These technical definitions come from Handout for Essence of Barbershop for Newbies written by Ted Chamberlain.

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Ad Lib     The style in which a song segment is delivered without particular attention to the meter, but within the described form of the passage being sung.

Arrangement     The harmonization of the song with embellishments and other added material.

Arrangement Device     A musical element contained in the arrangement of the song that provides opportunities to enhance the theme of the song and the barbershop style of performing it.

Attack     The onset of sound characterized by three basic types: aspirate, glottal, and coordinated.



Beat     In singing:  it’s a pulsation in sound intensity produced by the combination of two or more tones or partials of sightly different frequency.  The beat frequency is equal to the difference in frequency between any pair of tones.  In Rhythm and Meter: a metrical pulse which, when combined in recurring patterns of strong and weak beats, defines Meter.



Chromatic    The adjective used in connection with the chromatic scale or instruments that can produce all, or nearly all, the pitches.  The chromatic scale consists of 12 tones.  Each half-tone higher is ascending; each half-tone lower is descending.

Circle of Fifth    (1) Generally defined as root progression of chords by descending fifths.  Classic barbershop progressions are created by the use of secondary dominants resolving by descending fifths back to the tonic “around the circle of fifths.”  (2) The twelve tones of the chromatic scale arranged in a sequence of ascending or descending perfect fifths.

Climax    The point of maximum emotion in the song.

Closed Position Voicing    The distribution of notes in a chord when all four voices fall on consecutive notes of the chord and the interval from the highest to the lowest note is an octave or less.

Color    Variation in timbre off the vocal sound for effect.  The quality of the vocal sound that evokes emotional response.  (See Timbre.)

Combination Tone    In musical acoustics, a tone of different pitch that is heard when two loud tones are sounded simultaneously.  Its frequency is the difference or sum of the frequencies of the two primary tones or of their multiples.

Comedic   A style of song or performance that focuses on the humorous value of the presentation.  It may be generated by words, performer’s style, or both.

Complete Chords     Voicings in which all chord tones are present.

Consonance     A pleasing sound resulting from the combination of two or more tones whose frequencies are related as the ratios of small whole numbers and in which roughness related to the beat phenomenon is reduced to a minimum.

Consonant     (1) Referring to Consonance.  (2) Any non-vowel sound including pitched (m, n, l, r, ng,) voiced (b, d, g, j, v, z,) and unvoiced (c, ch, f, h p, s, sh, t.)

Construction     The order and organization of the components of the song (e.g., introduction, verse, chorus, interlude, coda, etc.)

Contrast     (1) The variation applied to a performance after the establishment of unity.  (2) The variation in the melodic lines of song phrases, as in the B section of an AABA song form.

Crescendo     A gradual increase in volume.



Difference Tone    A type of combination tone created when two loud tones sound simultaneously that differ in pitch from the two sounded tones.  Its frequency is the difference of the frequencies of the two primary tones or of their multiples.

Diminuendo    A gradual decrease in volume.

Dissonance     The absence of consonance, characterized by a rough sound resulting from the beats produced by two or more tones whose frequencies do not relate.

Divorced Voicing     The vertical organization of voice parts resulting when the lowest or highest note in the chord is distantly removed from the other three voices.

Dynamics     The use of contrasting energies, colors, vocal volumes, or physical motions for effect.



Energy    The presence of vitality, intensity, liveliness, etc., in the vocal and visual parts of the presentation.

Embellishments    Swipes, echoes, key changes, back time, and other devices, which elevate the music from the level of harmonization to that of an arrangement.

Enharmonic     The relationship between two notes of different spelling that are identical on keyboard instruments, e.g., B# and C.

Equal Temperament     A method of tuning that divides the octave into 12 equal-ratio half steps, such as is used in tuning pianos.  Barbershop singers do not tune vertically using equal temperaments, but it is satisfactory for melodic lines and in staying in true to the tonal center for songs whose melodies do not progress harmonically more than three steps on the “circle of fifths.”  (See Pythagorean Tuning.)

Expanding Sound     The effect resulting from the combined interaction of voices singing with accurate intonation, with uniform word sounds in good quality, with proper volume relationships that reinforce the more compatible harmonics and combination tones, and with precision, all producing an effect greater than the sum of the individual voices.



Fermata    The symbol placed over a note or rest to indicate that it is to be prolonged beyond its normal duration.  Also called a pause or hold.

First Inversion Chord    A chord whose lowest note is a third above the nominal root of the chord.

Flow     The sensation of progress, motion, and orderliness of the vocal and visual aspects of a performance.

Focal Point     A specific place, direction, or location to which the performers wishes to draw attention.

Focus     The object of the song: an idea, feeling, person, place or time. (Not to be confused with the Focal Point.)

Form     The pattern of the two-, four-, or eight-measure phrases that subdivide the song’s Verse or Chorus other major section (e.g., Trio, Patter, etc.)

