Some groups learn to know and love the sound and feel of an open fifth sooner and more consciously than others.
Organum chant groups and Barbershop quartets and choruses are among these. And Tibetan monks take it to an extraordinary level!
When the interval of a fifth is sung exactly in tune – steadily, with no vibrato, there’s a cavernous hollowness to the sound but an incredible feeling of fullness and rightness to the physical sensation. This is probably why we moved on from singing plainchant in unison. It just felt so good!
Here’s an exercise I use for making a chorus or choir aware and appreciative of fifths while still having warm up fun.
Row, Row, Row Your Boat, or Three Blind Mice, or Freres Jacques – or any short melody that’s known to my singers.
I have the 2 lower voices sing the melody in a fairly low key, then at the same time I have the upper two voices sing the same song a fifth higher.
So I’d have my choral Tenors and Basses, or my Barbershop Baritones and Basses sing the song in the key of C – while having the upper two voices sing the same song in the key of G.
This is also a good warm up for the brain. Because everyone knows the melody, they need to focus quite hard on singing it in their part’s key.
I like to slow it all down once they’ve got the hang of it, so that they can really appreciate and lock in the fifths. They’ll also begin to notice that when the fifths are locked in, the sound rings and expands, so that it sounds like a much bigger group.
Here are a few groups who’ve got the locked in fifths handled.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ZCvZY6oxFc (GQ – Girls Quartet My goodness these young women are amazing!!!)
Ok folks – they don’t tell you about this in school because, like those bar pressing rats we all heard about in Psych 101, once you’ve experienced expanded sound, you really don’t want to do anything else in life. It’s the Holy Grail you never even realized you were searching for.
Expanded Sound is the result of all singers locking in to a chord at exactly the right tuning, similar placement, and correct balance (notes lower down in the Harmonic Series – the Root and Fifth – are sung louder than the notes further up the Harmonic Series – the Third and the Seventh)
When this is in place, all the notes much further up the Harmonic Series get excited and sing along. It sounds like some of the voices have gone rogue and are taking everything up the octave. With all these extra notes ringing, it actually sounds like the chorus is about twice the size – hence – Expanded Sound.
Once upon a time I was with a quartet for the pre-stage walk through, from warm up room to quiet room, before they were to compete. They stopped to sing a bit in a cement hallway between two doors. And for the first time ever, I heard undertones. It sounded as if the Bass was taking everything down the octave. So from the undertones up to the top overtones I could hear, it sounded as if this quartet was made up of about sixteen singers – singing in about a four octave range.
If you’re wondering if you’d even be able to realize that you were hearing Expanded Sound – your ears wouldn’t necessarily be the first thing to tell you. Full body goosebumps are a pretty good indicator. You might also experience the rare sensation of a kind of clear, excited joy. And when you’re actually in the middle of this, helping to produce the result, these symptoms can be even more intense.