Creating Vocal Harmonies

Hey guys,

I have been fortunate enough to get to work with some pretty talented vocalists over the past couple of weeks. As such we have been looking to add harmonies for extra depth. I use Melodyne and was wondering how you guys go about achieving this in your work (in the realm of intervals etc, I know how to use Melodyne). If anyone has a method to the madness or any good articles, I would greatly appreciate you sharing it.



I often use Melodyne for vocal harmonies … but only for testing purpose: check out how some kind of harmony would sound and after making decisions just ditch Melodyne harmonies and sing them myself.

But when working with talented singers (that’s anyone else that myself) I try to avoid using Melodyne alltogether. If they are there behind Microphones I just try to hum them what I would like them to sing … a lot faster than dragging those blobs up and down on the computer screen.

Granted, I haven’t done backing vocals often. Using You Said as an example of one such time…

I used Melodyne on each backing vocal track to fix timing issues, e.g. one vocalist coming in earlier than the rest, etc.

  1. I use a group channel called Backup Vocals. All backing vocals, obviously, are routed here with their individual panning set to give a decent spread. On this channel I used Magneto for warmth, Little Microshift (from Sound Toys) to add depth, and GEQ-30 to deal with…well, EQ.

  2. I use another group channel called Vocals. Mark Petruzzi’s main vocal gets routed here in addition to the Backup Vocals group. On this channel, I use the stock LoCut@120Hz EQ preset and that’s pretty much it.

Note that, since Melodyne has a polyphonic mode, I probably could have used it on the Backup Vocal group channel instead of all 3 individual backing vocal tracks to save myself some time.

Thanks for the replies, gents.

Hopefully the vocalist will indeed do it herself (we are working over the internet), but they always like to act busy. I can never be sure if that’s the case or not, but it really doesn’t matter: I’d really like to be prepared to build them myself just in case. My main aim in creating this thread was really to find the theory behind this, I know 3rd’s, 5th’s, and 7th’s, but should I have scale snap on in Melodyne? And if I do, will all the note harmonies be perfect for there, or will they still need further adjusting? To drag up 3 notes or up 2 notes to create 3rds? Really confusing trying to find the theory, I’ve looked up tutorials, but just can’t seem to “get it.” Everybody insists just to “use your ears”, no solid formula.

Larry, I have long debated over Soundtoy’s Microshift, but have ended up just duplicating my main vocal lead and using the Fine tune option in the Info Bar at the top. Usually I’ll do +1 and -1 or so respectively for separation, but it comes out more like an effect. Is this the same principle as the Microshift or is the latter better somehow?


The Microshift is supposedly modeled after the Eventide Harmonizer, so I think there is a combination of duplication, delay, microtuning, and EQ going on there.

Two things:

  1. Sound on Sound had a very in depth tutorial on how to use Melodyne in the past 6-12 months, my recollection is that it mainly had a technical as opposed to creative focus, but might be worth digging it up to see if there were any pearls there for you.

  2. I will often sing a harmony, then hard tune it and bury it off to the side in a busy vocal section, when turned low enough in volume it is almost a subliminal harmony. Doesn’t work in “exposed” vocals, but it works great for “Bohemian Rhapsody” type things.

  3. Sound on Sound had a suggestion in this month’s Cubase tutorial on VariAudio which sounds intriguing: Sing a harmony, then hard tune it (as above), then use THAT as a guide vocal for a real singer to lay down a harmony line. They say it works great, I can’t wait to try it.

Parenthetically: thinking of trialing Revoice Pro 2 (, youtubes make it seem like it is so incredibly powerful for harmony work. I trialed the baby version, “Vocalign” and it was utterly amazing how easy it was to match the timing of one vocal line to another … quite literally a single click of a button. Revoice Pro 2 does that, but in addition it also does doubling work. Though I think it also may generate harmonies, I’ll probably do that in VariAudio then bring it over to Revoice Pro 2 if I wind up going that route.

Ever tried C7.x’s auto harmony generator? Uses the chord track and variaudio. It does the job but of course the generated harmonies often have quite obvious tuning artifacts when solo’d. In the mix they’re often useable and I’ve certainly used them plenty of times in the past.

But, generally there’s no substitute for having them sung properly by a real singer!


Sorry for the long absence guys, had storms come through and knocked out our internet.

@alexis: Oh yeah I’m a SOS subscriber as well. I remember being out by the pool on a hot summer day reading that Melodyne article, ah so ready for summer. But anyway, yeah that article really got me to using pitch correction so much more fluidly and effectively than I was at first. I also read SOS’s review of the new Vocalign but I’ve never heard of Revoice Pro, will have to check it out.

