A recent post asked about the basic approach to vocal composition. While this subject deserves more of a discussion than I can supply in this format, I can give you a few quick tips to get you started.
One simple way to approach vocal writing is to think of the choir as one body of sound. Although a choir is comprised of sopranos, altos, tenors and basses (SATB), you don’t always need to be concerned about giving each voice a separate function, as you might with a string quartet. You can create a wonderful vocal sound simply by having melody and harmony sung in rhythm together.
The following example illustrates my point. While it has a nostalgic Disney-esque quality, this vocal approach could be used for many different styles.
In this excerpt, the melody is sung by the sopranos. Simultaneously, the melody is also sung by the basses, one octave lower than the sopranos. This gives strength and reinforcement to the melody line. In between this octave, the altos and tenors add harmony to the melody.
So what we are doing is simply stating the melody and harmonizing it at the same time. On the first beat of music, the sopranos are singing the first note of the melody, the G above middle C. One octave lower, the basses are also singing a G. Since we are in the key of Eb, and the first chord is an Eb major chord, we give the altos the Eb above middle C, and we give the tenors the Bb below middle C.
With the exception of the second to last note of the melody (on the word “love”), all the parts are singing the same rhythm. We are simply stating the melody and harmony as one body of sound.
In the beginning of the next section, the tenors and basses sing the melody in unison, and the sopranos and altos hold chords for two beats each. Then two bars later, the sopranos and altos sing the melody in unison and the tenors and basses hold the harmony notes.
And as you’ve just heard, we end the piece the same way we began – with all four voices moving as one. It’s important to point out that although there is a light orchestral accompaniment, this vocal arrangement is so rich that it could just as easily have been performed a cappella.
While there are unlimited ways to compose and arrange for vocal groups, this basic approach is a simple way to learn to write for voices.