Singing Acapella — Tips and Techniques

Taken from the Italian word that means “by way of the chapel,” acapella refers to individual or group singing without the accompaniment of musical instruments. Initially, acapella singing meant to contrast the Renaissance polyphone and Baroque concertato styles, both of which heavily featured instruments.

Acapella singing presents unique challenges for singers, as they must stay in tune without the support of a backup instrument. Acapella can prove specially useful for auditions, as a singer can choose their own song without the need for an accompanist. Accurate acapella singing is the mark of a truly accomplished musician.

Any singer who wishes to hone their acapella skills should keep a few things in mind. First, they should sing as much as possible. Training the vocal muscles to match pitch and to harmonize with others requires significant experience. Joining a choir or participating in community musical theater productions are great ways to gain formal singing experience, laying the foundation for acapella singing. Singing in a choir or play also requires listening to other performers and learning about rhythm, pitch, tone, and intonation.

Knowledge of music theory goes a long way in improving acapella singing skills. Working with a private teacher or taking a music class can introduce singers to concepts such as chords, intervals, and key signatures, which can help them as they read music within a performance group.

Some teachers may instruct innovative techniques such as Throga, a form of “throat yoga” that teaches exercises to improve singing. A Throga teacher may offer instruction in areas such as flexibility, articulation, and range.

Training the ears to listen and tune is perhaps the most important aspect of learning to sing acapella. A singer might begin by playing several notes of a familiar tune such as Happy Birthday while singing along. Eventually, they should add more notes until they are comfortable singing the entire melody. At this point, they can stop playing the instrument and begin again, first singing just a few unaccompanied notes at a time, then a few more.

Once they are singing the entire song acapella, an individual may wish to record themselves and listen to detect where their pitch is off. They can then rerecord, listening closely for spots that need improvement. Continual improvement relies on the systematic repetition of this exercise, either with one song or several.

Arranging music can help singers take the next step and begin creating their own pieces. Working with familiar songs, singers can experiment with new and different ways to arrange the melodies, looking at acapella songs recorded by professionals for inspiration.

Many acapella singers want to learn to harmonize with other singers as part of an acapella group. Learning to read music and then singing as part of a choir or theater group will provide the opportunity to collaborate while also honing individual singing skills.

Once a singer has the basics of acapella down, they will want to continually expand their vocal range. A teacher can help a singer identify the weak points in their range, then recommend exercises to strengthen and expand it. This involves breathing exercises to strengthen the diaphragm, as well as singing exercises and tips for relaxing unnecessary tension.

An acapella singer can also hone their craft by imitating the sounds of different instruments. An experienced acapella group can mimic the sound of a full band by mimicking the sounds of virtually instrument, creating a surprising musical experience for those not familiar with the art form.

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Robert S. Castellini — Active in Philanthropy

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