Author: Abbott, Kyle

All About Harmony
Welcome back to the #1-Article-Most-Read-By-Me, Bluegrass ‘n Stuff! This months column is all about harmony, and we’ve got a lot to cover, so let’s get right to it. Oh, first, you might want to get a snack. It makes the reading experience more enjoyable, that’s all. Do you have a drink? Well, grab a beer. Alcohol helps the vision; that’s why you read the speed limit signs so much better after a cold brewski. Ok, let’s get started—hey, where’s your coaster? Quick! Get one before the can makes a stain! *Phew!* That was close! Imagine what your wife/partner/dog/cow might say seeing that circular discoloration! (Notice that “husband” isn’t on the list because you’d have to take the whole table away for him to even begin to notice something wrong.) OK, enough procrastination. We’re all set. This… is… *breath of air*… Bluegrass ‘n Stuff!

If you’ve ever been to a history class, you know that back in the times of Yore—in fact, even before Yore was born—there was lots of bloodshed, violence, and men wearing skirts. Many historians and war-itorians believe this was brought on by competition for resources, territory, and/or the remote control. However, that’s not the case. Eighty percent of the ancient world’s wars were fought over who could sing the lead part in a song. Back then, harmony hadn’t been invented, and due to the territorial nature of the olden people, you’d wind up with a lumpy noggin if you tried to steal someone’s only part. Believe me, you would not want to match voices with a Cro-Magnon who invoked, “Dibs on lead!”

The first historic instance of this violence was 5,300 years ago. You may have heard of “Otzi the Iceman,” who was found shot in the back with an arrow. Well, close to the scene was some frozen sound. When scientists melted the sound, the catchy Bronze Age tune “Uuuggh” was emitted from the ice. By scanning for the sound’s frequency, amplitude, and audio scibbitly-bibbly things like that, the Scientists were able to locate the same sound frozen on a nearby tree. Obviously, the murderer was walking by humming “Uuuggh” and heard Otzi singing the same song in the same key—as you’d expect, there was only one key at the time. So he did what nature intended him to do, and killed the guy invading his sound space. Who could blame him?

Step forward several thousand years later, to the Renaissance. This was a time when music was piping out of every window in Venice. Even though there was vocal music, there was less war since Opera was big then and nobody can get an extra voice in with one of those vocal-cannons going off.

In Venice is where Galileo Galilei had a summer home…you know, to get away from it all. He also created jingles for Leonardo’s inventions (I know Galileo and Leonardo are from different time-periods! Don’t ruin a good story!), such as the crazy straw. So, Galileo was running through the lyrics for the jingle, “The new-est twisty wa-ter suck-er since Archimedes' screw!! Bah-bum!” Mr. Vinci repeated it at a different tempo and Galileo was about to correct him by singing it the right way while Da Vinci was singing it. Fortunately, Michelangelo was there, and sensing an obvious potential feud from the oncoming “part-stealing,” quickly grabbed Galileo by his Galligaskins and hoisted up to get Galileo to desist. By this time, Galileo started to sing, but all that pressure “down there” made his voice raise up 3 tones higher, thus creating Tenor. Everyone in the room was awestruck. They knew, at that moment, that they had created a way to peacefully allow people to sing songs together without clashing parts. For this, all three had won the esteemed Venetian Peace Prize, which was a free Meatball Grande at Shakespeare’s Spaghetti ‘n Pasta hut. (Issac Newton later discovered baritone while trying to sing with a cold.)

For the next 400 years, there was relative peace in the musical world. Throughout that time, however, many Anarchists invented instruments to try to bring the world back in to chaos. I’m talking, of course, about Cyrill Demian, inventor of the accordion; Thaddeus von Clegg, evil mastermind behind the kazoo; and of among many others, Jopinsky Squigglypins, the first person to popularize sticking a kazoo in a trumpet. (which Jopinsky claims was invented quite by accident when he was attempting to form a makeshift blowgun to wake up the Alphorn player). Even with these rebels, civilization managed to survive up to the modern day.

So, that’s the entire history of the harmonical world and, believe it or not, was my ticket out of college. Anyway, as you can see, we’ve come a long way from being a primordial soup. Sounds like my lunch…heyooo!!! (Sorry, that wasn’t the Joke of the Month.)

You may be thinking: “Wow Kyle! Harmony sounds like fun! But what is harmony, anyway?” Well, harmony is basically people singing up to three tones that aren’t the same. “Great!” you say, “But how do I know who’s doing what kind of harmony?” Ah, good question. If you go to a jam when everybody is singing, it can sound like somebody audioized a garbage dump (though smelling much better) so it’s hard to pick out who’s singing what.

Fortunately, there are ways to tell who is singing what. There are up to five ‘parts’ in harmony: lead, tenor, baritone, bass, and the Fifth Part.

Lead: That’s the person with the guitar of course! (Oh, and if he/she’s the only person singing on the verse, that’s a tip-off too.)

Tenor: You tend to find the harmony singer right next to the lead because he/she isn’t quite sure if she’s singing it right. You can tell that it’s the tenor if the singer’s brow is furled in concentration.

Bass: At a jam, you don’t tend to hear him anyway, so let’s move on.

Baritone: Low baritone is another one of those parts you barely notice. The high baritone part (sung an octave higher) is usually reserved for the ladies. So if you see a lady in a jam with a bunch of guys, chances are she’ll be hittin’ the heaven note (if you know what I mean). However, there are a few men with very high vocal ranges that can hit the high beartone. However, it’s unlikely that you’ll encounter one of these people at a jam. Note: There is a much higher majority of singers who don’t have high vocal ranges, yet will try singing a high harmony part. They try to imitate folks like Bill Monroe and think it sounds good for some reason. You can tell if this is being attempted because the singer’s face is strained, his veins are pulsing, and he’s usually on his knees, if not collapsed. Also, if you hear the sound of a chicken being strangled, that’s another way you can tell somebody is shooting for the just-out-of-reach stars.

The Fifth Part: I’m not quite sure what this is, but it’s supposed to sound cool rather than good. You never know where it’s coming from since it’s like a mosquito in the night. Though, if you see a guy swinging from a chandelier over the jam (you know, the very high-brow refined jam “sessions”), you can bet your marriage that he’s the wacko wesponsible for the dissinent dissonanza.

What does the harmony look like? Well, you know when true harmony is happening when the sun shines and flowers suddenly come into bloom and the world seems a lot happier. However, that’s not very accurate because you feel like that anyway when the banjo player has left. Plus, at an indoor festival, it’s hard to know. The best way to know if true, beautiful, glorious harmony is happening is if you see little angels and rainbows coming out of the singer’s mouth. However, 9 out of 10 times you won’t know because it’s not socially acceptable to get that close to the person’s mouth. Plus, you can’t tell if it’s angels or spit that’s flyin’ from the gullet.

Ok, I think that’s about enough for today. Join me next month when I show you how fluff a pillow! Now for the Joke of the Month: A cop pulls over a guy. “Your eyes are awfully red. Have you been drinking?” “Gee, officer,” the man says. “Your eyes are awfully
Posted:  2/8/2008

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