Forums > Queen - General Discussion > Harmonies... Brian or Freddie

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Posted: 22 Feb 09, 10:56 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

I read somewhere that Brian improved a few of the vocal harmonies in Killer Queen after he did the guitar parts.

Is there enough knowledge among fans to suggest that Brian was better than Freddie at constructing the intricate harmonies they were so good at? (not just with KQ, but in general)

I don't know enough about Brian's solo material, nor am I musically educated enough, but Freddie's solo songs where full of layered vocals but personally i don't think they were as tight as Queen's material (and I know that Queen had three voices to work with).

One more question for music experts... in Days of Our Lives... the chorus is sung by Freddie in two different tunes... in musical terms what is this type of technique called? (hope i'm clear enough in what I'm asking)




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Posted: 22 Feb 09, 11:00 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote



Zebonka's Tiny Ding-a-ling wrote:

I read somewhere that Brian improved a few of the vocal harmonies in Killer Queen after he did the guitar parts.

Is there enough knowledge among fans to suggest that Brian was better than Freddie at constructing the intricate harmonies they were so good at? (not just with KQ, but in general)


It's more likely that a few details of the vocal harmonies had to be changed to fit in better with the guitar parts. They both knew what they were doing, harmony-wise.

I don't know enough about Brian's solo material, nor am I musically educated enough, but Freddie's solo songs where full of layered vocals but personally i don't think they were as tight as Queen's material (and I know that Queen had three voices to work with).


Layering vocals or instrumental sounds isn't very different. Brian usually went for instrumental orchestration (Prophet's Song, Father To Son, etc.), Freddie often went choral. But they could both arrange vocal and instrumental parts.

One more question for music experts... in Days of Our Lives... the chorus is sung by Freddie in two different tunes... in musical terms what is this type of technique called? (hope i'm clear enough in what I'm asking)


Counterpoint.













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Posted: 22 Feb 09, 11:39 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote



Zebonka's Tiny Ding-a-ling wrote:

I read somewhere that Brian improved a few of the vocal harmonies in Killer Queen after he did the guitar parts.

Is there enough knowledge among fans to suggest that Brian was better than Freddie at constructing the intricate harmonies they were so good at? (not just with KQ, but in general)

I don't know enough about Brian's solo material, nor am I musically educated enough, but Freddie's solo songs where full of layered vocals but personally i don't think they were as tight as Queen's material (and I know that Queen had three voices to work with).

One more question for music experts... in Days of Our Lives... the chorus is sung by Freddie in two different tunes... in musical terms what is this type of technique called? (hope i'm clear enough in what I'm asking)



Sebastian can provide some good inputs on these questions you're making, he has both the knowledge about Queen, and its history, and the more complex technical aspects concerning music theory. He articulates both aspects, Queen's peculiarities and the universality of musical theory, quite well, so I'd really recommend you, just so that you can already get a taste of what you're interested in, to check user Sebastian's posts. It may provide you some guidance before more people come in and join the interesting thread.

I don't have much to say besides recommending and inviting people to speak their minds about it.

Best regards!







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Posted: 22 Feb 09, 11:46 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

Creating four-part harmonies, like Queen often did, is a task that is mostly done 'by the book' because there simply isn't much room to play around with. Apart from selecting the chords to harmonize with, and occasionally more than one voicing being feasible, there isn't much to creating harmonies once you've already written the main melody around which they revolve.



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Posted: 22 Feb 09, 12:32 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

Thank you both for contributing. I will check out Sebastian's posts too.

TQ, you said that it's kind of "by the book"... do you mean in general for all bands or just the way Queen was used too?

Also, you mentioned chord changes that ultimately may change the harmonies, if say in TATDOOL, how would they have gone about creating the two part harmony in the main chorus? Would someone like Freddie just listen to the original and play about with different ways to add the backing harmony? In this particular song, as in others, it is beautiful to listen to the song over and over again, each time letting your ears concentrate on a different harmony.

Sorry, I have no music background so trying to describe what i mean is difficult!


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Posted: 22 Feb 09, 13:08 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote



Zebonka's Tiny Ding-a-ling wrote:

Thank you both for contributing. I will check out Sebastian's posts too.

TQ, you said that it's kind of "by the book"... do you mean in general for all bands or just the way Queen was used too?


In general. Four-part harmonies are based around complete triads, occasionally augmented with sevenths, and as such tend to follow the rules of classical harmony, in order to get a fluent, smooth result. Bypassing the rules creates disjunct effects, which can be desirable, but is mostly reserved to modern classical music.

Also, you mentioned chord changes that ultimately may change the harmonies, if say in TATDOOL, how would they have gone about creating the two part harmony in the main chorus? Would someone like Freddie just listen to the original and play about with different ways to add the backing harmony?


Ah yeah, this is the fun part. When three or more voices are used, you're stuck to harmony. But with *two* voices, there is a bit more freedom. Composition would start with the writing of a melody (either the highest or lowest voice is possible. I'm not exactly sure right now which one was the basis in TATDOOL, but it's bound to be the one with the smoothest melody). When that melody is finished, every note is matched up with another note. There are several possibilities: popular is adding a melody identical to the original, but a third higher or lower than the original melody. However, the more imaginative counterpoint (which, as I recall, is used on the chorus of TATDOOL) uses a variety of intervals between the two voices. The key point then is to make sure the voices do not make the same steps all the time (if voice #1 goes up a perfect fourth, you don't want voice #2 to go up a perfect fourth all the time too. Usually, you will want the two voices to either move in different directions (one up, one down) or in oblique motion (one stays on the same note, the other moves either up or down). It's an altogether more complex process, and ideally involves writing two fully independent melodies that just so happen to be compatible, but usually one is a supporting voice and one the lead voice.










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Posted: 22 Feb 09, 13:36 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote







ThomasQuinn wrote:

















Usually, you will want the two voices to either move in different directions (one up, one down) or in oblique motion (one stays on the same note, the other moves either up or down). It's an altogether more complex process, and ideally involves writing two fully independent melodies that just so happen to be compatible, but usually one is a supporting voice and one the lead voice.


Yep, this is what interests me... how do you decide on what is the lead voice and the support voice in a song like TATDOOL? It's not like one is more clearer or louder than the other (imo anyway)?

Would they just add the support voice after the lead is on tape?

Freddie was a genius live at changing tunes - depending on the state of his voice most times - would it be more likely for someone as creative as him to just keep the lead in his earphones and play around with "compatible" melodies and then see what sounds best or would there be more planning with chords first?

In Heaven For Everyone's mid section where the melody gets much more up tempo after first couple of verses, it goes a little similar to TATDOOL in the way two different melodies are playing simultaneously. I'm guessing then that the same technique is being used?


PS... sorry for all the Qs at once, but this really interests me.












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Posted: 22 Feb 09, 13:49 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote



Zebonka's Tiny Ding-a-ling wrote:















ThomasQuinn wrote:









































Usually, you will want the two voices to either move in different directions (one up, one down) or in oblique motion (one stays on the same note, the other moves either up or down). It's an altogether more complex process, and ideally involves writing two fully independent melodies that just so happen to be compatible, but usually one is a supporting voice and one the lead voice.


Yep, this is what interests me... how do you decide on what is the lead voice and the support voice in a song like TATDOOL? It's not like one is more clearer or louder than the other (imo anyway)?


If it's well-written, this is very difficult indeed. It'd be logical to make the top voice the lead, as higher notes are more clearly picked up by the human ear, and it would thus sound *very slightly* louder at the same objective volume than a lower voice would, and this is quite probable, but I am not absolutely sure.

Would they just add the support voice after the lead is on tape?


Probably, though it's quite possible that they notated the melody first, then wrote a second part and only started recording when they'd done that.

Freddie was a genius live at changing tunes - depending on the state of his voice most times - would it be more likely for someone as creative as him to just keep the lead in his earphones and play around with "compatible" melodies and then see what sounds best or would there be more planning with chords first?


It's quite possible, but if memory serves the chorus part of TATDOOL was quite inventively written. It would've been easier to write the part out (especially as that would allow an instrumental guide-track to be used, as you want to get your pitches exactly correct in a multi-voice vocal).

In Heaven For Everyone's mid section where the melody gets much more up tempo after first couple of verses, it goes a little similar to TATDOOL in the way two different melodies are playing simultaneously. I'm guessing then that the same technique is being used?


I can't recall this passage precisely, I'd need to have a listen, but I believe HFE featured a four-part harmony at some point. A two-part counterpoint I don't recall, but I'm by no means infallible.

PS... sorry for all the Qs at once, but this really interests me.


No trouble. I'm always glad to help out with questions about music.











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Posted: 22 Feb 09, 14:54 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

Going back to my original question TQ, have you got a view on who was maybe stronger with vocal harmonies... Freddie or Brian?


