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How to Harmonize in 3rds


The first in our “basics of harmonizing” series with award winning educator Lisa Popeil.

Every aspiring singer will want to master the art of harmonizing.

Not only will this ability serve you for recording and live performances, but this skill-set will enable to you to pursue ancillary musical jobs such as songwriter, backing vocalist, producer, and vocal arranger – just some of the music industry opportunities which may come your way.

In the next few weeks I am going to present the “how-to” of harmonizing so that singers who can’t read music can follow along – hopefully you’ll learn a little theory along the way.


Getting into 3rds

One of the most common intervals used in harmony is the 3rd. Here’s a little video showing what thirds look and sound like on a piano:

The reason that 3rds are easy to begin with is that they’re usually the nearest, “good-sounding” note to the melody and are fairly easy to find.

Just sing the melody note and go up or down to the nearest good-sounding note. It will often (but not always) be the third.

Some Famous Examples:

Check out Seals and Crofts’ beautiful pop song from 1973, ‘We May Never Pass This Way Again’. Check out :34-:49 to hear how natural and easy thirds can sound.

Listen to 3rds  in a rock-vocal-context in  the choruses of Aerosmith’s ‘I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing’.

Notice how the harmonies are not used on every note of the chorus.

What You Can Do Next

Your homework is to create a simple melody, one which doesn’t skip up and down a lot. Then record the melody.

See if you can find the 3rd above or below and sing harmony along with the tune you’ve recorded.

You may find that sometimes the 3rd won’t sound right. In that case, stay on the prior note and see if that note sounds good.

Remember: you don’t always have to change notes just because the melody moves.

In my next blog, we’ll explore the intervals of 6ths, which have a slightly different, more open sound, along with video examples for further study.

Lisa Popeil, MFA in Voice, is a top LA voice coach, voice scientist and researcher, contributor to the ‘Oxford Handbook of Singing’, is a voting member of NARAS (Grammys®), creator of the Voiceworks® Method, the ‘Total Singer’ DVD and a new book ‘Sing Anything-Mastering Vocal Styles’ and has taught voice professionally for over 35 years. www.popeil.com







  • Poppa Madison

    Great article Lisa!

    Now this really IS the way to demonstrate the art of harmony playing and singing in ways that simple discussion about it can only leave a nebulous idea in the mind.

    Congratulations on the use of printed measures and audio clips to make it easy to comprehend, follow and use to practice with.

    In my early teens I was a Choirboy in the UK and we had two sets of lads on opposite sides of the aisle, singing in Harmony. The two groups were called Decani and Cantoris. (That’s the first time I have actually thought about that in almost sixty years!) But it was a great start in learning how to sing in Harmony. In the late 1960’s I sang in the Clubs in Sydney with a young lady with whom I formed a Guitar & Vocal duo and we loved every minute of exploring different ways to change the sound, and the emotive ambience that variances in choice of sung intervals can make. In those days I did the Harmony and it used to flow from me like a veritable waterfall. I actually lived in a world of Harmony in my own mind. Whenever I was in the audience for a live show I could not help but sing along in Harmony. I wish I could have bottled the whole experience!

    Once you have spent time with Harmony singing it is sadly missed when you go purely solo. However thanks to multitrack recording being so simple to do at home on one’s DAW and having the fabulous TC Helicon Voicelive Play GTX to support the experiments, just about anything is possible for the solo singer to achieve.

    An example of mine can be found with my “Happy Christmas” composition recording at:-


    Well……Lisa……it’s only a few weeks away after all?

    All the best as always!