Finding Your Voice

Singing Lessons, Workshops and Therapy.


February 6th, 2015
This is not the first time I’ve had a student ask for some help in developing harmony singing skills, but it is the first time I’ve had almost half of my students in the same week ask for some sort of theory lesson, or singing exercises relating to understanding and utilising the theory of harmony.

This last bit is quite important, I think. I learned music originally through the school system, and while I am an absolute advocate of music being taught in schools (for equality of access, the development of the brain in ways beneficial to all other learning areas, and generally as a life enhancement appreciation), I think traditional music teaching sometimes separates out the theory from the practice to the extent that it is hard to understand why you need to learn it at all. Kristina Olsen ( – in a group guitar class I once took with her -said something like: “Theory isn’t music. Music is the sound. It makes more sense to learn the theory as you need it, and as it applies to your music making.” I mostly agree with her (though at times I ask students to suspend their need to¬†understand how what we are learning applies¬†to singing: once their muscles can do it we will learn how it applies by applying it!)

But I digress! I am speaking here of harmony. So, for those of you who do not quite know what harmony is, in it’s simplest form, it is the sound of more than one pitch/note concurrently. It exists in the chords you play on your guitars (usually 3 notes together of which you sing one at a time); it exists when two or more people sing different parts; it exists when an orchestra is playing a whole lot of instruments. This week I have been helping students to understand a few fundamentals of Western concepts of harmony to: help them work out chords on a ukulele for a song they wish to sing; understand that there is one than one note in a guitar chord to help with vocal pitching when the wrong note has been chosen; and to develop the complex skills in singing harmonies to another singer’s melody.

The latter is what I am most often asked to assist with when I am asked to help with harmony, and it is interesting to me how different musicians (and we are all musicians at our own level: we all have inherent music skills that we have developed through our lives just from listening). Some people seem to just naturally be able to “find” a vocal harmony, though really what they are doing is calling on a musical language they have internalised from the various music experiences they have had in their lives. Others need theory to work out harmonies, even sitting down with a pen and paper first. Many of us, myself included, use a combination of theory and just “naturally finding” harmonies. Sometimes we start with the “naturally finding” and then stop and think about the chord and what notes are in it when we get stuck. Or sometimes we start with a bit of theory, and then use our ears to tell us if what we’ve come up with works.

This brings me to one of my pet metaphors (even if a fairly recently invented one): we all have different entry points to understanding music. It’s a bit like horse riding. Some people with a lot of experience and fit musical muscles seem to just jump on a horse and gallop off, some of us need help to find a stump to stand on to jump onto the horse, or maybe gently find our seat. Some of us have shorter legs, but once we get up there, we can ride like no body’s business, and some of us have no trouble getting on, but once we’re there, we only like walking and need help to trot or canter. It’s all music. It’s all fun. It’s all valid. Maybe this will be the theme of my next blog!

Comments are closed.

Raelene lives in Perth, Australia. She tours & is available for festivals, workshops, & country & interstate events.
Copyright © Finding Your Voice. All rights reserved.