What is Barbershop?

Learn More About This Truly American Art Form

What is Barbershop?

Along with jazz, barbershop harmony is one of only two musical styles recognized as truly American. Barbershop is a very specific style of unaccompanied vocal music defined by consonant four-part chords to accompany every melodic note in a primarily homophonic texture. The melody is most often sung by the lead part (known as the Tenor II part in traditional choral structures), with the tenor (Tenor I) harmonizing above the melody, the bass (Bass II) singing the lowest harmonizing notes and providing the foundation of the chord, and the baritone (Bass I) picking up the slack, completing the chord.

The melody is seldom sung by the tenor, except for the occasional note or two to avoid awkward intervals, in tags or when a particularly-appropriate enriching effect can be created. Some sections may be sung in unison or by less than four voice parts to create a particular emotive response from the audience.

Exclamation! Quartet

The barbershop style features songs with understandable lyrics and recognizable melodies wherein notes present a tonal center and major, minor, dominant and secondary dominant seventh chords that typically resolve around the circle of fifths and other resolutions. Barbershop music also features a balanced and symmetrical form and a standard meter.

The basic barbershop melody and its accompanying harmonization are embellished by the song’s arranger to provide support for the theme and to close the story of the song with proper emotion and effect. Barbershop singers adjust the intonation of pitches to achieve perfectly tuned chords, known as “ringing a chord,” while remaining in line with the established tonal center.

Artistic barbershop singing displays a fullness or expansion of sound, accurate intonation, an advanced degree of vocal skill and an exceptional display of uniformity and accord among the members of the quartet or chorus. In the truest sense, each component should feel innate and effortless.

The on-stage presentation of barbershop music combines appropriate visual styling to enhance the music, conveying the message of the song and telling the story to the audience in an edge-of-the-seat or emotionally-warming manner, depending on the type of song performed. The combination of the vocal and visual delivery is heartfelt, engaging the audience while remaining true to the song and the arrangement, melding the musical and visual aspects into one to present the story outlined within the music.

County Line Quartet

History of the Society

The Barbershop Harmony Society, legally and historically named the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America, Inc. (SPEBSQSA), remains the first of several organizations that promote and preserve the barbershop style of music as an art form. Founded by Owen C. (OC) Cash in 1938 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the organization quickly grew, promoting barbershop harmony among men of all ages. Today, nearly 25,000 men in the United States and Canada are members of this a cappella music organization. The international headquarters was originally in Kenosha, Wisconsin for fifty years before moving to Nashville, Tennessee in 2007.

Here are a few links for more info:

BHS main website – Learn more about the organization.

Harmonizer Magazine – Monthly BHS publication.

History of the Southwestern District

The Southwestern District (SWD) of the society, billed as the District of Champions, consists of four divisions with more than 45 chapters across the states of Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma and parts of New Mexico and Kansas. The district has produced twelve International Quartet champions, three Senior Quartet Champions and the 2014 Collegiate Quartet Champions, The Academy. It is also the home of fourteen former International Chorus Champions the world-famous, twelve-time winners, the Vocal Majority, as well as the inaugural BHS Youth Chorus Champions in 2008, The Marcsmen.

Here are a few links for more info:

SWD main website – Learn more about the district.

SWD Roundup – Quarterly SWD newsletter.