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.
If you are reading this section first, you more than likely currently sing Baritone. 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.
Describing how woodshedding works is difficult, because it’s an auditory experience, not a written one. There are thing 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
Baritone. 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
The Bari, known in the early days of woodshedding as “fill-in,” will sing either below or above the melody. Many beginning Bari woodshedders tend to sing too high, or almost always above the melody. This forces the Tenor to shoot for a note considerably higher than the note that the Tenor might naturally opt to sing. The Bari should be unafraid to sing below the melody as well as above it.
The Bari rarely has to make large jumps from one note to the next and should seek an internal note in the chord that avoids doubling the melody note and avoids doubling the Tenor note an octave down. The Bari should listen to the direction of the melody-line — if the melody is going upward, and especially if it skips upward, the Bari is likely going to go down, and vice-versa. When the Bass moves up, the Bari is likely to be pushed up. When otherwise in doubt, the Bari’s salvation can be to sing the seventh of a chord.
Bari Take Away: Make sure the bass knows what he’s doing. If he doesn’t, you’re cooked before you start. Aside from that, if you’ve got the guts to woodshed Bari, you probably know what you’re doing anyhow and understood everything in the preceding paragraphs.
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!