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Magic Choral Trick #309 Barbershop Tune Ups Are Good For Everyone

Although there’s been a movement away from the Barbershop ‘tune up’ chord in recent years, many choruses still use them to establish a solid tonal centre before singing the song.

Here’s the way it usually goes:

1. Pitch is blown

2. Everyone sings the keynote in unison

3. Then all together break into the tonic chord – with Basses down the octave, Baritones dropping to the 5th, Leads staying on the original tonic (the keynote that everyone sang to begin with), and Tenors singing the 3rd – just above the keynote/tonic that the Leads are singing.

However, at our Men’s Barbershop Chorus Division contest, Harry Haflett (Hot Air Buffoons and Barbershop Harmony Society singing judge) suggested that my Guys try another form of this tune up.

1. Pitch is blown

2. Basses sing the lower octave keynote/tonic – with as rich and resonant a blended sound as possible

3. Leads join in with the upper keynote/tonic – and lay their note in on top of what the Basses are singing, so that what they’re really doing is just amplifying the octave overtone.

4. Baris listen for the overtone that’s ringing their note – the 5th – and when they then sing that 5th cleanly, matching that overtone that they heard, the resulting sound should feel hollow and open.

5. Tenors then listen for the 3rd and just lightly lay their note into the mix.

Once everything is balanced, take a breath and start the song – and the wonderful, blended wash of sound will give the song’s beginning a new warmth and richness.

Any choir or chorus can do this. In an SATB choir the order of parts joining in would be Bass (low tonic), Alto (high tonic), Tenor (5th above the Bass) and Soprano (very lightly, on the 3rd above the Altos)

With an SATB choir this helps to increase awareness of the importance of balanced chords – something we take for granted with our Barbershop Choruses, but often forget to emphasize with our Choirs. Chord awareness is more embedded in the Barbershop style because everything is homophonic – vertical chord, chord, chord, whereas in many Choral arrangements there are different rhythms, word rhythms, melodies and countermelodies happening all at once. With Choirs, we tend to think more horizontally than vertically.

Everyone’s listening and tuning skills can be improved with this exercise. And when that chord expands and rings – well it’s right up there with all the very best things in life!

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