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Recently I've started trying to harmonise when singing in church, as the only place I regularly sing with a large group of people. I'm finding it really hard and I wondered if anyone can suggest how one might approach learning how to do this.

It sounds beautiful (to me) when you here people throwing harmonies in ad-hoc and it's specifically this kind of improvisational harmonising I'm interested in, not preparing/learning harmonies.

Congregational songs typically are pretty narrow and easy in range which means there is often scope to go down as well as up from the melody.

  • You might also find some useful answers here (music.stackexchange.com/q/26936/16897) – Rockin Cowboy Jun 5 '16 at 19:29
  • Please mark a solution or specify your problem. – MaestroGlanz Jun 9 '16 at 10:48
  • I think I need to try these approaches out before saying which one is 'correct'. I'll issue up-votes now though – Mr. Boy Jun 9 '16 at 18:06
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As a guitarist, you will be aware that at any given moment, a chord fits under what is being sung. The melody line may contain several notes, but for starters, if you sing one of the notes from that chord, it'll fit the melody line, just as the rest of the notes from that chord will. Basically, there will be a root, 3 and 5 in that chord, so initially, get used to just singing each in turn against the melody line. It will sound a little uninspiring, but it's a good start to harmony.

Often, the 3rd above is easiest to find, although it may be too high to reach. Listen to a lot of two part harmony songs - the Everly Bros. comes to mind, this will give you ideas as to how it works. Try singing along to each voice, to start to understand how sometimes the voices are moving in a parallel way, and sometimes they move contrapuntally. This should be a good intro. for you. Then record yourself singing simple melodies and sing harmonies to the playback.

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As mentioned by others, it really depends on the music you're singing. I have sung a lot of music in church and worked on this, and I've found that it's easiest with old hymns like you would find in a Baptist or Methodist hymnal. It's definitely harder with some contemporary songs.

The harmonizations in hymnals are usually pretty simple and easy to pick up on, so one thing you could do to practice is make recordings of yourself singing the melody of a song like "Rock of Ages" (usually the top line in the treble clef in the hymnal) and then try singing some of the other lines while listening to the recording. Or, if you don't have recording equipment easily available, play one line on piano or guitar and sing the other one.

Yes, this just teaches you the "prepared" harmony, but I have found that it exercises my "harmony muscles" so that I'm able to predict what will sound good and sing it without a book. Once you've learned a few harmony lines like this, I would be willing to bet you could even improvise on the learned lines in places, and from there it's a much shorter step to what you really want to do.

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I can do this. I started it about almost 13 years ago. It takes about 3 to 4 years until you can do it. Then you will be a rookie. To be really good at it takes approximately 6 to 8 years. Of course it depends on how often you sing.

There are songs, that are easy to sing to (Taize songs, balad style modern worship songs) and some that are less easy (hillsong).

If you sing below or above is in my opinion not much difference. If you can do one, you can do the other.

You shouldnt think too much. You should rather feel the music.

If you sing a new song, it takes about 3 strophes to find your voice. After that you normally change it not so much any more.

It is very important (!) that you have people right around you, who sing stable and correct. If you get better, this gets less important, but you enjoy it every time.

Everything I mentioned works for me. I can not guaranty, that this applies also for you.

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