The definition of the barbershop style begins with the song, which consists of the melody, the lyric, and the harmonies implied by the melody. The style is unaccompanied vocal music characterized by consonant four-part chords for every melody note in a predominantly homophonic texture. There are also other elements that make up the style.
Melody: The melody needs to be distinguishable from the harmony while clearly defining a tonal center. It should illustrate the inherent implied harmonies, and provide for embellishments. The range should be within the average singer's capability of performance and the rhythms should be natural and uncomplicated. Barbershop melodies feature balanced and symmetrical forms, and standard meters of 2, 3, 4, 6 beats per measure.
Lyrics: The lyrics should be easily understood by both singers and listeners. Ideally they may be reminiscent of earlier times, avoiding modern and contemporary slang, rock and hip-hop usage. They should have rhyming qualities, and be in good taste.
Harmony: The harmony should be predominantly consonant, favoring major and minor triads, and seventh chords. Approximately 33% of the total arrangement should consist of barbershop seventh chords that usually resolve around the circle of fifths, with occasional use of other resolutions.
Chord Progressions: Similar to chord progressions found in popular music from the 1900s to the 1930s where the implied harmony of the song is easily heard and easily "woodshedded" by ear.
Embellishments: Appropriate use of swipes, bell chords, echoes, key changes, etc. are encouraged, provided they do not overshadow the song.
Texture: Four voices -- tenor, lead, baritone and bass -- with the melody consistently sung by the lead, with the tenor harmonizing above the melody, the bass singing the lowest harmonizing notes and the baritone completing the chord. For artistic effect the melody may, on occasion, be sung by one of the harmony parts. In addition, the texture may be very briefly reduced to fewer than four voices.