What is barbershop harmony?


Barbershop harmony is a distinctive American vocal sound produced by four unaccompanied voices with harmony parts both above and below the melody.  We strive for warm, perfectly tuned chords to produce overtones – that elusive “ring.”  Any woman can find a voice part that fits her vocal range, from high sopranos to those who sing men’s tenor.  Although no prior training is required to sing in the barbershop style, everyone from inexperienced singers to professional musicians will find enjoyment and exciting challenges. 


Barbershop music features songs with understandable lyrics and easily singable melodies whose tones clearly define a tonal center and imply major and minor chords and Barbershop (dominant and secondary dominant) seventh chords that resolve primarily around the circle of fifths, while making frequent use of other resolutions. Barbershop music also features a balanced and symmetrical form, and a standard meter.

The basic song and its harmonization are embellished by the arranger to provide support of the song's theme and to close the song effectively. Barbershop singers adjust pitches to achieve perfectly tuned chords in just intonation while remaining true to the established tonal center.

Artistic singing in the Barbershop style exhibits a fullness or expansion of sound, precise intonation, a high degree of vocal skill and a high level of unity and consistency within the ensemble. Ideally, these elements are natural, unmanufactured and free from apparent effort.


A great Barbershop performance is a visual treat as well -- both choruses and quartets enhance the music with movement to convey the theme of the song and provide the audience with an emotionally satisfying and entertaining experience. The musical and visual delivery is from the heart, believable, and sensitive to the song and its arrangement throughout.


History of Sweet Adelines International

After World War II, barbershop singing was growing increasingly popular for men. In 1945 a group of women in Tulsa, Oklahoma, wanted to participate in the chord-ringing, fun-filled harmony that the men were singing. So these women organized "Sweet Adelines in America." From its humble beginnings in Tulsa, Sweet Adelines International, as it is now called, has grown to include women in countries across the globe. The organization is separated into 24 regions which span the globe. These regions are guided by Regional Management Teams and work diligently to welcome women of all languages, nationalities and backgrounds to join in the joy of barbershop harmony. The overall membership boasts incredible diversity and unique membership composition — from stay-at-home mothers to CEOs, and women who hail from all parts of the world, all types of women find their voices at Sweet Adelines International. It is this diversity that makes the harmonies so rich and so special. 

Pitch Pipe Magazine

If you want to stay informed of all the happenings of the female barbershop music scene, subscribe to Pitch Pipe, which is published by Sweet Adelines International each quarter. It's full of news, reviews, and previews of coming events and competitions.

April 04, 2020

Meet the Chorus

Come to the About Us section to meet the director, and find out what we're all about!


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Want to sing with a bunch of fabulous women? Want to learn amazing, classic songs? Come to the Join Us section to find out how you can get involved.


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What is Barbershop?

Find out about this fabulous artform and the organization of women barbershoppers on our What is Barbershop page.


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