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Try this at home!
Get together with a few of your friends and try singing barbershop style a cappella four part harmony. Here is an arrangement of Happy Birthday for you to start with. More arrangements can be found at the Barbershop Harmony Society's website:

But first, some explanation of how it all works:

The vocal parts in barbershop arrangements are (from highest to lowest) Tenor, Lead, Baritone, and Bass. The melody is usually in the Lead, occasionally going to one of the other vocal parts.

Barbershop sheet music is usually written with two staffs, the treble and bass staff, with the Tenor and Lead in the treble staff and the Baritone and Bass in the bass staff. You can tell which part is which by the way the flags on the notes point – they point up for Tenor and Baritone, down for Lead and Bass. Notes in the treble staff are sung an octave down, which is indicated by the ‘8’underneath the treble cleft.

While it’s possible to learn to sing from sheet music alone, many, if not most, barbershoppers are not the best at note reading and would struggle to do so. Barbershop arrangements are often provided with audio learning tracks as well as sheet music.

Learning tracks are stereo recordings of the arrangement with one vocal part louder and panned all the way to one side (usually the left) and the other three parts panned all the way to the opposite side.

When learning a song, you start listening to, and then singing along with, the one vocal part by adjusting the balance all the way to that part. Once you get to know the part, you set the balance to the middle so that you start hearing your part in the overall arrangement. Then when you’re comfortable singing along with that, you move the balance all the way to the opposite side so you only hear and sing along with the other three parts.

It’s good to follow along with the sheet music while doing this if you can; however, many barbershoppers learn songs by playing the learning tracks in their car while commuting to work. Of course, for each arrangement there are four learning tracks – one for each part (there may also be an ‘All’ track with the four parts mixed normally).

Here is the sheet music for Happy Birthday:
Happy Birthday Score

Here are the learning tracks (recorded by Danny Fong and placed in the public domain. Search YouTube for other work by Danny Fong):

Happy Birthday Tenor
Happy Birthday Lead
Happy Birthday Baritone
Happy Birthday Bass
Happy Birthday All

Have Fun! Contact us at to let us know how you're doing or if you'd like to sing with us sometime!

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The Santa Monica Oceanaires are a 501.C3 Charitable Organization, an official chapter of The Barbershop Harmony Society -
The Society for the Preservation Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing In America