Want to enhance your vocal melodies with harmony, but don’t know the complex music theory? With just a little knowledge of the basics, you can write beautiful vocal harmonies with the Waves Harmony plug-in!
Author: Ari Jacob
Want to enhance your vocal melodies with harmony, but don’t know the complex music theory?With just a little knowledge of the basics, you can useWaves HarmonyThe plugin composes beautiful vocal harmonies!
Nothing is more memorable than singing with perfect harmony. This amazing thing was discovered in churches centuries ago, and since then, musicians have been searching for the most effective and beautiful ways to create harmony.
Waves Harmony continues this exploration and opens the door to the endless possibilities of vocal harmonies in a true and precise way.
Harmony plugins are super easy to use, high quality and versatile. It has three main ways to create harmonies – play them directly via MIDI, or generate notes automatically, or draw them manually.
In this article, I’ll focus on the use of MIDI to play harmony using an original song I wrote called “Halo” as a demonstration. This folk-inspired piece was improvised using the Harmony plugin while I was staring at the full moon in the August night sky. We use it to make retrospectives to learn some music theory secrets, and to achieve magical vocal harmonies through the Harmony plugin.
Halo Full Mixaudio
1. Chord clusters: the more the better
The talent and curse of the vocal coexist in that it is both raw and natural, but also moody and unpredictable—especially when people sing live together. Granted, there will be a heavenly voice of grace, but there will also be times when it is a little less graceful. For this reason, if you’re arranging vocal harmonies for a live performance, it’s best to keep them simple and minimalistic.
However, the great thing about Waves Harmony is that you can achieve very nuanced vocals with the sheer perfection of digital technology. That means…more – just more! You can make yourself more adventurous with vocal arrangements – creating interesting and unusual harmonies that are almost impossible in live singing. This is where chord clusters come in.
Let’s review some of the basics a bit. Do you know what a chord is? A chord is a combination of two or more notes played simultaneously. So when two or more vocals sing together on different notes, they are making chords. The best way to understand chords is actually to learn scales. A scale is a series of seven notes played in succession, and we usually make chords by combining the notes within the scale. for example:
F major scale
Within this scale we have a lot of chord possibilities! for example:
- F、A、C– F major (I chord)
- Bb、D、F-Bb major (IV chord)
- C、E、G– C major (V chord)
- G、Bb、D– G minor (ii chord)
These are the main four chords in Halo. However, the magic of Waves Harmony’s sound comes from the addition of chords that make them fuller, richer, and more detailed. A chord cluster lives up to its name – there are many notes, very close to each other, played together. Don’t get too excited, it doesn’t mean that you squeeze any note together and it will sound good. Here are some chord cluster combinations that work magic together with Waves Harmony:
1. add9: In music theory, the 9th tone is another name for the 2nd tone. This chord is full and colorful, but also relatively neutral in sound, making it very versatile. Its clustering beauty comes from the first three notes of the chord, which are directly next to each other. For example, the Fadd9 chord looks like this:
*Note: Don’t get confused by the numbers. F is the fourth in the C major scale, but when we talk about the F chord itself, F becomes the first.
Here’s an example of using the Fadd9 chord in Halo:
Hello 1 – Fadd9audio
2. add4: This is a chord with the ultimate sense of suspense. It’s great for a V chord, which essentially creates tension that resolves an I chord. The first three notes of the chord are crowded together, and the density helps to increase the tension. In F major, C is the V chord. The Cadd4 chord looks like this:
Here’s a snippet of the Cadd4 chord used in Halo.
Halo 2 – Cadd4audio
3. m7(b13): One of my favorite “sorrow” chords. It’s so versatile that you’ll find it resonates emotionally in just about any harmonic texture. It has a lot of notes, so figuring out the best way to arrange them can be a little tricky. You want the notes to be close enough to create the cluster magic, but spread out enough to remain clear. In the song “Halo” I created a Dm7(b13) chord with the following notes:
Halo 3 – Dm7(b13)audio
2. How chords sound: the chords are tight, but the melody is tighter
It’s important not to get carried away in the harmony and get lost in the melody. Vocal harmonies should be used to intensify and elevate the melody, not transcend it.
Aside from recording a track with Waves Harmony, the surest way to make a melody stand out is to record a separate lead vocal track. That’s exactly what I did in Halo. If you don’t want to add another vocal track, you can adjust the volume in the upper right corner of Waves Harmony to balance the source signal (lead vocal) level with the harmony level.
To go a step further, there are music theory techniques that can help you arrange the harmony to emphasize and support the melodic line. This has to do with the way the chords sound – basically the way we arrange the notes in the chord to accentuate some while attenuating others.