Formants    A series of broad resonant frequency bands that correspond to the natural resonant frequencies of the vocal tract.  During singing, unique patterns of resonant formant frequencies are established that are influenced by the positioning of the jaw, tongue, lips, etc.

Forte    Loud

Fortissimo    Very Loud

Forward Motion    The sense of progress of the presentation.  That is, the use of musical tempo and physical development to lead toward a climax.

Free Style    The Style in which a song segment is presented without regard to a symmetrical time balance (meter or rhythm) or phrase structure (form.)

Frequency     The number of periodic vibrations or cycles occurring per second.

Fullness    The sense of space or size of a sound, not to be confused with volume.

Fundamental    The name for the harmonic of the lowest frequency of a harmonic series.



Gesture     Actions of the hands, arms, head, or other body movements designed to illustrate or amplify the theme of the song.

Glissando     A movement from one pitch to another during which discrete, rather than continuous, pitches are heard.

Glottal Attach / Release      The beginning or ending of voiced sound resulting from the opening or closure of the vocal folds by direct pressure of the singer, rather than by starting and stopping of air movement across them.  This forces the two halves of the vocal folds in direct contact.  It is not conducive to good vocal-fold heath or good vocal production.



Harmonic     Tones of higher pitch that are present in a regular series in nearly every musical sound and whose presence and relative intensity determine the timbre of the musical sound.  This is another term for overtone or part of a complex tone or partial.

Harmonic Partials     Another name for overtones or harmonics.

Harmonic Series    A theoretically infinite number of tones whose frequencies are small whole number multiples of the frequency of a pure fundamental note.

Harmonization     The basic setting of the melody with three harmonizing parts.

Homophony / Homophonic     Music in which one voice part carries the melody and is supported by chord tones in the other voice parts, will all voice parts moving together in the same rhythm, on the same words.  Relating to homophony (adj.)  (See Polyphony)



Implied Harmony     A succession of harmonies and chord progressions suggested by the song’s melody.

Inflection     A distinctive emphasis of volume or color for effect.  Pulsation.

Intensity    In presentation, intensity refers to a focus of energy.  In singing, intensity is perceived as energy expended to project the sound, although technically, the intensity of a sound wave is proportional to the square of both the amplitude and the frequency and decreases with the square of the distance separating the sound source and the listener.

Interpolation     The insertion of a short segment from another song.

Interpretation     The performer’s choice of theme, moods and action (vocal and visual) from among the many options offered by the composition and its arrangement.

Internal Generation     A condition whereby the feeling conveyed comes from a real, true, and heartfelt condition (as opposed to trite, phony, artificial.)

Intonation     The degree to which the tonal center appropriate to any point in a song remains invariant, and the degree of maintenance of consonant-interval relationships between the harmony parts and the anticipated melody.



Just Intonation     Used in barbershop singing for the vertical tuning of chords.  Just Intonation is a method of tuning that relies on intervals tuned in the ratios of small, whole numbers, as derived from the natural overtone series.



Larynx     The “voice box” in the throat containing the vocal folds.

Legato     The style of smooth connection of successive notes.

Lock and Ring     “Lock” refers to the feeling associated with a justly in-tune chord, whose quality is determined by the degree of intonation achieved in and between the individual voice parts.  (See “Just Intonation”.)  “Ring” is the sound resulting from the production and reinforcement of harmonics in the composite voice parts derived from the ringing quality contained in the individual voices.

Loudness     The magnitude of the auditory sensation produced by sound.  Loudness relates closely to intensity and frequency, but because the ear is non-linear in its response – being most sensitive to higher frequencies and higher intensity levels – our perception of loudness is subjective.

Lyric     The words of a song.  A style of song relying mainly on story values.




Marcato     A strong sense of pulsation or accent akin to marching music.

Medley     A construction in which major portions of two or more songs are used.

Melodic Stylization     Changing the melody to provide musical contrast while maintaining a balance between the alterations and a character suggestive of the original song.

Melody     The pattern of notes of a song.  A style of song that relies principally upon melody for its impact.

Meter     The orderly pattern of beats and measures of a song.

Mezzo Forte / Messo Piano     Mezzo forte is moderately loud, less loud than forte.  Messo piano is moderately soft, but louder than piano.

Migration     The natural tendency to change vowel sound and timbre with changes of pitch or volume.

Modification     The conscious adjustment of the vocal tract / formant frequencies to correct for the natural tendency of migration of the vocal sound.  Though modification amounts differ for different singers, normal modifications could include a slight brightening of timbre when low or soft, and a slight broadening when high or loud.

Music     The song and arrangement as performed.

Musicality     The degree of artistic sensitivity to the pleasing, harmonious qualities of music, as demonstrated in the performance.




Non-Singing TimeAll elements of a performance other than those performed while singing.



Overtones     Harmonics of second order or higher.  It is usual to refer to the first overtone as the second harmonic, the second overtone as the third harmonic, etc.



