Authentic Woodshedding is defined as a Bass, Bari, and Tenor “discovering harmonies by ear” around a Lead’s sung melody without reference to a familiar or written Barbershop arrangement.
As with most other skills, effective woodshedding is learned. Barbershoppers who have sung more than one voice part in their chorus or in quartets have an initial leg up.
The very first thing to remember is that Woodshedding is different from any other kind of singing that Barbershoppers do. In authentic woodshedding, there are no wrong notes, only “good,” “better,” and “best” notes. A “good” note is anything that comes out of your mouth, which means that you’re trying woodshedding, which is good. A “better” note belongs in the chord being sung. A “best” note causes all four of you to smile at one another because you like the chord you’ve rung, and you can go on to the next chord.
Describing how woodshedding works is difficult, because it’s an auditory experience, not a written one. There are things you do easily, but would have a tough time writing out directions for. Just think what it would involve to write out the description of tying your shoelaces. But you could show someone how to do it in a few minutes. Here are some hints about woodshedding Bass. Some of it gets a little technical. Don’t let that bother or intimidate you, you don’t NEED any of it to woodshed. If your eyes glaze over when you start to hear things like “dominant 7th chords,” “interval leaps” and “weak beat and strong beats”, then skip that and just look at the end of section to know what to “take away” from this information
If you are reading this section first, you more than likely currently sing Bass. Keep in mind that you are encouraged to be able to woodshed a part other than what you normally sing…any of the other three parts. So please take a look at the tips for the other parts as well.
The Barbershop Bass part is not always as low as someone new to the part might be tempted to sing it. (Barbershop is “close harmony.”) When the melody is on a lower note, the Bass usually has dibs on the highest sensible note that’s under the melody and is also still the lowest note in the chord.
The Bass can do the most for any chord, and for the Tenor and Bari, when he can sense when to sing a root or fifth (a “strong-feeling” note) of a chord and adjust to sing whichever one of those that the Lead isn’t singing, when the Lead is on one or the other. When singing a Barbershop-7th chord, the Bass is entitled to the highest possible Bass note that will not create an incomplete chord and which will not lock the Bari out of a note that the Bari should be singing. When the Bass sings a “strong note” (root or fifth) and is not doubling the Lead, the Bari will usually have a reasonable note left to sing.
The Bass often jumps the farthest of all the parts. Depending on what the melody does, the Bass will be obliged to move in intervals as small as a half- or whole-step (either up or down). He may also sing intervals as large as 4, 4.5, or 5 steps (either up or down) or by 6 or 7 steps (usually up).
In a “triad” chord (where only three of the four notes have different names), the Bass and one other part will be singing the fourth note (with the same name), an octave apart. Examples: In a “triad” chord with the notes Bb – F – Bb – D, the Bass will have the lower Bb and the Bari or Lead will have the higher one. In a “triad” chord with the notes Eb – G – Bb – Eb, the Bass and Tenor will sing the respective Eb notes.
Bass Take Away: Stay on a note until you are FORCED to move. Most of the time, all you have to do is sing the root note (“do”….the key the song is in) and the fifth note of the scale (do-re-me-fa-SO). That will get you by 90% of the time. The other 10% is usually going to be the 4th note (do-re-me-FA). Most important rule is: Don’t change notes unless the melody MAKES you move.
The dedicated woodshedder (or anyone who wants more chances to sing with a wider range of harmonizers) will seek out and learn as many ear-harmonizable melodies and lyrics as possible. Knowing woodshed melodies will make you a very popular guy in AHSOW rooms.
The first rule of woodshedding is to listen, listen, listen. The second rule is to stay on the note you’re on until your ear strongly suggests that you must move to another. Relax, listen, and move when required, either when you sense that the chord must change (has changed) from the one you were on, or when someone else is taking your most recent note, or when you sense otherwise that the chord being sung is somehow incomplete, or not fulfilling or “ringing.” Resist the temptation to “get fancy” for its own sake, and avoid second-guessing yourself. Trust your ear! Every woodshedder should be able to sing melodies when called upon. Pitch them where the singing is comfortable. Depending on the vocal ranges in your woodshed quartet, melodies “written” in Bb might be sung in any key from Ab (or even G) up to C.
Woodshedders should be able to feel and create basic chords. Avoid sweating the chord names or types; inform your ear and brain about them once, then trust your ear to handle everything afterwards.
All Parts Take Away: The only bad woodshedding is no woodshedding at all. Don’t be afraid. We live in a barbershop world where your Directors and Section Leaders insist that every note is perfect. Balderdash! We don’t care about that. Sometimes the “wrong” notes make the coolest chords. This is FUN, not work. Sing em and ring em!