Category Archives: harmonizers
Wow… sorry for the delay! Happy New Year n shit…
“On A Plain” is my all-time favorite Nirvana song. Fucking PERFECTION.
And… on a whole other fucking level….
It doesn’t get much better than this:
God, I’ve been so busy lately. Anyway…
Basics of Harmony! Ready? Go!
It’s actually quite simple.
Let’s say you’re singing a very, VERY simple melody. You’re playing a C chord on the piano in steady quarter-note pulses. And you’re singing a simple melody, that you want to practice harmonizing (say, along with your phone, after you record a voice memo or demo or whatever).
You’re playing C… you’re singing a C note, in this rhythm:
One and…. (rest on 2) and threeeeee…. (hold through 4)
Let’s say the lyrics are this… “thinking, of you…. thinking, of you”
The best way to harmonize this line is in THIRDS. What’s a 3rd? Well, it’s a distance between two notes. Often, the root note of a chord (such as C, in a C chord), up to E (in a C chord, that’s the 3rd).
So, you demo’d your simple song… and you sang “thinking, of you” in this rhythm: 1 + (2) + 3 (4).
Now you’re singing along to your idea… but this time, you’re singing an E note (above your original melody), with the same lyrics.
It’s literally that simple.
In ALL catchy music, vocals are most commonly harmonized by a 3rd (up from the original melody). You can also harmonize DOWN a 3rd (such as singing an A note while the lead vocal sings a C). This isn’t always a good choice, in a major key, because it creates minor harmony, or possibly a country thing (between the vocals and piano, you’re singing and playing a C6 chord, which is very oldschool country).
Less common are 5ths, because as you sing 5th harmony.. you create what is sometimes weird-sounding, called “parallel 5ths” (it’s a classical rule you don’t always want to break). Another good harmony is up a 6th. Or 4ths/suspensions.
I’ll try to find some audio examples of this on YouTube, for a future post… or an addition to this post.
Vocal harmony is friggin’ awesome.
Go listen to the cranberries “Dreams”, and “Linger”. And then Fleet Foxes “White Winter Hymnal”. And furthermore, anything Jacob Collier does on YouTube (that dude is out of this world insane…. I have no friggin’ idea what he’s harmonizing, most times I watch his videos). But, if you’re looking for pretty and simple— how about also checking out Band Of Horses’ “Marry Song”, or anything by the indie slowcore band Low.
Stay tuned for the next post… I’ll post audio examples and YouTube vids.
1. Get it done. Don’t make everything perfect.
Write all the time, and stop striving to reinvent the wheel. You’ll never write “In My Life” or “Fix You”. Neither will I. They’ve already been written. Just write. A lot. Daily. Slow and fast songs. Silly stupid songs. Serious ones. Get it done, and stop giving a damn what people think.
2. Get opinions from those you care about.
You made a 5-song digital EP? Awesome. Check in with friends. Send mp3s via email. “What do you think of the EP? Which song is your favorite? Am I onto something, here?”
Low-sung verses. Higher-sung choruses. Slow guitar strums with a fast beat. Or the opposite. Piano songs. Acoustic songs. Mix it up. Maybe a song entirely with bass guitar, sax, and drums (the band Morphine made a career of a similar sound).
4. Forget what you know.
Know a lot about music theory? Who cares? Forget about it, when you write. Detune your guitar into some weird altered tuning so you are forced to try new shapes with your fingers. Go into a sound in your keyboard that makes little sense. Don’t always run to the grand piano preset. Throw an effect pedal in between your keyboard and computer, and see what comes about. Experiment with a loop pedal. Take chances!
5. “I’m not as good as…”
Never compare yourself to others. Friends of mine are insanely talented. INSANELY. Their keyboard skills make me want to quit playing keys. Their singing voices are insanely trained. So what? I am not a trained singer, but I can sing, and harmonize. I can play basic piano stuff, but I cannot play difficult passages or songs. I can’t shred a blues solo, and my fingerpicking is capable, but nothing spectacular. Doesn’t matter. I focus on my strengths. Do the same for yourself.
