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Language of Barbershop

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Like most performing artists, barbershoppers have a language all their own. What follows is a quick snapshot of terms you may come across on the website.


You will almost certainly hear many of these concepts or phrases bounced around during rehearsal. Consider this a crash course for the casual observer.

a cappella: Vocal music performed without instrumental accompaniment.

Baritone: The baritone sings above and below the lead, completing and filling out the consonant four-part chords.

Bass: In terms of range, the lowest singing voice part, serving as the foundation of the chorus or quartet.

Bridge: The main body of a song, after the intro and before the tag.

Competition: Competition is not an unfamiliar term, but it helps to know we compete at two levels - both the regional level (once a year, in the spring) and the International level (every other year, in the fall). 

Cone: Harmonic balance in barbershop is stacked in a cone shape, not a cylindrical shape, as with traditional choral music.

Crescendo: A gradual increase in volume.

Decrescendo: A gradual decrease in volume.

Diminuendo: Similiar to decrescendo, it is more about becoming soft then lessening the volume.

Diphthong: Get acquainted with this term as soon as possible. It's vital! Dipthongs are vowel sounds with two distinct parts: the primary vowel and secondary vowel. It's as if the word has two syllables. (For example, boy = bo-ee, my = mah-ee, eyes = ah-eez, etc.)

Dynamics: A combination of contrasting volumes, choreography, and facial characteristics used to deliver the emotional content of the story to the audience.

Lead: The lead is the melody singer, and in barbershop typically sings melodies which lie within the vocal and skill range of the average singer.


Region: Captiol Chordsmen Chorus is part of the Land O' Lakes Region, which comprises all of North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, and the western half of the Michigan Upper Peninsula, USA; and all of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and the western half of Ontario, Canada.

Ring: The brilliant, bright "forward" sound in the voice that must be present to generate an overtone.

Risers: The metal, stair-like structure that the chorus rehearses and performs upon.

SPEBSQSA: AKA the "Barbership Harmony Society", legally and historically named the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America, Inc., the first of several organizations to promote and preserve barbershop music as an art form.

Sectionals: A mini-rehearsal for a specific voice part organized by the section lead outside of weekly rehearsals.

Section Lead: Section leads (not be confused with the "lead" voice part) are members of the music team that oversee the education and training of each voice part. There are two to three experienced members leading each section.

Tag: The climax or ending of a barbershop arrangement. Tag is also used as a verb to describe learning a short phrase of a song with all other voice parts present.

Tenor: The tenor is the highest part that harmonizes above the melody, utilizing a falsetto/light head voice approach.

courtesy Barbershop Harmony Society,

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