Adding vocal harmonies

Posted by: Sundance

Adding vocal harmonies - 03/28/13 09:35 PM

There are many ways to add vocal harmonies to your track. I sing mine and have a TCH harmony M pedal that I use or many times a combination of both.

This question comes up a lot so I'm copying a couple of posts that caught my eye here and hoping more of you will chime in with help for the newbies as well as any tips for us all.

From PgFantastic - Tips on using Melodyne

To use Melodyne for harmony,

1. open your original vocal track in Melodyne then copy to two separate tracks. TIP: about melodyne and correcting pitch, do not do it unless the vocal is extremely out of pitch and Never do 100% pitch correction, I would never use more than say 25% and that is probably too much. The reason is the human voice does subtle slides and trills through out a vocal performance and no matter how good a software is and Melodyne is a fine software it cannot keep up with the human voice. So what happens is you get parts that sound robotic when played against the mix. (AS A TEST: Put a vocal in melodyne correct the pitch and drift 100%, then put it back in your mix, and what sounded good against the mix originally will have places that are off key with the mix sharp and flat, which sounds crazy when the vocal is suppose to be set to perfect pitch.) I suggest instead of using correct pitch go through and the notes that seem out of pitch use the trill or slide function, this usually makes the note fall to the correct pitch for the rest of the song. If you use 100% pitch correction you will have some portions of the track that sound robotic and very unnatural unless the singer was nearly spot on perfect with their vocal and this is humanly impossible to do, not even the best singers can be in perfect pitch all of the time, just because of the way our voices slide and trill, the slightest change in air intake will change timbre and pitch, there will always be off notes, but against the mix they will fit because it is happening so fast, that it sounds like the singer is on pitch to the human ear.

2. On one of the copies delete all of the parts except what you want to use for a harmony part. Once you have done that;

3. hit select all, then drag all notes up the number of tones you want, I generally go with 3 up and 1 down for the harmonies as that sounds the most natural to me, you can however go 1 octave up and 1 octave down etc, use what is best for your application. on the copy track you have been working on, and I am sure if you work long enough you can make any harmony sound good.

4. Now go to quantize; this will make the harmony part sing off of the original which is what you want. Use the original track as the one to quantize to (the reason you use the orignal is because when you put these harmonies in your Daw the original is what you are harmonizing with.) Use whatever quantize you choose. I stay as close to the original as possible. 1/32 to 1/8 , but use whatever sounds best to you, this means melodyne will move the notes up and back throughout the notes the selected amount. Then mute the 2nd copy and play this harmony with the original and you will hear the harmony against the original.

5. Next use the formant tool to change the formant of the copy you are listening to in any places where the harmony sounds unnatural with the original. There is also a place to randomly offset timing, this is different than quantize because unlike quantize where for example if you set it for 1/8 off it moves the track either up or back 1/8. As you know harmony is not always that precise so the random offset will make the harmony more realistic sounding with the original part, still make sure to use the quantize first. The goal is to get the copy off of the original slightly forward and back so you don't have an exact replica but no so much that it sounds unnatural to listen to, also if the two tracks are exact it will sound muddy. I recommend also going through and choosing each note of the harmony part and setting the notes to either trill or slide, it takes a little time but is well worth it as the harmony part will sound more natural.

6. Use this same procedure for the second harmony, but if you went 3 tones up with 1st harmony go 1 tone down or more with this one, when going down though be very careful as this can get unnatural sounding very quickly and can cause muddiness in the mix.

I hope this helps!

Floyd Jane On Getting A Choir Sound

Since Josie asked "how did you get the choir sound?" - I thought a brief
description might be helpful to someone....

The "Choir" is nothing more than me singing a couple of times and then
processing that in RB using the TC Helicon plugin (provided by PGMusic!).
I loaded Robert's song in a DAW and sang along with it twice.
Once normally and once in a falsetto - both times, the same melody
that Robert sang (no harmonies).
I loaded Robert SGU file into RB and then loaded the 1st vocal I had done.
And then processed that with the Audio Harmony plugin.
Choosing "1 down, 3 up", selecting the Gospel setting under each voice,
and "medium choir" at the bottom.
That generated 12 harmonies. I saved each of those to a folder - using the mpg
option and allowing it to default to what comes up - a very low resolution.
(figured with a bunch of voices, the quality would not matter and it would save some space -
and to use any other resolution that many times is a pain,
because it returns to the low res every time)
I then did the same with the falsetto track.
Loaded all those (24 generated voices along with my originals)
in the DAW panned them all over the place, added a reverb to
the master out and....
Viola! Choir!