6. Focus on the end result, the goal, the reason you do this.
Stop dissecting every step along the way when you’re writing and recording. “Too much string noise when my finger scraped the strings, there”… or “my voice cracked a little, in that part”…. “my harmony sounds a little weird, but ok…” Who cares?! Roll with it. Then listen to the song when it’s done, then make new decisions and choices. I wrote a song years ago. Recorded it in late 2014. It was cool, but I decided I hated it when listening to it again, last week. I changed the keyboard parts, and sped up the song while retaining the same key (thank you, computers). Now I love the song, and it’s infinitely better. Took two years to tweak it. Needed to give it a rest… listen, and then all the “here’s how I need to change it” brainstorming came out, within one listen of the song. I’ll release it soon… hopefully. End goal, right?
7. Be YOU.
Be yourself. Always. Stop singing like John Mayer or Ben Howard. Sing like YOU. I taught myself to sing listening to Green Day, Third Eye Blind, Ben Lee and Jimmy Eat World a lot in the late 90s. My voice is similar to theirs, and I love that. My songwriting style is similar, in some ways, too. It’s simple. It sounds like me. I can’t do Sigur Ros, and I can’t do Jason Mraz. I can’t do Bon Iver unless I’m playing with my vocal harmonizer pedal and lots of reverb. I fuck around, and roll with whatever sounds good to me. I love so many singers (and TONS of female singers, too) but I can’t do them. I can only do me.
8. Minimalist. Simplicity.
I saw an acoustic singer-songwriter a month ago. Too many fancy chords, rhythms, fancy-pants nonsense. His shit was forgettable. Then a few days later, I saw another dude. Lots of G and Cadd9 chords with a capo. His lyrics, delivery, and vibe of the song spoke to me way more intensely than the first guy.
Matthew Sweet wrote “Sick Of Myself” in 10 minutes. He thought it was a stupid song. Turned out to be one of his biggest hits, and he never regretted putting it on his 1995 album, “100% Fun.”
Jason Mraz… most of his really easy shit… A Beautiful Mess, I Won’t Give Up… SIMPLE AS HELL. And perfect. John Mayer’s “Gravity”? NO ONE CAN ARGUE HOW FUCKIN’ GREAT THAT SONG IS. Simple, and perfect. People like shit that they can just vibe to. They don’t need masturbatory musicianship. They want something that speaks to their souls. Make music like that, and change the world.
I can do shit solo. And often do. But I also come up with some great shit, working with people. Don’t be afraid to. It’s important.
10. Rest. Think. Watch TV. Read. Kill it, but chill, too.
Rest. Rest. Rest. REST. Stop working so hard. Hell, just yesterday, I killed it with my friend Mike. We tracked three new hip-hop songs to beats we threw together in a few hours. We shot a video session for YouTube. We shot video as he tracked vocals, so we can have material for YouTube. We ate food and talked about nutrition and working out. We took a break and hung out. But in 8 hours, we did a LOT, and killed it. Today, I plan on doing the same. But first, I needed four hours to chill, blog, and help all of YOU. Then I’m going to hit the studio hard and work on shit. It’s 5pm. I have til about midnight. I’ll get it all done, and I’ll take a break in between. Don’t forget to fucking REST. Seriously. Ok? Cool. Get to work. Or chill.
Have a tip to share? COMMENT!!! 🙂
Man, just the phrase “live looping” can make my head spin. I’m currently working with my friend and roommate on a live show for his upcoming album, which is ambient post rock.. occasionally with drums and keyboard stuff… but most of it is him looping over himself with an insanely decked-out pedalboard.
As a multi-instrumentalist who took up drums first, he has me drumming on a few of his tunes but as soon as the arrangement changes on one of them, it’s ridiculously easy to get off-time, playing with him, playing over the live loops he makes. As loops get added to a loop, chaos ensues, musically…. and things can get noisier and noisier. And rhythmic loops (such as a melodic guitar riff) can easily get buried as loops are added. A lot of people might not know about this stuff, but trust me, it can get a little hectic and impossible to play along to, because there’s nothing to latch on to, rhythmically, as a loop progresses. But thankfully, there are cool solutions, for those out there who love to do live looping with their music.
First off, I’ll list some live-looping artists that I respect greatly and also am very inspired by:
KT Tunstall (covering the Jackson Five)
Imogen Heap (this is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. This entire song using ONLY her voice, and hands)
and my man, Ethan Tufts, aka State Shirt (hopefully I will be doing a collab with him on YouTube in the near future)
Oh, and I can’t forget Andy Othling, aka Lowercase Noises:
Now, you guys might be wondering… how the HELL do these people do this?