Chord articulation is about the use of chord inversions. Each chord has three different playing positions. Take Bb major as an example:
Root positions: 1, 3, 5—Bb, D, F
First inversion: 3, 5, 1—D, F, Bb
Second inversion: 5, 3, 1—F, D, Bb
For chords with more notes, of course there are more possibilities. For example, here are some ways you can arrange Gm11 (add9) chords:
(From lowest note to highest note:)
——G, D, F, Bb, C, A
——Bb, F, A, C, D, G
——G, F, A, Bb, C, D
When you play harmonies via a MIDI keyboard, you need to make sure that the melody notes are well placed in the chords. There is no iron rule about this, but here are some insights I got from making Halo:
In general, the Waves Harmony sounds best when the melody notes are between the middle and high notes of the chord. This is because the melody needs to be placed high enough to stand out from the other notes. Like this passage from “Halo”:
However, if the melody is always on the highest note of the chord, then you miss out on the incredibly good effect of the melody being “embraced” by the upper and lower notes.
Also, in Waves Harmony, the deep bass melody blends beautifully with the chords in the high-mid range. Like this moment in Halo:
3. Vocal Dynamics: Sing Your Heart
While recording “Halo,” I found that Waves Harmony was very sensitive to the singer’s movements. If you sing softly, the vocal harmony will be crisp and soft; if you sing powerfully, the harmony will be loud and gorgeous.
But be careful with these two extremes. I mean, if the melody is too soft, the harmony can get quite muddy and fuzzy. And when the melody is very loud, the harmony is clear, but it sounds a bit synth-like. What you want is a “just right” dynamic range, with enough power in the vocals to make all the notes clear and defined, yet soft enough to sound human and intimate.
Example from Halo, where the vocals are a bit muddy, but don’t seriously affect the clarity of the harmony:
Here’s another example where the vocals are loud and punchy, so it sounds a bit like a synth or vocoder, but still manages to retain the singer’s style:
4. Vocal Effects: Make the sound shine
Waves Harmony is designed so that you don’t really have to do much to make a harmony sound great. When making Halo, I like to explore some simple features. You can find Spread and Glide in the Global Controls drop-down menu in the top right corner of the plugin, and Filter in the left panel of the plugin.
- Spread: It determines the panning range of the vocal harmony. My personal advice is – always keep it wide enough! Especially when you use harmonies with a lot of notes. This allows you to create really rich and interesting chords that are neither too dense nor too complex in sound.
- Glide: If you want to bring an extra synth feel to your vocals, the Glide feature is in play, allowing all notes to slide to a selected pitch in perfect sync. A bunch of real voices can never do that.
- Filter: Use a low-pass filter to make the harmony sound deep with a hollow resonance. If you want to give the harmonies more padding, the low-pass filter does a great job of blending the vocals together, creating a less defined but more holistic feel. If you want the plug-in to actually sound like a group of singers, then this feature might not be suitable. In Halo, my filtering is very gentle.
- Additional Skills: To make your harmony sound more like a bunch of real people, turn the Correct Formant knob (in the global controls menu) down to around 60-80.
Now, let’s hear the full remix of Halo, with all the harmonies in it.
Halo Full Mixaudio
those that haven’t been said
Waves Harmony is full of innovative features. There are hundreds of vocal harmony style presets, individually designed by musicians and producers from all over the world. The possibilities are endless!
In this article, I didn’t even touch on the plugin’s note generation and other features. I didn’t use those features in the creation of Halo, but I can assure you they are accurate, intuitive and subtle. So even if you don’t know chords or harmony, you can create stunning vocal arrangements with this plugin. Let your imagination take you to the moon!
Ari Jacob is an Australian-born artist currently living in Jerusalem. He has released three solo albums, as well as one with his Israeli band Shayari. In addition to writing songs or producing music for other artists, Ari also writes theatre and dance music. You can search his name on Spotify to listen to his music.
Instantly create vocal harmonies – turn one voice into up to 8 new voices in seconds to quickly create the vocals you’ve been dreaming of. Using built-in pitch, formant, pan, delay, filter, and drag-and-drop modulation, Waves Harmony easily personalizes the character and texture of each vocal, supporting lead vocals with creative color.
Harmony offers 3 workflow options so it can easily adapt to your creative process whether you’re a producer, songwriter, mix engineer or arranger.
In addition to harmonies, Waves Harmony is a powerful palette of vocal effects for any music production or mixing job. Efficiently layer thick vocals to create great doubling effects, not to mention complex delay arrays, creative vocals, modulated melodies and sequences. It also includes over 500 plugin presets to keep your ideas flowing.
- Real-time vocal harmony plugin
- Generate up to 8 voices at once from a single vocal
- Adjustable pitch, formant, pan, delay, filter and modulation for each sound
- 3 workflow modes: Auto Harmony, MIDI Control, Graphics Mode
- Perfect for studio and stage performances
- Powerful vocal effects playground for harmony, doubling, layering, effects modulation
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