How to Harmonize in 3 Parts


As amazing as 2-part harmonies can sound, 3-part harmonies are the “cat’s meow.” -says Lisa Popeil

As you’ve probably realized by now, learning to hear, understand and create harmony parts is no easy feat, even for those with “good ears”.

My goal here is to introduce, in its simplest form, the concept of 3-part harmonies.

As amazing as 2-part harmonies can sound, 3-part harmonies are the “cat’s meow.”

The Sandwich

Let’s begin this discussion using the analogy of a sandwich.

You’ve got 2 pieces of bread (harmony parts) and 1 piece of meat (that’s the melody, the tune).

In our sandwich though, you can put the meat on the bottom under the 2 pieces of bread, or in the middle or on top of the bread. Here are examples for you:

3-part harmony with the meat (melody) in the middle:
UH (upper harmony)
M (melody)
LH (lower harmony)

Dixie Chicks ‘Landslide’ – 1:21- 1:48

3-part harmony with melody on the bottom:
1UH (highest upper harmony)
2UH (lower upper harmony)
M (melody)

Crosby, Stills, Nash ‘Helplessly Hoping’

3-part harmony with melody on the top:
M (melody)
1LH (top lower harmony)
2LH (bottom lower harmony)

Linda Ronstadt ‘Blue Bayou’ – 2:05

Try It Out

The best way to practice 3-part harmony is to sing along with the three samples I’ve provided.

Start by picking out the melody, ideally in the same octave as the singer (not an octave below guys).

Then, pick ONE of the harmony parts and follow it as best you can against the melody.

Finally, find the other harmony part and stay on it. Don’t let the other parts sway you.

Remember, harmony singing is all about listening and complementing the melody.

Music theory is great but in the end, it’s about finding the best nearby notes (whether above or below) to the melody.

If you’d like to further your study, I highly recommend my friend Susan Anders’ CD called ‘Harmony Singing By Ear’.

{ If you need the URL, here ‘tis:}

Harmony singing is one of the most beautiful and useful tools you can have in your singer’s tool-kit.

Keep singing against melodies until you eventually you too can be a harmony-meister!

  • Poppa Madison

    Been there, done that, and could not agree more. It is the “harmony’ in music that gives it its almighty uplifting and emotively powerful aspect.

    It can become opiate-like for compulsive listening if you are one of those people it has that effect upon.

    It is not only voices that can do this, it is also those fabulous orchestras led by the likes of Andre Rieu. If you look on Youtube at some of his performances you can get to see and hear, just how, beautiful harmony between voices and instruments moves massive audiences to tears.

    The same can be said of Religious Chorales such as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and The Nun’s Chorus.

    “Starlight Chorale” was the title of an LP my brother had in London in the 1960’s (It was a 12inch 33r.p.m. plastic disc……which dates me of course!). I used to listen to it for hours on end just to get a “Harmony Hit”.

    One sample I would like to see analyzed and included as a clip as part of this article and as a training model for those who might be interested, is that of “Barber Pole” singing. Reason being that the pitches chosen give it a very unique sound like no other small group vocals does.

    Perhaps my choice of music in far removed from that of some of the younger set who read these columns and are in “The now sounds” of today. But I thought to share my experience to hopefully in some small way help to ensure that what I grew up to listen to is not completely lost to posterity.

    It is not that it is not there in the Internet archives to readily seek out, it is that by us of the older generation sharing our experiences that prompts those without that, to seek out and hear for themselves some things they might never get to hear of, save for the prompting of myself and others.



    © ♯♪♫ ♂PM

  • Poppa Madison

    Hi all!

    Hope you don’t mind……I just had to come back to share some more about Harmony which has always been a great part of my musical life. It gives me a real buzz to hear the experts displaying their craft.

    So I thought to share a couple more Youtube clips which are there for posterity for those of you who have an interest in seeing just how the human voice can evoke emotion whether the singing is accompanied by instruments or even NONE AT ALL!

    I hope you get a kick out of listening too!



    © ♯♪♫ ♂PM