I mixed all those voices to one track ("the choir") to mix with Robert's
original track rather than have to work with them individually.
Posted by: floyd jane

Re: Adding vocal harmonies - 03/29/13 09:34 AM

Josie - it is great that you did this! I've been thinking of doing the same thing for a long time - and just never gotten around to it.

I thought it might be a good idea to have some examples for the thread...

The above explanation (Floyd Jane On Getting A Choir Sound - in Josie's post) refers to a "choir" that I created for Robert's song "Held In His Hand" (PgFantastic)- it's a great song and I thought it needed a choir at the end. Robert graciously agreed to let me add one.

I also thought that Noel's song "Wait And See" (Noel96) was perfect for a Broadway show and just needed "the whole cast" singing along at the end - and he allowed me to add that!!!

I have posted the endings to provide examples (along with a couple of other examples - explained below)

A discussion that I posted in response to a question by Joanne (jo131) is at the end. It talks about how I typically use the harmony plugin - to create what I call "the BIABettes".

Listen To Harmony Examples here (<<< that's the link).

"Set In Stone".

I wanted to try 2 things with this song (the production of it).
First was a simple one instrument, one voice production (using piano). I had not done that before.
I then wanted to see how well "the BIABettes" would "stand up" in such a stark production.
There are 2 versions - one with the harmonies as "background vocals" and one with the harmonies "front and center" along with the main vocal - like a "quintet". (the solo version was posted in the showcase, but this is a discussion on harmonies...)

"The BAIBettes - How I typically create harmonies"

(response to Jo's questions)
I can tell you what I do... though "your mileage may vary" (since I'm starting with a male vocal and you would be starting with a female vocal).

After getting the song set up in BIAB (meaning simply, the chords right), I open RealBand and load the BIAB file. Then import the vocal track. Select that vocal track, right-click and choose "Generate Audio Harmony (using PowerTracks or BBW...)"

I choose "Harmonize to the chord symbols of the song" - which is what the BIAB file is for. So far, I've only used "1 Down and 3 Up" as the type. And then generate. I don't typically change any of the settings in the plug in.

I then save each of the 4 (mono) tracks so that I can work with them in a different DAW (the one I know from the past). But you could simply work with them in RealBand

Listening to any one of the "voices" separately you will find... they don't sound "real". But add them all together at the right levels and you can get some decent results. But... not all the time. I often have to really lower or eliminate the highest one (because she's warbling something awful). Particularly if I am singing high (and loud). They (the BIABettes, as I called them) work best when I am singing low and soft - almost my natural speaking voice. At times, I have to drop them all out because they don't work for a particular phrase. A lot of it becomes finding where they work and how they fit in the song. And they work best (for me) when they are blended together. Here and there I will use the 1 Down and the first above - but most of the time it's all 4 together.

I pan two left and two right one a bit more than the other - meaning - L 70% L 50% R 50% R 70% (percentages out of 100). Obvious, I know, but some might not consider it...

Robert's full post of "Held In His Hands" with the choir is here:

Noel's original post of the song is here:

My original post of "Set In Stone" is here:

Hope you find something useful somewhere in all of that....

Posted by: jford

Re: Adding vocal harmonies - 03/29/13 01:32 PM

To add to this, one of the things I sometimes do is to let the harmonizer create the harmonies (the BIABettes, if you will), and then I will listen carefully to the harmony tracks (one-by-one) to learn it, and then record myself sing that harmony. The result is a more natural sounding harmony (no artifacts).

I can do up a third and root bass notes harmonizing pretty well on my own, but using the harmonizer, I can get some interesting/better results. Then, I will treat the harmony part as if it were a new melody and sing/record it that way (a crutch, I know, but treating it like a melody lets me sing it with more confidence, since I'm just an okay singer to start with). This method allows me to record the harmony while listening to and matching the actual words, pitch, and inflection, rather than trying to sing along to an instrumental rendition of a harmony.
Posted by: JohnJohnJohn

Re: Adding vocal harmonies - 03/29/13 08:19 PM

Thanks Josie, Floyd and John!! I recently discovered the BIABettes and I am in hog heaven adding harmonies all over my songs!

Josie, I love the way you mix up (and perform and record) your songs. And Floyd, your examples are really nice. John, I have to try what you suggest about letting the BIABettes create the harmony that I then learn to sing!

