Vocal harmonies

VOCALSIn worship, one of our best tools as a backing vocalist (BV) is the use of harmony. There is something so beautiful and about singing in unison and worshipping God, and using harmony to decorate the melody is a great opportunity to build power, dynamic, and offer creativity through music.

Harmony in music is defined as ‘to fit together, joining, agreement’, so the use of harmony should be complimentary. The best way to demonstrate effective use of harmony in worship, is to have a comprehensive understanding of the main melody line in a song. Harmony is created by applying a second note to the existing melody.

The distance between the two notes (in the key/scale) is called an interval, and this interval describes the quality of the harmony; the most common and easiest intervals to pitch by ear are a 3rd (three notes apart in the scale – known as a major 3rd), a 5th (five notes apart in the scale – known as a major 5th) and an octave (eight notes apart in the scale hence octave).

When in worship, the most ‘congregation-friendly’ way of using harmony, is to sing in ‘block harmony’. This is where the harmony line consistently follows the exact intervals of the melody line, just at a higher or lower pitch. This means the harmony line can compliment the melody without distraction of where the congregation are trying to pitch, as singing other more ‘unnatural’ intervals such as a 2nd or 6th may cause confusion! Block harmony is also a great tool when there is more than one BV, as neither of you will be singing on each other’s ‘line’, and with the lead vocal you can build the natural triad around the melody line.

Counter melody is also another way we can use our BV. This is where we sing an alternative melody line against that of the lead vocal. However, this should be used appropriately in worship so as not to confuse the congregation.

Pitching harmonies:

Here are a few hints to help you pitch the following intervals:

  • Major 3rd: “Oh—when” of ‘Oh When The Saints’ / “Kum—Ba” of ‘Kum-Ba-Yah’
  • Minor 3rd: First two notes of Greensleeves / “So long, Farewell” Sound Of Music
  • Major 4th:  “A—Ma” of ‘Amazing Grace’ / “Hark—the” of ‘Hark The Herald”
  • Major 5th: Twinkle twinkle / Blackbird, The Beatles
  • Major 7th: Take on me, A-Ha / “Theres—a” There’s a place for us, West Side Story
  • Octave: “Some—-where” of ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ / “Chest—-Nuts” ‘A Christmas Song’

You can hear how they sound by clicking on the audio tracks in the player below:


There are plenty of amazing artists out there who use vocal harmony, below we have suggested a couple of our faves as listening for developing an ear for harmony:

Mumford and Sons


Civil Wars

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