Well, there’s many ways…. KT Tunstall and Bernhoft, for instance, use a Boss RC looper pedal (Bernhoft I believe is using the RC-50, and KT uses something smaller). Then, Imogen Heap is using something they don’t even make anymore… I forget exactly what model she uses (and the brand)… wait, it’s called the Electrix Repeater (it’s a 4-track looping device, and she’s creating and/or muting the loops by pressing her thumb or finger on the buttons in the video). State Shirt is using a software looper called Mobius (which is like a Gibson Echoplex looper, on crack!). Lowercase Noises is doing his ambient looping with an expensive loop pedal called the Boomerang.
If you’re looking to do something much more simple, though (to start)… I highly recommend the Digitech Jamman Express XT. Check it out and YouTube, and check out the possibilities. Then, if you are a solo singer-songwriter, you could benefit from using a TC Helicon Voicelive Play GTX, with a Switch-3, for live looping, and being able to create vocal harmony on the fly, as you perform your song (with or without loops).
I currently use a Digitech Jamman Solo XT (when developing my own ideas), and I also use this same pedal, synched with my friend’s Jamman Express XT (his pedal is the master, mine is the slave). I also dabble with the Windows version of Mobius (by the way, it’s free to download and use).
The whole culture of live looping is much, much more involved than this blog could ever possibly explain. But once you check it out, you quickly become addicted to the technology and the possibilities, especially if you’re a multi-instrumentalist. So check this stuff out, and imagine the possibilities. The sky is truly the limit with live looping.
Maybe in the future, I’ll have a series of how to do live-looping (and I’ll make some videos, with my roommate and friend Luke Pigott, who I’m rehearsing with, for the past week or so). I think it would be really beneficial to the readers of this blog, especially those of you who are multi-instrumentalists like myself.
Stay inspired. Stay creative!!
I like harmonizers (harmonizer pedals), A LOT. I use them as songwriting tools, and for playing my favorite songs, and having them sound as legit as possible (if the harmonies are simple, like most are).
It’s my belief that if a song melody is catchy enough, harmonizing that melody will make it ten times catchier.
It is also my belief that if a melody is well-written, harmonizing said melody works for all of the notes in the phrase, and really pushes it into the stratosphere.
Why some people hate harmonizers
They don’t like that a machine is being used as a tool for a solo singer-songwriter, for extra vocals. Most people assume that everyone should have a backup singer. But what if you don’t have access to a good one? What if you have a major personality clash with someone helping you harmonize? What if they look stupid up there, all alone, holding a tambourine, and simply singing, and doing nothing else? I mean, ultimately… what difference does it make, how the job (the song/performance/recording) gets done, as long as the end result is good?
The main reason I use harmonizers
As many people know, as I’ve been quite “vocal” about it (no pun intended), I’ve had vocal cord/singing problems since summer 2008, when I had a major vocal cord surgery. I was ok after, until early 2011, when some weird flu/swelling of my throat happened, and since then, I lost basically all of my falsetto and higher range, as it’s too damn “breathy”, often. I’ve done warmups, and vocal therapy, dietary changes, lifestyle changes, you name it… ultimately, most days, I can’t sing with my full range. So I use a harmonizer pedal as a tool, in recording situations, and performance situations. I consider my voice issues more a hardship, than a handicap… but whatever it’s called… I think this is an important tool in my arsenal. I never would ever say I’m an amazing singer… at best I’d say I’m competent and I can hold pitch. And often, when I hear people demonstrate these vocal harmonizers on YouTube, they are completely amazing and have high, powerful voices to begin with. It, of course, makes me feel like crap, but I see what they’re doing. Vocal harmony makes everything better and it’s extremely useful when you mainly write and perform completely alone (as I do). It’s nice to have background singers who don’t give me any drama or make me sing a song I’d rather not (or cannot physically attempt). As long as I stay in pitch, my harmony singers (my pedal) are happy.
So don’t fear ’em…. try them out. They’re extremely fun. I own the TC Helicon Voicelive 2, and also the Voicelive Play GTX (with the “Switch 3” pedal) in a small pedalboard setup, for live and songwriting use. Pro tip– common vocal harmony is a 3rd above, so try a preset in the pedal that is exactly that (most harmonizer pedals default to that, as preset 01).
Some of my favorite harmonizer pedal demonstrations: