For some people, one of the best ways to learn to sing Sacred Harp tunes is to listen to audio recordings while you try to sing along.
1. Learning tunes from free audio recordings
You can find free audio recordings of Sacred Harp music, of varying quality, on the Web.
A. Six excellent recordings of traditional Southern singings may be found on Warren Steel’s Web page Recorded samples of Sacred Harp singing.
B. At BostonSing.org, Robert Stoddard offers amateur recordings of almost every tune in the Sacred Harp. He has more than one recording of most of the tunes, and some of the recordings are quite good. If you want to learn a specific song by ear, this is an excellent resource.
C. As you plan to attend an all-day singing, you can listen to a couple dozen audio recordings of Bay Area all day Sacred Harp singings on here on Soundcloud. These recordings let you hear how different sized singings sound:
— The All Cal 2015 had about 200 singers (40-70 singers on a part)
— The Golden Gate singings (2010-2013) have about 100 singers (20-30 on a part)
— The Palo Alto and Santa Cruz singings have 40-50 singers (10-15 on a part)
2. Learning tunes from commercial recordings
A. Field recordings of traditional singers: The album “In Sweetest Union Join” is a relatively recent (1999) professionally-done field recording of a contemporary Southern singing, and was produced by the Sacred Harp Musical Association (which publishes The Sacred Harp). The recording quality is high, and it’s easy to sing along. Of all the Sacred Harp albums out there, this one probably offers the most songs for the money. Cheapest as a download. Available through CD Baby, or on iTunes.
B. Studio recordings by professional singers: Some Sacred Harp singers will tell you that you should only listen to field recordings of traditional singers. But studio recordings can be useful too, since it’s usually easier to hear the separate parts. “American Angels” by the Anonymous 4 (A4) is a deeply researched album by Grammy-award winning singers, with excellent album notes by folklore scholar and A4 singer Marsha Genensky (who sometimes sings Sacred Harp in the Bay area). Since there is only one voice on a part, you can really hear the harmonies. Not so great for male singers, though, since all four A4 singers are women. More info here, including link to iTunes.