I'm not a musician, and I know basically nothing about music, and music theory and what-not. (I basically just know a few common terms, and how to play chords)

In most songs with two or more people singing, (Duets specifically) the singers almost always sing in harmony, but not the same notes. What term is used to describe this? I want to be able to learn how to do it, but I don't know the specific term to do more research on it.

  • 59
    That's called singing in harmony.
    – AJFaraday
    Mar 25, 2019 at 15:34
  • 12
    If they're singing the same note, they are not singing in harmony—they're just singing the same note.
    – user91988
    Mar 25, 2019 at 15:35
  • A good place to start might be the wikipedia page on 'vocal harmony'. And then watch a bunch of episodes of "Glee" for examples. :)
    – Brian D
    Mar 25, 2019 at 16:55
  • 11
    Singing the same note is unison Mar 25, 2019 at 18:18
  • I would just note that the word "harmony" as a musical term of art means specifically that singers are singing different notes, as implied in the comments. But the word "harmony" was formerly used more broadly to denote pleasant sounds, and for a lay person it could still reasonably be used that way today. In Micrologus, Guido d'Arezzo calls the octave the most harmonious of intervals, saying that other intervals can never be fully harmonious; this does not agree with modern use of the word.
    – phoog
    Mar 26, 2019 at 15:53

4 Answers 4


The term "harmony" itself is what you are looking for. Being able to sing in harmony (2 or more different voices) with someone however doesn't require any more skills or theory than singing alone or in unison (same notes, only one voice) because everyone learns "his notes" as he would do singing alone. The only thing I could think of is having a good ear, maybe good relative pitch, but that is required for soloists singers too.

The hard part is composing or improvising the harmony and that requires a lot of different music theory skills, not only the harmony part. If this is what you are looking for, I would suggest to start with generic music theory or if you are really serious about it, take piano lessons.

  • 33
    Being able to sing in harmony (2 or more different voices) with someone however doesn't require any more skills or theory than singing alone or in unison I don't know that this is true. I've seen people who are used to singing in unison and have great difficulty "ignoring" the notes that other people are singing and not matching them. Mar 25, 2019 at 16:08
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    – Doktor Mayhem
    Mar 26, 2019 at 16:26

Singing together but different notes is singing in harmony. Singing the same notes would be singing in unison.

  • 8
    Singing the same note might also be called "doubling". Mar 25, 2019 at 14:36
  • 1
    @ToddWilcox Interesting. In my 30 years of singing and recording I've never heard that. When recording, yes, you double it, when singing live (meaning multiple people singing the same notes), they're singing in unison. Might be a stateside thing.
    – StudioTime
    Mar 25, 2019 at 20:04
  • 1
    @DarrenSweeney doubling is commonly used in orchestration, as in, "the second flute doubles the first violin section" or "the clarinet doubles the tenor part."
    – phoog
    Mar 26, 2019 at 15:57
  • "Doubling" also sometimes implies that two voices or instruments are playing the same note but one or more octaves apart. Most often used when said voices are not in the same range, e.g. "The trombone part is doubling the trumpets." Mar 26, 2019 at 18:29

From a strictly music theory point of view, one might call it counterpoint. The original Latin phrase "punctus contra punctum" (note against note) denotes just that. The term indicates two or more voices, each having their own independent melody (the horizontal aspect in written music), resulting in a harmony (the vertical aspect).

  • 1
    Exactly what I was thinking, if "not the same notes" means "a harmonizing melody in a different rhythm" for the OP. Mar 25, 2019 at 23:34
  • 10
    Counterpoint's usually much more than simple parallel harmony, though; with lines that are independent, usually with contrasting rhythms and/or shapes, and can stand alone as melodies in their own right.
    – gidds
    Mar 25, 2019 at 23:36
  • Contrapuntal, and it is seen for guitar.
    – mckenzm
    Mar 26, 2019 at 1:44
  • 1
    @gidds is correct, counterpoint is generally in reference to a very specific set of strictures with regard to how one constructs interdependent yet individual melodic lines that, when combined, create specific harmonies.
    – LSM07
    Mar 26, 2019 at 3:45

It is called polyphonic singing aka overtone chanting, harmonic singing, or throat singing. Bjork does some (but NOT all) of her singing in a polyphonic manner.

Also refer to Wikipedia documentation as follows:

Overtone singing – also known as overtone chanting, harmonic singing, or throat singing – is a type of singing in which the singer manipulates the resonances (or formants) created as air travels from the lungs, past the vocal folds, and out of the lips to produce a melody.

The harmonics (fundamental and overtones) of a sound wave made by the human voice can be selectively amplified by changing the shape of the resonant cavities of the mouth, larynx, and pharynx.[1] This resonant tuning allows singers to create apparently more than one pitch at the same time (the fundamental and a selected overtone), while actually generating only a single fundamental frequency with their vocal folds.

 Each note is like a rainbow of sound. When you shoot a light beam through a prism, you get a rainbow. You think of a rainbow of sounds when you sing one note. If you can use your throat as a prism, you can expose the rainbow – through positioning the throat in a certain physical way, which will reveal the harmonic series note by note.[2]


  • 2
    This seems to refer to a single person producing multiple tones apparently at once. The question is rather about two different people singing together but different notes. Mar 26, 2019 at 15:20
  • 1
    This is a great answer written for the wrong question. The question mentions two people.
    – user45266
    Mar 26, 2019 at 17:15

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