Standard choral music uses the Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Bass (SATB) designations. SATB arrangements attempt to balance sound equally across all four of the parts. On the other hand, barbershop uses the original men’s voicing of Tenor, Baritone and Bass with the addition of a Lead part, or melody. Barbershop attempts to balance the sound in a cone shape with the bass having the strongest sound, giving the chord a firm foundation. The lead usually sings the melody, with the tenor harmonizing above the lead. The bass sings the lowest harmonizing notes and the baritone sings either above or below the lead to make chords that give barbershop its unique, full sound.
The Four Parts:
LEAD is the melody and is sung in the range between A below middle C, and C above middle C.
TENOR is a harmony part sung consistently above the lead. Although tenor is the highest voice in barbershop harmony, it should not be confused with soprano of conventional choral singing. The tenor should have a light,sweet, pure tone that will compliment but not overpower the lead voice.
BARITONE covers approximately the same range as lead. The baritone harmony notes cross the lead notes, sometimes sung below and sometimes above. Baritones must constantly adjust their balance to accommodate their position in the chord.
BASS singers should have a rich, mellow voice and be able to sing the E flat below middle C easily. Basses should not be confused with the alto of conventional groups. Many altos can sing the bass part, but others are better suited to lead or baritone.
Probably the most distinctive facet of barbershop harmony is expanded sound. It is created when the harmonics in the individually sung tones reinforce each other to produce audible overtones or undertones. Barbershoppers call this "ringing a chord." Singing in a quartet or chorus and creating that fifth voice is one of the most thrilling musical sensations you’ll ever experience! It’s the goal of every barbershop group, and it’s sure to bring on the goose bumps and the applause!