Barbershop quartet

A barbershop quartet is a group of four singers who sing music in the barbershop genre of singing, which uses four-part harmony without accompaniment by instruments, a style called a cappella. It consists of a lead, the vocal part which generally carries the tune/melody; a bass, the part which provides the bass line to the melody; a tenor, the part which harmonizes above the lead; and a baritone, the part that completes the chord with the note not being sung by the lead, bass, or tenor singers. The baritone can sing either above or below the lead singer.

Quartets can be made up of all male singers, all female singers or a mixture of the two. A female barbershop quartet may be referred to as a Sweet Adelines quartet (taking the title from the barbershop classic "Sweet Adeline"), and the vocal parts have the same labels, since the roles perform similar functions in the quartet even though the vocal ranges are different. Most barbershop quartets are male.


Barbershop singing originated in the late 1800s and early 1900s of America, a hybrid of both black and white expressive cultural forms at the time.[1] The African-American influence is sometimes overlooked, although these quartets had a very formative role in the development of this style of singing.[2] Popularity of the style faded in the 1920s and was revived in the mid-20th century with help by the Society for Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America, founded in 1938.[3] Some researchers view the style as an invented tradition based on the early musical features and the society's application of the barbershop chord with its contests and rules.[1][4][5][6]

Roles of vocal parts

As a general rule, barbershop quartets use a TTBB (tenor—tenor—baritone—bass) arrangement, with the second tenor on lead vocal.


The tenor generally harmonizes above the lead, making the part the highest in the quartet. So as not to overpower the lead singer, who carries the tune, the part is often sung in falsetto, which is of a softer quality than singing in the modal register,[7] though some quartets do make use of tenors with a softer full voice quality.[8] Notable examples of barbershop quartets which made use of the full-voiced tenor include The Buffalo Bills and Boston Common.[9]

The range of a tenor in barbershop music does not necessarily closely correspond to that of a tenor's range in Classical repertoire, often being more in the range of the classical countertenor range.[10]


Lead (often a lower tenor) usually sings the main melody.


Baritone often completes the chord with a medium voice, usually slightly below (sometimes above) the lead.


Bass always sings and harmonizes the lowest notes, often setting the root of the chord for root position chords, or singing the lowest note of the chord for inverted chords.

  • The TV sitcom I Love Lucy used the cast in a barbershop quartet in the 1952 episode, "Lucy's Show-Biz Swan Song;" the same footage was used for a dream sequence in their 1956 Christmas show.
  • The movie The Music Man (1962) featured a barbershop quartet called the Buffalo Bills.
  • Cheers featured a barbershop quartet in the season 4 episode, "Dark Imaginings."
  • Frasier featured a barbershop quartet in the episode, "Frasier's Curse."[11]
  • An episode of The Simpsons, "Homer's Barbershop Quartet", parodied the journey of The Beatles as though they were each members of a barbershop quartet named "The Be Sharps". The episode starred The Dapper Dans, a quartet who sing on Main Street in Disneyland in California.[12]
  • The animated sitcom Family Guy features a barbershop quartet during several cutaway gags.
  • In every episode of Nick Jr.'s television program Blue's Clues, a barbershop quartet can be heard saying "Mailtime", after which Steve (portrayed by Steve Burns) or Joe (portrayed by Donovan Patton) sings the mail time song before the mail arrives at their house.
  • The Barbershop Harmony Society International Quartet Contest Champions The Buffalo Bills (Vern Reed, Al Shea, Wayne "Scotty" Ward, Bill Spangenberg) were such a hit in the 1957 Meredith Willson Broadway musical The Music Man that they were cast in the 1962 film adaptation starring Robert Preston as Harold Hill and Shirley Jones as Marian Paroo.
  • The internet webcomic Homestuck features a barbershop cover of the Eddie Morton song, "I'm a Member of the Midnight Crew". The cover was sung by a fan of the series and was put into the comic on the page, "DD: Ascend more casually."[13]
  • Cuphead, known for its 1900s cartoon style, contains two songs sung by barbershop quartet "'Shoptimus Prime": "Don't Deal with the Devil" and "A Quick Break"
  • In a 2019 GEICO television commercial, a barbershop quartet sings while playing a four-on-four basketball game.[14]
  • In the 1997 Friends episode titled "The One with All The Jealousy", Dr. Ross Geller hires a barber shop quartet and sends it to Rachel's office to sing her a love song.

See also


  1. Abbott, Lynn (1992). "'Play That Barber Shop Chord': A Case for the African-American Origin of Barbershop Harmony". American Music. University of Illinois Press. 10 (3): 289–325. doi:10.2307/3051597. JSTOR 3051597.
  2. Henry, James Earl (2000). The Origins of Barbershop Harmony: A Study of Barbershop's Links to Other African American Musics as Evidenced through Recordings and Arrangements of Early Black and White Quartets. Washington University.
  3. "History of the Barbershop Quartet, A Time-Honored Tradition". May 8, 2012. Retrieved July 23, 2012.
  4. Döhl, Frédéric (2014): From Harmonic Style to Genre. The Early History (1890s–1940s) of the Uniquely American Musical Term {{subst:lc:Barbershop}}. American Music 32, no. 2, 123–171.
  5. Averill, Gage (2003): Four Parts, No Waiting. A Social History of American Barbershop Harmony. New York: Oxford University Press.
  6. Garnett, Liz (2005): The British Barbershopper: A Study in Socio-musical Values. London: Ashgate.
  7. Hoch, Matthew (2014). A dictionary for the modern singer dictionaries for the modern musician. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. pp. 20–1. ISBN 978-0-8108-8656-8.
  8. editor, W.K. McNeil (2005). Encyclopedia of American gospel music. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis. ISBN 1-135-37700-6.
  9. "Society Hall of Fame, Class of 2014". The Harmonizer. Nashville: Barbershop Harmony Society: 23. Winter 2014. Retrieved May 12, 2015.
  10. "Barbershop quartet singing". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved May 12, 2015.
  11. "Frasier – Season 6, Episode 2: Frasier's Curse". October 1, 1998. Retrieved July 21, 2017.
  12. Martin, Jeff (2004). The Simpsons season 5 DVD commentary for the episode "Homer's Barbershop Quartet" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
  13. "DD: Ascend more casually". Andrew Hussie.
  14. "GEICO TV Commercial, 'A Barbershop Quartet Plays Basketball'". 2019. Retrieved April 1, 2019.

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