Diane M. Clark, Region 2 Arrangers’ Coordinator
In our Arrangers’ Corner column last fall we discussed the importance of the big three chords that we use in barbershop music – the major triad, the dominant 7th (a.k.a. the barbershop 7th), and the dominant 9th (barbershop 9th) chords. We said that arrangements suitable for competition contain a majority of these chords, and they typically occur in strong places – downbeats, cadences, key changes, & climaxes.
It is not enough, however, just to use the big three chords and their eight friends – the color chords. We also must make sure that we use the strongest voicings of these chords. And of course, the strong voicings are those that will do the best job of engaging the harmonics of the overtone series. Thus we almost always put the root of the chord in the bass part. The exception to this rule is when the lead is already singing the root as part of the given melody, so then the bass typically get to sing the 5th of the chord.
There are also rules about doubling the notes of three-note chords, like the major and minor triads. To make it easier, here’s a little chart I made to help me remember the strong voicings:
CHORD BASS NOTE DOUBLE
major triad root root
barbershop 7th root or 5th none
barbershop 9th root or 5th root or 5th omitted
major 6th root none
major 7th root none
major 9th root 7th omitted
minor triad root (or 3rd) root (or 3rd)
minor 6th root none
minor 7th root or 5th none
augmented triad root root
diminished 7th any note none
If you stick to these voicings, you will have a much stronger barbershop arrangement. And if you depart from these rules, you need to have a very good reason for doing so. As you get more experience with arranging, you will understand better when it is okay to break the rules.
I am eager to hear from anyone who is interested in learning more about arranging. Please contact me at email@example.com, if you have questions or if you would like help with your arranging.