Stream Leader: Sam Hubbard 
Open to: all genders, BABS members and non-members 

(1) I Got Rhythm: the basics of rhythm and note values

Pre-Requisite(s): None

In this session we’ll look at the foundational principles of rhythm. What do words like ‘beat’, ‘bar’, and ‘tempo’ mean? And how can you determine a rhythm by looking at the symbols and shapes that stare menacingly up from the sheet music? (They’re actually quite friendly, honest). This session will start from very first principles, so if you have no prior experience of learning about music theory or rhythm, and would like to get started, this is the session to come along to!

(2) An Introduction to Musical Pitches & Their Notation

Pre-Requisite(s): None

In this session we’ll introduce the basic concepts of a note’s pitch (i.e. how high or low the note is perceived to be). We’ll go through the selection of pitches that are available for us to use, what their names are, and we’ll learn how to identify them in sheet music or on the piano. Along the way we’ll also define some common musical words like ‘interval’, ‘scale’, ‘clef’, ‘sharp’, and ‘flat’. If you hear those words bandied about a lot at rehearsal, but have never been 100% clear on what they mean, this is the session to come to — no previous experience of music theory is needed.

(3) Form & Song Structure

Pre-Requisite(s): None

If you zoom out from the individual notes and chords, how is a song put together at a macro level — the big picture? It may be made up of things like verses, choruses, and bridges, but what do all these different musical sections do? And how do they interact together to form a cohesive whole? I feel that this is side of music theory that is sometimes overlooked in favour of flashier things like wacky harmonies and chords-with-really-long-names, but an understanding of form is crucial to knowing how to take a song and to bring it to life as a satisfying piece of music.

(4) Intervals, Scales & Keys


  • Able to identify individual pitches in treble clef and bass clef

This session is about taking the individual notes on the page and exploring what their relationships are to each other. We’ll begin to talk about the idea of tonality — how does this big soup of pitches organise itself into scales? What does it mean to be ‘in a key’? And what does that have to do with words like ‘major’ and ‘minor?’ We’ll cover key signatures as well, and I’ll provide a way of figuring out how can find your first note in your head just by looking at the music and listening to the pitchpipe. 

(5) Fascinating Rhythm: a deeper dive into metre and rhythm


  • Confident in reading straightforward rhythms
  • Understanding how simple time signatures work

In this session we’ll go over a few different rhythmical topics that are a little more advanced. What are duplets and triplets? What does it mean if a metre is compound, or additive? We’ll even spend some time talking about those alien notions that are so often considered a barbershopper’s kryptonite: swing and groove. There’ll be plenty of musical examples along the way!

(6) An Introduction to Chords


  • Confident in quickly identifying pitches in both treble clef and bass clef
  • An understanding of basic major and minor scales
  • Able to identify the interval between two notes

Once we’re familiar with intervals, scales, and keys, chords are a natural next step. And barbershoppers are fans of chords, you may have heard, so this should be fun. We’ll take a look at some common chords (specifically triads) and learn a bit about how they’re built. However, no chord is an island, so we’ll also talk about how different chords tend to function when you put a few of them together! Along the way we’ll cover ‘inversion’, ‘pillar chords’, and ‘harmonic rhythm’.

(7) The Wonderful World of Overtones


  • Comfortable with some basic maths — multiplication, fraction & ratios
  • The ability to identify pitches and intervals on sheet music will be useful, but is actually not strictly necessary for this one

Barbershoppers talk about overtones a lot, but what exactly are they? In this session, we’ll find out. We’ll also explore the harmonic series, the crucial role it plays in our understanding of harmony and overtones, and even how it’s all linked to the musical idea of timbre (i.e. why a particular instrument or sound has the characteristic quality it does). There will also be lots of audio examples — if you’ve historically struggled to hear overtones when someone tries to point them out to you, hopefully this session will leave your ears with a new appreciation!

(8) Smörgåschord: what kinds of chords do we use in barbershop?


  • Confident in quickly identifying pitches in both treble clef and bass clef
  • Familiar with simple major and minor chords and the notes that make them up

It’s difficult to think about barbershop harmony without thinking about the ringing chords we know and love. So what are they? And why do we love them? If you’re familiar with typical three-note chords (triads), and want to expand your horizons to learn about the whole host of four-note chords that exist in barbershop, this is the perfect session to come to. We’ll spend some time talking about inversion too, to explore how these chords tend to be voiced in barbershop.

(9) Tuning: A Brief Autopsy


  • Familiarity with the twelve pitches of the chromatic scale
  • A basic knowledge of major and minor chords
  • A knowledge of the harmonic series and some of the intervals contained within it will be useful
  • If you like maths, you will get more out of this session — there’s nothing too advanced, but we will be multiplying fractions together quite a lot, re-arranging a couple of formulae, and there’s even a brief excursion to the world of logarithms 

We often hear that in barbershop we don’t tune notes the same way as a piano, but what exactly does this mean? How do we tune things differently, and why? In reality, it’s a bit of a messy story. This topic is rather niche, and is one you could potentially do a very deep dive into. We don’t have time for that, unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), so this session will, by necessity, be a bit of a whistle-stop tour. We’ll explore the numbers that govern intonation, and we’ll place a few different tuning systems into historical and barbershop-ical context. 

(10) The Circle of Fifths and Other Barbershop Delights


  • Confident with chords (both triads and the types of seventh chord that we see often in barbershop) and able to identify them easily on sheet music
  • An understanding of basic chord function — what is meant by the terms tonic and dominant, and knowing which chords act as the tonic and dominant in any given key

This final session will cover some more advanced musical ideas that are pertinent to barbershop, and that hopefully are a lot of fun! The chief aim of this session is to better understand how barbershop music tends to move from chord to chord — how the chords progress. In particular we will explore how barbershop makes great use of dominant-tonic relationships and the power of the tritone. The cornerstone of this concept is what some might consider to be the true secret to barbershop enlightenment: knowing how the circle of fifths works. We will certainly cover that, but will also look at how the same concept manifests itself in a handful of other musical ideas that have very fancy and impressive-sounding names like ‘secondary dominants’, ‘pivot modulations’, and ‘tritone substitutions’.

There are 60 places available on this stream.

Closing Date: 11th July 2022