@Ian: I actually have trialed C7 and really did like the harmony generator but I only have Artist 7 at the moment. I also don’t have VariAudio, just Melodyne. So it doesn’t give me harmony suggestions or anything like that.

So I will have to try to get my vocalist to perform the harmonies, but if not I was hoping to do 3rds. So I guess that’s two up the scale from whatever note she is singing? Or is that not necessarily a hard and fast rule?

Hey Bane - defo NOT a hard and fast rule!

Who is your favorite harmony band? As a start to learning about harmonies, you might want to break down as many of theirs as you can. Just a suggestion, YMMV -

Good luck and post back with questions!

Mine is Steely Dan in terms of the quality of the backing vocals and their corresponding mix.

Hi Foolomon. Yup, they’re pictured in the dictionary under: “Great Harmonies” (alongside with Phil and Don, John and Paul (and George), and Jon and Exene!

Could you share a tip or two about your practice in pursuit of vocal perfection? For example, do you use VariAudio? Do you ever stretch the timing (as in VariAudio), or is it mainly cut and snip?

You forgot The Greatest: David, Graham & Stephen

What about Brian, Dennis, Carl, Mike and Al ?

Well that answers the question I’ve had for years: who were Phil and Don in McCartney’s song “Let Em In!”


I never use Melodyne or other plugins for harmonies, I always sing them.
More often than not I double the harmonies and pan them left/right to give them depth.

Harmonies are certainly not always thirds, it depends on the melody line, the chords and the effect you want to achieve.
Some of my harmonies follow the melody and some are ‘colour notes’ (ninths or sixths or other) that may or may not follow the melody. A good example is the song ‘Yesterday Fell’, on my website:

Experiment a lot, and use what you like!
It may take some time, but eventually you’ll get better at arranging (and singing) harmonies.

Good luck!



I do a lot of harmony writing for/with folks and there really isn’t a hard fast rule here either. First though, if the artist has some ideas, I start with them and go from there. Other than that, this is what I consider when I write harmonies:

The hooks of the song: do something special there. Use the intervals of the instruments, vocal and harmony to form something beautiful at that point. Foreshadow it in the verses of the songs.

I view harmonies like skipping stones. The stone being the harmony and the water being the body of the song. The skip comes near then go away, near and away, eventually sinking. The sinking point is what I consider the hook sections, usually at the end of a verse or chorus, where everything becomes one. Sometimes I focus on the hooks first then build the harmony backwards from there.

I tend to keep 1st verses empty or very sparse of harmony and usually introduce the harmony in the 1st chorus lightly. After that the gloves are off and I follow the song’s movement and have the harmony’s energy follow the movement of the song. I still hyper focus on the hooks of the song. This isn’t a hard rule. The song should dictate where the harmony should come in, but I usually fall into this type of approach because the harmony can be one of the things to make a song very memorable and you don’t want to give up too much at the beginning of the song.

Read the lyrics too. Understand the power of the artist’s words. Find the key areas of their lyrics and have the harmonies embellish them. If the song was well written, these should coincide with the hook areas.

This and this are prime examples of my considerations of harmony and how to use them to the advantage of the song. This work is a few years old. If you want some recent stuff, P.M. me and I will see about getting you some current work. Anyway, The latter link is a band that I now play in as the DB player moved to Maine. The music was what was done when they were a unit in my joint.

When in doubt or in a search, take a listen to chart busters that fit the genre of the music you are working on. Dissect their harmony work in order to understand and to apply to your own. Modeling is an exceptional way to wrap your head around something and to gather experience that will then provide you the ability to create your own. <–Read that last line again.

Good luck!

If totally lost, let cubase figure it out for you! :stuck_out_tongue: (kidding kidding)

Thanks guys for the many replies. I have checked out some Steely Dan as well as yall guys’ work (Tom and Wim). Looks like I’ll have to experiment around some and do something creative instead of just straight thirds. Once I get things rolling I will post a link here to my thread in the Made With Cubase section.

Right now I have a pop song and have the vocalist singing the whole thing and then my voice coming in at the choruses since I didn’t sound too bad there. Maybe I should make my voice into harmonies, or build them beforehand and re-sing them later?

Have you tried Revoice Pro 3 yet?

Go listen to Chanticleer or Enya… vocal and harmony purity… :sunglasses:

Just sayin’

If you want stuff dripping in harmonies i can’t believe no one has mentioned the likes of D’Angelo, Maxwell, Beverly Knight, Prince, Chaka Khan etc…