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Posted: 22 Feb 09, 19:03 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote



ThomasQuinn wrote:

Creating four-part harmonies, like Queen often did, is a task that is mostly done 'by the book' because there simply isn't much room to play around with. Apart from selecting the chords to harmonize with, and occasionally more than one voicing being feasible, there isn't much to creating harmonies once you've already written the main melody around which they revolve.

And that's where the genius lies - and all four band members had that.  Anyone can learn harmonies, but not everyone can write that perfect melody that rings for generations to come.




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Posted: 23 Feb 09, 05:05 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote



Sir GH wrote:







ThomasQuinn wrote:



Creating four-part harmonies, like Queen often did, is a task that is mostly done 'by the book' because there simply isn't much room to play around with. Apart from selecting the chords to harmonize with, and occasionally more than one voicing being feasible, there isn't much to creating harmonies once you've already written the main melody around which they revolve.


And that's where the genius lies - and all four band members had that.  Anyone can learn harmonies, but not everyone can write that perfect melody that rings for generations to come.



Very true. For that reason alone, it can be no coincidence that melody is the only aspect of Western music that music theory has not been able to satisfactorily fit into a set of 'rules'.







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Posted: 23 Feb 09, 05:08 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote



Zebonka's Tiny Ding-a-ling wrote:

Going back to my original question TQ, have you got a view on who was maybe stronger with vocal harmonies... Freddie or Brian?

If I had to answer that, I'd say Freddie, but the only evidence I have for that is that he used them more often than Brian did. As I explained, there is little technical difference between choral and instrumental harmonies, so it boils down to a matter of preference: Brian preferred instrumental orchestrations, Freddie was more likely to choose vocal harmonies.







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Posted: 23 Feb 09, 05:45 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

Both Mercury and May had loads of instrumental and vocal harmonies, and they were distinctive on both. Btw, the fact Bri sang the baritone voice in the chordal backing for KQ's verse doesn't mean he was 'better' at harmonies, just that his voice worked better on that part (especially when combined with Fred's falsetto tenor on the same part). For Love of My Life, they needed a different effect so no May was required; for Bo Rhap, Fred could have sung all the high falsettos, but instead Roger did them, because he sounded better for what they needed (a mock operetta).

Something else: Bri sang a harmony line in Killer Queen, but it doesn't mean he arranged it. And btw, Days of Our Lives isn't a counterpoint, it's one of the simplest ways to harmonise: parallel thirds. The song needed something nostalgic and to overlayer it with elaborate choirs would've ruined it IMO; the choice of a simple Simon/Garfunkel-esque block was a good Occam's razor solution, and a perfect one (when your singer is Mercury, both simple and complex harmonies sound great).

As for who's better... Mercury wouldn't come up with such an original and inventive semi-parallel part as the one in '39 or Teo Torriatte choruses, but May's expertise as arranger isn't enough for the sort of tricks Freddie used in things like Man from Manhattan, Don't Stop Me Now (the climax) and Bo Rhap (the seven 'no' phrase). So it's not a matter of 'better' or 'stronger', just two very different (but equally wonderful) arrangers whose output we're privileged to enjoy.



John hated HS. Fred's fave singer was not PR. Roger didn't compose 'Innuendo.' Witness testimonies are often inaccurate. Scotland's not in England. 'Bo Rhap' hasn't got 180 voices.
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Posted: 23 Feb 09, 06:00 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote



Sebastian wrote:

Both Mercury and May had loads of instrumental and vocal harmonies, and they were distinctive on both. Btw, the fact Bri sang the baritone voice in the chordal backing for KQ's verse doesn't mean he was 'better' at harmonies, just that his voice worked better on that part (especially when combined with Fred's falsetto tenor on the same part). For Love of My Life, they needed a different effect so no May was required; for Bo Rhap, Fred could have sung all the high falsettos, but instead Roger did them, because he sounded better for what they needed (a mock operetta).

Something else: Bri sang a harmony line in Killer Queen, but it doesn't mean he arranged it. And btw, Days of Our Lives isn't a counterpoint, it's one of the simplest ways to harmonise: parallel thirds. The song needed something nostalgic and to overlayer it with elaborate choirs would've ruined it IMO; the choice of a simple Simon/Garfunkel-esque block was a good Occam's razor solution, and a perfect one (when your singer is Mercury, both simple and complex harmonies sound great).

As for who's better... Mercury wouldn't come up with such an original and inventive semi-parallel part as the one in '39 or Teo Torriatte choruses, but May's expertise as arranger isn't enough for the sort of tricks Freddie used in things like Man from Manhattan, Don't Stop Me Now (the climax) and Bo Rhap (the seven 'no' phrase). So it's not a matter of 'better' or 'stronger', just two very different (but equally wonderful) arrangers whose output we're privileged to enjoy.

