Arrangers' Corner 


Diane M. Clark, Region 2 Arrangers’ Coordinator


             In  one of our previous Arrangers’ Corner columns 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, if you have questions or if you would like help with your arranging.

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