Partials     (See Overtones)

Pause / Grand Pause    (See Fermata)

Pharynx     The area of the throat that is subject to rather accurate control by the singer.  It is the area above the larynx extending upward behind the mouth and nose.

Phrasing     A manifestation of the natural thought process contained in a complete phrase.  It includes the addition or reduction of value to parts of a phrase, sentence or word.

Pianissimo     Very soft.

Pitch     The sensation of relative highness or lines of a tone, determined primarily by the frequency of vibration of the sound-producing medium.  The location of a musical sound in the tonal scale.

Polyphony / Polyphonic     Music that combines several melodic lines, each of which retains its identity as a line to some degree, as distinct from homophony.  Relating to polyphony  (adj.)

Portamento     Moving smoothly from one tone to another tone, continuously changing pitch.  Sometimes inaccurately referred to as “glissando.”

Precision     The quality of exact coordination of attacks, releases, vowels, diphthongs, volume balancing, physical movement, etc.

Presentation     The giving or sharing of a musical performance.

Props  Portable, inanimate articles used to enhance a presentation.

Pulse Beat     The stress beat or metronomic pulse in a composition.  The thythmic pulse on which the primary vowel sound should occur.

Punch Line     Occasions of major surprise, incongruity, or other comedic impact.  May be expressed vocally, visually, or both.

Push Beat     The accent of a syncopated pulse that occurs before either the strong or weak beat in a given meter.

Pythagorean Tuning     A tuning of the scale characterized by pure fifths (3:2,) pure fourths (4:3,) and whole tones defined as the difference between a pure fifth and a fourth.  (i.e., 3:2 – 4:3 = 9:8.)  Tuning used by melody singers when the melody’s implied harmony progresses at least four steps on the circle-of-fifths away from tonal center.



Release     The termination or cessation of sound.

Resonator     That which acoustically reinforces the initial sound produced.  The throat, mouth, and nasal passages make up the primary resonators for voice.

Rest     A suspension of the lyric, melody, or physical motion for a specified duration.  Used by the performer to heighten, sustain, or change moods.

Rhythm     The distinctive pattern of relative duration of notes or syllables in successive measures of a song.  A type of song that features rhythm.

Ring     (See Lock and Ring)

Root-Position Chord     A chord in which the root of the chord is the lowest tone.

Rubato     The style of moderate variation of tempo or duration of notes while maintaining a sense of meter.



Second-Inversion Chord     A chord in which the fifth of the chord is the lowest tone.

Sets     Large, fixed articles of staging intended to enhance a presentation.  Not typical of barbershop contest presentations.

Song      The composer’s melody, lyrics, rhythm, and implied harmony, in conjunction with any added song elements provided by the arranger.

Staccato     The style of separate, detached execution of notes.

Stage Presence     The physical persona of the performer as it relates to comfort or command of the stage and the music being performed.

Strong Voicing     A voicing that places the root or fifth of the chord in the bass and has no divorced tones in the chord.

Subjective Tone     Another term of “combination tone.”

Sum Tone     A combination tone that is similar to a difference tone.  Instead of the frequency of the note produced being the difference of the two primary pitches, it is the sum of thos two pitches.

Syncopation     The displacement or shifting of accents.  The contradicgion of the regular succession of strong and weak beats within a measure or a group of measures whose metrical context remains clearly defined by some part of the musical texture that does not itself participate in the syncopation.  Attacks that occur between the beats rather than on them.

Synchronization     The degree of coordination achieved in the execution of chord progressions and word sounds.



Tessitura     “The general ‘lie’ of a vocal part, whether high or low in its average pitch.  It differs from range in that it does not take into account a few isolated notes of extraordinarily high or low pitch.” – Willi Apel, ed, Harvard Dictionary of Music.  (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978), 839.

Tempo     The rate of speed of the beats of a song.

Tenuto     A slight holding or lengthening of a note.

Texture     The effect of relative fullness of the vocal sound upon the listener, described in terms such as “thin,” “thick,” “transparent,” “opaque,” “light,” and “dense.”

Theme     The essential, featured element in the music, whether it be lyrics, melody, harmony, rhythm, or, in rare instances, combinations of those elements.

Third Inversion Chord     A chord in which the third note above the theoretical root is the lowest tone.

Timbre     The Harmonic profile or sound quality of a sound source or instrument.  Also called “tone color.”  Certain descriptive words may be used to express the effect of musical timbre or tone color, such as “dark-brilliant,” “rich-mellow,” “fuzzy-clear,” “dull-sharp,” “complex-simple.”

Timing     The sensitivity of the performer to action-reaction moments in the presentation and its effect on communication with the audience.

Tonal Center     The keynote of the melodic phrase or series of phrases, used to define the beginning and ending of the chord progressions implied by the melody.

Travel     The movements used to enhance and support the theme of the song.

Tremolo     Commonly means the excessive vibrato that leads to loss of distinct sense of a central pitch.  Usually results from lack of breath control and faulty control of the singing mechanism.