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. The “SacredHarp.mus” Web site has electronic files of every tune in The Sacred Harp. By downloading a plugin for your Web browser, you can see the music and listen to an electronic version of the tune. You can also download the .mus file, open it with a cheap shareware program called “Melody Assistant,” and play each part in isolation. This is a great site for geeks and others who feel comfortable messing about with unfamiliar software.
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.
Many non-traditional Sacred Harp singers have learned the basics from listening to the Word of Mouth Chorus’s album “Rivers of Delight.” In fact, musicologists have found that songs from this album have a statistically significant higher chance of being sung at conventions. The singing is not exactly traditional, but the pats are clearly separated in the recording, so it’s easy to learn from. Available on iTunes.