Vocal harmony is a special sound.

From soaring harmonized lead lines to classic stacks of backing vocals, vocal harmonies play a major part in many different genres of music.

But knowing how to write good vocal harmony is tough, especially when you’re just getting started with music theory.

Even so, learning how to do it is worth it and it’s not so hard once you grasp the basics.

In this article I’ll go over everything you need to know about vocal harmonies—what they are, why to use them and five helpful techniques to write them.

Let’s get started.

What are vocal harmonies?

Vocal harmonies are additional vocal lines sung in time with the lead vocal at different musical intervals. Vocal harmonies are used in music to complement the lead vocal and create chords and harmonic textures. Harmony vocals can be sung by multiple singers or a single singer overdubbing tracks in a DAW or multitrack recorder.

Why use vocal harmonies in your music?

Vocal harmony is a powerful sound that’s commonly used in almost every genre of music.

Harmony vocals have a much different effect than other harmonic instruments like guitar or keyboards when used to reinforce chords and progressions.

Vocals have a unique timbre that adds a distinctly human element to a track when used harmonically.

Vocals have a unique timbre that adds a distinctly human element to a track when used harmonically.

In arrangement, vocal harmony can boost, augment or create contrast to a lead line.

Vocal harmonies can even become the song’s hook when they’re part of a memorable chorus or call-and response figure.

How to create vocal harmony

To create vocal harmony you need to know a little bit about harmony in general.

You don’t have to be an expert in music theory to write harmony vocals, but knowing the basics will help you get good results faster.

If you need an overview of harmony or intervals in music, head over to our resources to brush up.

To get you started, here’s the quick version of the concepts you need to know.

Harmony is how individual lines and notes interact with each other. They can be above or below the main melody.

Harmony lines can move with three different types of motion:

  • Parallel—the two lines move in the same direction
  • Oblique—one line stays the same while the other moves
  • Contrary—the two lines move in opposite directions

The distance between notes in the harmony is determined by their intervals. Choosing the correct intervals and motion in your harmonies is how you get a pleasing, consonant sound.

The distance between notes in the harmony is determined by their intervals

5 ways to write lush vocal harmony

With the basics out of the way, here are my top picks for the easiest and most effective ways to write vocal harmony.

1. Use parallel motion to create chords

Parallel motion is the easiest way to create a vocal harmony line. Even so, it’s one of the most commonly used techniques in modern genres.

That’s because parallel harmonies sound great and are easy to sing.

To write a parallel harmony you simply have to stack a line that follows the same melodic contour on top of the original.

To write a parallel harmony you simply have to stack a line that follows the same melodic contour on top of the original.

That line needs to follow the notes in the song’s key to sound good. If you need help finding what notes to use in the key, head over to our guide to key signatures to learn more.

Most parallel harmony vocals start with a third interval above the main melody line.

If you follow the pattern of the song’s key and keep the harmony line a third above, you’ll probably end up with a usable vocal harmony—easy!

2. Follow the chord tones of the song’s progression


This technique is similar but more flexible than parallel motion. To use this one you need to know how to spell out chords in a progression and find their chord tones.

Here’s some resources to help you with that if you need:

Each chord in your chord progression is made up of chord tones: they are 1-3-5 for triads and 1-3-5-7 for seventh chords.

If you know what these are for each chord in your progression you can trace a smooth, singable line between them in your harmonies.

Hot tip: Placing chord tone harmony on the strong beats and passing tones on the weak beats is an easy way to keep your vocal harmony sounding clear and consonant.

3. Use a second complimentary melody

Have you ever listened to a vocal line and heard another melody floating on top in your head?

That’s the basic idea behind this way of writing vocal harmonies.

Some lines and hooks naturally lend themselves to a catchy countermelody.

This example shows how to develop a countermelody with samples, but the concept is the same with a vocal line


There are plenty of ways to come up with a countermelody, but some of the best ones come from improvising and working them out on the fly.

Look out for complimentary melodies while writing your main lines and see if they work on top of the lead.

4. Create harmonies with MIDI and your DAW

Modern DAWs let you work with the human voice like any other instrument.

There are lots of different ways to manipulate vocals to create harmony, but here’s a quick method that’s easy to use in your mixing and arranging workflow:

5. Use pedal point for easy oblique motion

Sometimes vocal harmony doesn’t have to be complicated.

You can easily create a compelling harmony by leaving one voice to rest on a single note while the other continues the melody.

You can easily create a compelling harmony by leaving one voice to rest on a single note while the other continues the melody.

In arrangement, this technique is called pedal point and it’s used almost everywhere in music.

Look out for passages where the harmony vocal can rest and create interesting oblique motion with the main melody.

Perfect harmony

Vocal harmonies will add a special quality to your songs.

Whether you want to create lush leads or sophisticated backups, knowing how to write vocal harmony will improve your arrangement skills.

Now that you have some ideas for how to create vocal harmony, get back to your DAW and keep working on your tracks.