seven doesn't matter. But all the fun stuff happens when you come in with your nines or the 11ths or the 13ths. Which is called the upper extensions of the chords. That's when you can do a lot of fun stuff so again, let's go back. Let's say G is our melody note, you know? So we can put an E underneath, that's a nice little harmony. But then you put an A on top, it's got this nice little thing rubbing together. And then maybe put another top voice all the way in the soprano voice and that's your D. So then you got the nine, you got the six, but in the context of the chord it translates to a 13. And so then all of a sudden you've got this really lovely kind of sounding chord. It's got this glow thing, it's got this light reflecting sort of quality to it. Which is a little bit hipper than a (plays chord) you know what I mean? So, it's just taking those upper extensions and finding ways to utilize them in the context of the chord and then the thing is that when you're moving the harmonies, a little bit of voice movement and voice leading comes into play because you have to be able to move these harmonies in such a way that they logically flow into each other. The old school way would have been that each independent line has to also be a strong lead line back in what's it called? Voice leading? (muffled talking) Yeah, so when you have your soprano, your alto, your tenor, and your baritone voice. Each independent line was meant to be it's own strong lead vocal line, but then in the context of the harmony, all the harmony flowed together appropriately according to the rules and also worked that way. In our day and age, you have a little more room to play around with. Obviously you can do things that sound a little bit cooler and doesn't have to be so strict in terms of the rules. But generally, if you can move your harmonies from one to another in a way that they moved stepwise or logically into the next one without crazy jumps like crazy fifths or sevenths. You know? It doesn't have to be all the time. Again it's not like strict rule of thumb but it'll generally make the movement sound more pleasant and a little bit more logical because it flows accordingly that way.
And do you think about tension release a lot or resolution when you're working?
To me, it actually, I feel like if you were to sum up good writing into one phrase, it's tension release.
I would agree.
I feel like you could boil it all down to that. And I noticed that you do that a lot with your really cool harmonies so maybe explain that. Because I think that that's the most important thing that a lot of people miss is that properly resolve something that's tense or how to just get that release. It's so important.
Well what I would say about that is it's where you want to resolve to. So if you're at a point, there's one point in this tune that I like in the verse, there's a harmony on the lyric, 'concealing the doors' and it's got this really tense sort of thing against what Browne is playing cause ... ♫ Concealing the doors So it's weird. So I do this thing where I do this fourth harmony and if I'm not mistaken, Browne is still playing in C so we have this sort of, it's not like a diminished sort of tense or anything but (plays chord) there's this fourth sort of unresolved tension because there's no third, there's no anchoring of where the key center is so it leaves this ambiguous sort of state of where we are harmonically. And that gives the mind the impression of tension because there is no anchor note there which is your third always. Your third and your 7ths define the chord. But then (plays chord) when you do this kind of a thing in there in the key of C, you know there is no anchor note there so then it leaves you in this place of where are we going? You know? And when we get to the chorus we're still in C. (plays note C) But then it comes in really hard and anchors down like that and the entirety of the key center, C minor is implied. And your ear gravitates towards that so it naturally resolves itself so even if I'm not singing it, I'm leading it towards the resolution.
You know exactly where it's headed.
Back to having good vision.
Yeah, exactly. And the skilled writers or vocalists or whatever, just anyone that's using your ear and if you can hear that stuff, you'll know that that is where you need to go and you'll get that out of the information that you have at hand. Everything is right there in front of you. You know what I mean? The music will tell you exactly what's there.
Well, you just gotta learn to hear it. Right?
Use your ears.