This is a snippet from a song I co-wrote recently and I was trying to get a church choir/chorus effect.
Posted by: Janice & Bud

Re: Adding vocal harmonies - 04/02/13 10:25 AM

We either just have Janice sing one or two harmony parts with her lead vocal....or lately ask Floyd to provide a part :-) Back when we were recording in the late 90's I tried some harmony generators but they sounded like something from a bad 50's scifi movie -- I'm sure they have improved. Janice can do "car horn" harmony with herself but some times it's almost too tight -- if that makes sense. I've considered significantly changing the EQ of the harmony part and maybe off setting it a frog hair to see if it sounds more like two people??? After nearly 40 off and on years in bluegrass bands, I'm stuck on the beauty and simplicity of BG/old style country duets and trios. And the only way to make them sound right is with different human voices IMHO, FWIW, etc. Having blathered all that, I gotta say that this thread has definitely made me want to explore some of the possibilities that y'all have mentioned. Good read.

ps "Car horn" harmony is a bluegrass expression for exceptionally tight/accurate harmony.
Posted by: jford

Re: Adding vocal harmonies - 04/09/13 04:27 PM

Hi, Mootsman -

I just listened to an episode of NPR's "Fresh Air", which was an interview with Emmy Lou Harris and Rodney Crowell, where they talked about their recent collaboration and the harmonies they were trying to achieve. Their new album is "Old Yellow Moon". Just loved listening to their voices blending.
Posted by: MikeK

Re: Adding vocal harmonies - 06/25/13 10:29 AM

Originally Posted By: aleck rand
If I sing too many off pitches despite trying again and again to nail them, my solution is just not to post.

That would be the main reason, I do not sing lead anymore. Others do better. The most I can do these days is adding backing vocals (far in the background, mind you). laugh
Posted by: Pat Marr

Re: Adding vocal harmonies - 06/26/13 12:36 AM

apologies to Josie and Floyd for hijacking the thread again. I'm a very bad person

I appreciate that you are making this information available
Posted by: Noel96

Re: Adding vocal harmonies - 06/26/13 02:40 AM

Hi Pat and Aleck,

You both should restart this discussion over in the Off Topic. I'm sure there'd be many who are interested.

Posted by: Sundance

Re: Adding vocal harmonies - 06/26/13 10:10 PM


Pitch correction has been discussed several times in off topic if you or Pat want to do a search. smile

I have the basic edition of Melodyne. Could be user error on my part, but the times I've tried it even if only correcting a few notes, to my ears it changes the sound of my voice on the entire wav. I prefer the way my voice sounds without it - richer with more soul and feel.

However, I thought Robert's post on using Melodyne to create harmonies was interesting and helpful for those who like using it which is why I reposted his post.

Personally, and back on topic, I have fun with my harmonizer pedal. I can get cool sounds but it doesn't work on every style song. On some songs it's faster and easier just to sing the parts without anything but me having a good time. smile

Here's a video of one of our songs from the duo - Bob and I - that we were honored to have placed on Neil Young's site on the Living With War Today page last year - just me singing all those wild harmonies having fun. grin
Posted by: aleck rand

Re: Adding vocal harmonies - 06/27/13 08:17 AM

Hi Noel,

You have my apology for the error. I will ask the moderator to remove my contributions to this thread, which I see involves topics beyond my level of competence.

Posted by: floyd jane

Re: Adding vocal harmonies - 06/27/13 08:26 AM

Hey Aleck..

I've been away for a number of days, so missed some of this - and there seems to be a post or two already missing, so I may be missing whatever the point was...

But to answer one of your questions.... I do not use pitch correction on anything - ever. I tried it once (a long time ago) and couldn't seem to make it do anything.

This discussion was about using the harmonizer to create some backup harmonies - which I have done - and always mention in any song I post that uses them. I have been using that less lately - doing my own harmonies or asking Janice to provide some (what a wonderful thing THAT is to be able to do!) - and I do harmonies for them, in return.

Hope that helps "clear things up a bit"...

Posted by: Guitarhacker

Re: Adding vocal harmonies - 06/27/13 01:10 PM

If you have melodyne....

Go ahead and sing the harmony parts. It can be used to fix the parts no matter how bad they may be. If you clone a track and then use ME to create the harmony, the parts can sound very fake if you're not careful.

I have used it to create a totally melodyne harmony part when it was evident I was not able to get the singer to do harmony or she was not knowledgeable enough to sing harmony..... but it's my last resort option.

Here's a link to a song where I cloned the lead and used Melodyne Editor to create a vocal harmony track:

I have kept the harmony low to add more ambiance as opposed to BGV.

I prefer to try to sing the parts and if the vox is bad, use ME to fix it. ME, with a bit of patience, can fix an amazing span of vocal faux paux.... I will use a piano to play the part, and learn it, and record it one line at a time if I need to. Then, put ME to the job of fixing what needs fixing.