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I'm talking mostly in popular music / rock / etc. One prominent example of what I'm referring to is the start of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody (pretty much up to the "I'm just a poor boy ... "; notice that at that point, even though there are multiple voices, that's a completely different thing: Freddie Mercury sings the melody, and several voices do a backing "oooooohhhh.... aaaaahhhh...." (well, or whatever they may be saying, if there's supposed to be lyrics in those back vocals)

In Spanish, we use (at least informally) the same word for "chorus", typically phrased as "in chorus" (as in, at the start of Bohemian Rhapsody, they sing in chorus). I guess being used to that usage, I'm eagerly trying to find an equivalent word in English. And yes, the chorus (now referring to the English meaning of the word chorus in the context of pop/rock music) typically (perhaps most of the time, although not always) is sung in that mode (that word that I'm looking for).

Notice that:

  • The term is very specific; polyphony or polyphonic is not specific enough (virtually 100% of popular music has at least a good fraction of the song that is polyphonic, if I understand correctly the term).
  • I would assume that "choral" is also not specific enough, although certainly, what I'm describing is an instance of a melody, not the chorus of a song, being sung by a vocal ensemble — in the context of pop/rock or other styles of popular music, where we are not talking about "choral music".
  • The term is not restricted to multiple voices in unison — in that starting bit in Bohemian Rhapsody, at least to my ear, the different voices are not always singing the same note (perhaps we could see it as a sequence of chords; each syllable in "is this the real life" is made by a chord where each note of the chord is sung by a different vocalist).
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  • 1
    You are most likely looking for a word like "harmony" or "background-chorus".
    – Lazy
    Jul 23, 2023 at 14:20
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    @Cal-linux Not really: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vocal_harmony
    – Lazy
    Jul 23, 2023 at 14:59
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    @Cal-linux they can be instrumental or vocal, and can also deviate from the rhythm of the main melody. In cases like Bohemian Rhapsody there's no real 'main melody', the vocals, singing in close-harmony, are the main feature (though arguably one of the voices is slightly more dominant). They ARE singing in chorus, but that phrasing is less often used in a pop/rock setting. This line/blurring between 'harmony' and 'the harmonies' has emerged out of rock/pop's quite piecemeal approach, using some elements of established western music theory and bypassing others.
    – OwenM
    Jul 23, 2023 at 15:42
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    @Cal-linux I don’t quite get what you want. A term will usually only be coined for something if it is either generic enough or iconic enough to justify it. If you are looking for a term that specifically refers to the vocal harmonies of in one specific section of one specific pop song – chances are quite high there is no such term.
    – Lazy
    Jul 23, 2023 at 19:27
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    @Cal-linux In the context you give I think your conclusion makes sense. Strictly in English language "chorus" means the group of singers are singing in unison (all the same note, no harmony). "In chorus" = a group singing/playing the same notes, "in harmony" a group singing/playing a selection of notes that have some harmonic relation to each other. But you would still be understood if you said 'the beginning of Bohemian Rhapsody is sung in chorus'. Chorus can ALSO refer to a song section, with historical links probably, and can also mean 'a group of supporting singers/dancers', in English.
    – OwenM
    Jul 23, 2023 at 20:20

7 Answers 7

5

There's no formal term, but "in chorus" or "in concert" would be understood to mean what you have in mind.

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  • Do you mean "in concert"? I think "consort" usually means the spouse of a monarch. Jul 23, 2023 at 22:29
  • @TannerSwett Yes, thanks.
    – Aaron
    Jul 23, 2023 at 22:51
  • 1
    @TannerSwett "consort" also refers to a group of instruments from the same family.
    – phoog
    Jul 24, 2023 at 12:31
2

I think you mean "homophonic".

From The Collaborative International Dictionary of English v.0.48 [gcide]:

Homophonic

  1. (Mus.)

    • (a) Originally, sounding alike; of the same pitch; unisonous; monodic.
    • (b) Now used for plain harmony, note against note, as opposed to polyphonic harmony, in which the several parts move independently, each with its own melody.

    [1913 Webster]

The corresponding noun would be "homophony".

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  • Sounds like homophonic may be an adjective that applies to the instances I'm referring to. But it does not sound (to me) like a term that specifically describes those.
    – Cal-linux
    Jul 23, 2023 at 14:58
  • In terms of modern music theory, homophony is used to mean multiple parts singing different notes on a shared rhythm (the second definition above).
    – WillRoss1
    Jul 28, 2023 at 18:26
1

I echo those who have said homophony is the word you're looking for. You could even be extra specific and say "homophonic harmony." As additional information, there are three main types of relationships between parts:

  • Monophony is when there is only one melody line present. It is typically interchangeable with Unison, and can be found in genres such as Gregorian Chant.
  • Homophony is when all voices have the same rhythm, but are in harmony on different notes. Most church hymns are written this way.
  • Polyphony is when different voices have different rhythms and, usually, different notes. Bach's chorales tend to be a good example, though they often have some homophony as well. You are right also that almost all popular music is polyphonic, though you usually won't see it described using that word.
1

In big band music and large-ensemble jazz, a shout chorus is a melodic line that is doubled throughout one or more sections, often including the vocal section. These are typically denoted with an Italian term such as tutti or soli, the latter of which has always struck me as kind of misleading, since the "doubling" is not usually in unison. Most commonly, it creates a closely-coupled harmonic line such as the one you mentioned from Bohemian Rhapsody.

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I agree with user93865 that "homophony" is the single word that most closely describes what you are looking for. Unfortunately, it's probably true that it describes a wider range of situations, since there are many differing definitions. A related term is "homoryhthm", referring to a shared rhythm across all voices. Perhaps that, or even "homoryhtmic homophony" , is what you want.

You could also use "rhythmic unison", which is roughly synonymous with "homoryhthm" and is probably more accessible.

0

They are using a classic barbershop vocal harmony, as indicated by the solo line with the backing accompaniment in close harmony. This is a subset of a capella close harmony.

0

In modern music theory, Homophony has a very specific meaning, that being multiple parts singing different notes on the same rhythm (as opposed to Polyphony, singing different notes on different rhythms). So it's not quite what you are looking for.

Instead, a more accurate term is simply Unison. This can be used to mean part of the voices are singing the same note (i.e. the basses and tenors are in unison for the first 8 measures) or to mean all the voices are singing the same note (i.e. verse 3 is sung in unison).

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