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My grandfather was a great singer and I think I inherited his musical ability. I'm still a beginner but I really enjoy singing, so I decided that I should join a barbershop quartet like he was in. Are there songs that all barbershop quartet members should know? What else can I do to practice? Thanks in advance for any help!

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A great way to get started in barbershop is to join a barbershop chorus. These are community choirs that sing barbershop music. Joining one will have lots of benefits for you:

  • You'll be able to sing right away without the pressure of having to carry a whole part by yourself.
  • You'll learn lots of standard barbershop songs and harmonies.
  • You'll make lots of friends, which will be quite helpful when you are ready to form a quartet.

You can start your search for a local chorus on the Barbershop Harmony Society website. BHS was until recently a male-only organization, so the majority of the choruses in BHS are men's choruses. However, there are a growing number of mixed and female choruses in BHS.

If you are female, you can also search for a chorus with Sweet Adelines or Harmony, Inc., which are both female-only organizations.

As for standard songs, there are lots of traditional barbershop songs, but the Barbershop Harmony Society has defined 12 standard songs that they call Polecats. The idea is that if everyone learns these 12 songs, you'll be able to sing instantly with any group of barbershoppers that you happen to meet. The sheet music for this list can be purchased from the Barbershop Harmony Society.

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Another thing you can do that will help is learn some tags. A tag is an ending to a barbershop song, and tags are different from the rest of the song in that they focus mostly on ending with beautiful harmonies. They tend to be good for beginners to learn, in that the tags are shorter and easier to learn than an entire song, and tend to hold out chords for longer, allowing better practice at tuning up. They're also pretty fun to learn impromptu with friends. They also often teach something called "posting", where one member of a quartet holds out one note for a long time while the other parts move around them to make different harmonies. Finally, they tend to use more complicated harmonies than the rest of the songs they're from, which can be really good for your musical ears if your group has got the skills to do them.

Just as with the classic barbershop songs and polecats, there are a lot of tags that have become classics. There are plenty of resources for beginner tags out there, and even easy tags can sound really nice.

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  • Wonderful resource for barbershop tags: barbershoptags.com
    – Ben Miller
    Sep 21, 2020 at 19:38
  • And when you go visit a barbershop chorus (once they are back together singing in person), just tell the folks there that you want to sing some tags, and there will certainly be people there that will want to teach you their favorites.
    – Ben Miller
    Sep 21, 2020 at 19:54
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Here's one thing that I myself had not considered when I endeavored to join a local barbershop quartet club this past year;

You have to be able to read sheet music.

It doesn't matter how good a singer you are. It does not matter how naturally and intuitively you can harmonize behind other singing voices.

In barbershop quartet, you must be able to read sheet music, and you must sing, without improvisation, the exactly lines and notes you have been assigned. Those black symbols on the black horizontal lines on that white paper in front of you.

If you can't do that, you are out of the pool, brother.

This isn't sour grapes, this is my reality. I'm a really good singer and harmonizer, but I cannot read sheet music. So I'm out of the pool.

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    That's a good point, actually. Barbershop is a performance style that emphasizes discipline - while it can be a fun laid-back casual hobby, serious barbershop singers aim for mastery in vocal control, so improvisation is pretty much nonexistent and sheet music is the usual learning tool. Being musically literate isn't strictly necessary in every barbershop setting, but knowing your exact part is!
    – user45266
    Oct 4, 2023 at 5:23
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    In my experience, reading sheet music is not a requirement at all. Both in my chorus and in the quartets I am in, we have members who do not sight-sing sheet music. We provide audio learning tracks that contain the individual part to learn. Yes, the notes must be sung accurately, but many barbershoppers learn their part very well from the learning tracks without being proficient in sightreading.
    – Ben Miller
    Oct 5, 2023 at 22:15
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    That having been said, I'm sorry to hear about your negative experience. My experience visiting various barbershop choruses has always been a very welcoming one.
    – Ben Miller
    Oct 5, 2023 at 22:17
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    Good morning, Ben Miller. My experience with the local Barbershop Quartet group wasn't a negative one. I really enjoyed visiting with them, and hanging out during practice. It's just that they are an old-school group (in existence since the mid-1950's) and their club requirement is the ability to read sheet music, and to sing precisely the part assigned. They were very warm and welcoming, but they needed me to learn and apply an entirely new skill outside my wheel house. Oct 6, 2023 at 9:50

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