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Help me understand the vocal harmonies

    • 112 posts
    June 8, 2013 8:08 AM PDT

    So Gill spent all those years "trying to figure out what the Stanley Brothers were doing," and she did it. Me, I'm not quite there:) I usually sing back up because my husband has a lovely lead voice, and I'm sort of alto/contralto in range (like Gill, 'cept not as nice). When I hit that buzz, I can feel it, but I don't know how to find it. I recognize that a lot of it is listening to my partner and finding the exact lineup, which isn't mathematical, but a little math would really help.


    Any insights? Are they singing mostly close-interval thirds, and just nailing them, or are they doing weird stuff?

    • 5 posts
    June 17, 2013 7:38 PM PDT

    I think they'r singing mostly close-interval thirds with Dave frequently following below, and just nailing them, and doing weird stuff like "Leave the northland far behind" where he's chosen to hang on to the suspended 4th to create a moment of disonence.

    • 112 posts
    June 18, 2013 4:13 AM PDT

    Yeah, I guess that's it. They just nail it. They know each other's voices so intuitively that they can get that push-pull, as she calls it, just right. He has such a keen understanding of dissonance, too. I get afraid to hold those weird intervals, because it sounds so unconventional (and I suspect downright bad to a lot of listeners) until it is resolved. When he does it, it just sounds pretty and poignant.

    • 5 posts
    June 18, 2013 3:10 PM PDT


    I played with a girl in Apopka for a while who liked to do a lot of blues and soul stuff. She would sing all her thirds a little flat like a blues singer from the 30's or 40's might. I told her one night I said "Hey it's great how you like squash all the thirds flat like the blues and all but Ya gotta resolve one every once in a while or you're just singing flat. Like Ya gotta give up the sweet cookie every now 'n then or you're just a tease." She slapped me, called me a masher, and treated me to a face full of gin. Not really. She went to nursing school and took music 101 and now I call her and ask her” I have three flats in the key signature, in what key am I playing?”.

    • 112 posts
    June 18, 2013 3:38 PM PDT

    What mode?:)

    • 112 posts
    June 18, 2013 3:40 PM PDT

    I know my inlaws think I'm a terrible singer! I suspect they hear all the dissonance and figure I just don't know what I'm doing (and they have a point), but I muddle through anyway. Can't really play Gillian Welch without weird intervals. Fortunately, I play the banjo, and that adds plenty of weird.

    • 10 posts
    August 31, 2013 4:14 AM PDT

    hello Sarahct,

    not much insight to offer as far as musical theory goes, which in my case is close to non-existent ...

    but I think 'Traveling on the stormy deep' in Brian1964Smith's playlist of Unreleased Originals is interesting for studying their harmonies. It is Gilllians song line, which is simple and repetitive, and Davids harmony voice. He weaves in and out of sync with Gillians line, touching on dissonant notes. 
    To my ears this sounds very old-timey rural, I can almost smell the woodfire. I think it is a wonderful song. Thanks to Brian1964Smith for uploading that.

    This post was edited by niels at August 31, 2013 4:59 AM PDT