Two-Part Harmonies in Pop Music (Part 1)

I want to take a closer look at vocal harmonies in pop music– specifically, which intervals are frequently used between voices? Which are more unusual? What are the effects of the different intervals in terms of the character of the music? I’ll explore these questions this in a series of posts on vocal harmonies.

After making a short cello arrangement of Major Lazer/DJ Snake’s tune Lean On, I’ve started listening for the use of perfect fourths (P4) and perfect fifths (P5). Fourths and fifths sound “open”, “hollow” and “scary” to me. The uses of fourths and fifths in the examples below probably violate prohibitions against “parallelism”, but that’s another subject for a different post!

Perfect Fourth (P4)
Perfect Fifth (P5)

Danish singer MØ uses fourths and fifths throughout Lean On. The first example is right at the beginning: “…innocent, remember, all we did was care for eachother….” In the arrangement below, the piano RH (second line) is playing the fourths and fifths.


Another tune that came to mind when I tried to think of any recent (and not-so-recent) pop tunes with “hollow” and “scary” vibes was Lorde’s song Royals. Sure enough, it also has lots of fourths and fifths in the vocal harmonies, here also taken by the piano RH (middle line). “…I cut my teeth on wedding rings….”

Are there any other good examples of pop tunes that make use of fourths and fifths in the vocal harmonies? The genre of bluegrass is coming to mind for some reason. Are these intervals more common there? Jazz too might have more examples of parallel fourths and fifths, though perhaps more frequently between instrumental rather than vocal lines. Maybe also soul and gospel harmonies?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

GET UPDATES