Learning about Barbershop groups and the arrangements we sing

Quartets and choruses around the world enjoy singing acapella 4-part harmony in the barbershop style.  Recently, barbershop groups are breaking away from the traditional “all male” and “all female” groups and forming “mixed groups” – as a result we are finding more and more songs arranged to accommodate the vocal ranges of the singers in the group (quartet or chorus – all women, all men, or mixed). 

Barbershop music is melody intensive, having all members start with the melody helps with harmony, since all members learn what they are harmonizing to.  Songs are being arranged for choruses and quartets to sing in the barbershop style for men’s voicing (TTBB), mixed voicing (SATB), and for women’s voicing (SSAA).  [The abbreviations used, refer to choral or church terms for defining vocal parts:  S=Soprano (high notes), A=Alto (mid-range), T=tenor (lower mid-range), B=Bass (low notes).]


Dave Stevens (arranger of San Fancisco Bay Blues) gave this fantastic class years go about hearing, feeling, and singing barbershop harmony. Using familiar old songs, he teaches us how one chord “needs” to move to the next chord and eventually a song ends most often back at “DO” or “One”.


Barbeshop Harmony Society (BHS):  Here’s a link to a webpage with a series of classes taught by David Wright several years ago during the weeklong school that the men’s group holds every summer (live or online.



Sweet Adelines was a natural spin-off of the men forming a barbershop organization in the US …. here’s a link to a new online e-book for Sweet Adelines 75th Anniversary history that was finished last year: 


Our mixed arrangements are written to make good use of very tight chords (notes close to each other).  In order to make it easier for each of the parts to “find” their correct notes in those chords, the music is written in two staves (treble and bass).

Treble Staff:
The tenor (highest notes) will always have their “note tails” pointing up.
The lead (melody notes) will always be shown with their tails pointing down.

Bass Staff:
The baritone notes will be written with their tails up in the bass staff.
The bass notes will be written with their tails down in the bass staff.
Baritones and Basses sing the notes as written.

The four singing parts are:  

sings the harmony part above the Lead and should have a lighter, clear voice with very little vibrato.

LEAD  – usually sings the melody and should have a clear, strong, pleasant voice with a good sense of pitch. Leads sell the song, tell the story!

BARITONE  – sings notes above or below the Lead line. Baritone notes complete the 4-part chords and make it “ring.”

BASS  – sings the lowest note in the harmony part below the lead and should have a deep voice with a mellow timbre. Basses drive the tempo.

Learning and hearing more about TTBB, SATB, and SSAA

Click on the photos to watch them on YOUTUBE.

TTBB - Male Voices

Northwest Sound Chorus

This arrangement is pitched for male voices.
Notice the “8” underneath the treble clef sign — this indicates that all notes shown on the treble staff are actually SUNG an octave (8 notes) lower. 

SATB - Mixed Voices

Half and Half Quartet

This arrangement is pitched for a mixed ensemble to sing. These voicings have the traditional treble clef on top and bass clef on the bottom. This is the only barbershop print music that uses these “regular” clefs. 

SSAA - Female Voices

GQ Quartet

This version is pitched for female voices. Notice the “8” above the bass clef sign — this indicates that all notes shown on the bass staff are actually SUNG an octave (8 notes) higher.

Any questions, drop us an email;  jhgalloway47@gmail.com