Brilliant, as usual. Thanks for the amazing insights and inputs, Sebastian. Your posts have been just the very best one can read here on Queenzone. Don't Stop It!!! : )))  

Best regards.








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Posted: 23 Feb 09, 10:25 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

Wonderful topic! I don't have anything to add because my theoretical knowledge is close to zero but I understand what you're guys aresaying.  it's very interesting. thanks!


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Posted: 23 Feb 09, 11:59 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

It is not properly harmony but while reading this topic I thought about John Lennon's double tracking of his own lead vocals in many of his songs, which certainly adds depth to the song and creates a certain mood.

For instance take Jealous Guy. I love that song. Many of his songs have this kind of "fuzziness" about them and it is a bit more difficult (for me at least) to distinguish harmonies, major, minors, thirds and sevenths and I just get lost in the overall atmosphere of the track.

Queen's arrangements are usually more "in your face" and the BV's are louder, with many voices. Off the top of my head I kind of get the idea that this applies more to Freddie with songs like BoRhap or All God's People, but that's just me generalizing.

Listening to some songs in The Cosmos Rocks album I miss the harmonies a bit, or at least their prominence. The songs have them but they are much more subtle than in previous Queen albums.

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Posted: 23 Feb 09, 12:59 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote



Wiley wrote:

Listening to some songs in The Cosmos Rocks album I miss the harmonies a bit, or at least their prominence. The songs have them but they are much more subtle than in previous Queen albums.

And I think that's the very beauty of it.




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Posted: 23 Feb 09, 13:25 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

@ Sebastian:

I think it'd be a great idea if you pulled together some of your posts and turn them into essays - there are so many good ones which are very closely connected that you could perhaps polish them a bit and turn them into articles or essays.

Have you considered taking some of the most frequent questions, among the interesting ones, and making a kind of helpful, enlightening, entertaining, accessible and interactive FAQ on your website? I see you did some of this by dispelling some of the myths and so on, but you could organize it by topics and put it in queston and answers format, keeping it alive and interactive, that is - questions, or asks for further clarification, would be welcomed.

I know time isn't really on anyone's side these days, but I for one would find something like this very interesting. It's time-consumming though, no doubt. 

Congratulations again on this post. It was just spot on.


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Posted: 23 Feb 09, 13:32 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote



Yara wrote:

@ Sebastian:

I think it'd be a great idea if you pulled together some of your posts and turn them into essays - there are so many good ones which are very closely connected that you could perhaps polish them a bit and turn them into articles or essays.

Have you considered taking some of the most frequent questions, among the interesting ones, and making a kind of helpful, enlightening, entertaining, accessible and interactive FAQ on your website? I see you did some of this by dispelling some of the myths and so on, but you could organize it by topics and put it in queston and answers format, keeping it alive and interactive, that is - questions, or asks for further clarification, would be welcomed.

I know time isn't really on anyone's side these days, but I for one would find something like this very interesting. It's time-consumming though, no doubt. 

Congratulations again on this post. It was just spot on.   

Off topic: You are too kind.. [img=/images/smiley/msn/wink_smile.gif][/img]
Agree with you btw that these posts on the theoretical sides of music are highly interesting.








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Posted: 23 Feb 09, 13:38 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

Oh, sure. I love the album, by the way. It is a bit more low key but all the Queen trademarks are there, along with some different ideas. It just takes a few more listens to appreciate it in full.

I had a similar problem with Made In Heaven the first time I heard it. I thought it sounded a bit off here and there, the melodies didn't seem to gel in some spots but it was only due to it being the first new Queen album I had ever heard after 3 or 4 years listening to the back catalog. I didn't think it was an instant classic Queen album, to tell you the truth.

I just can't help it. When listening to a new song by an artist my ears follow up with the music with a preconceived idea of how the track will flow, for instance: "song is building up nicely... oh, a high note.. Cool! now the solo... Great!...". Obviously the song is not exactly how I picture it and I am "surprised" almost every time.

Sometimes the "surprise" is positive, like when I first heard No-one but you, when Brian sings "there's a face at the WINdooow!!" hitting the highest note with a loud voice, then the guitars and then the chorus in full force... man, I still get goosebumps just remembering that.

Sometimes the "surprise" is a bit negative. When listening to a clip of "We Believe" I heard the buildup towards the second chorus and I thought it was great, but when reaching the chorus I was unimpressed and somewhat let down since it was not "what my ears expected". Now it's one of my favorite parts but it had to grow on me.