Tips for Learning to Sing A Cappella

A form of song that does not involve any kind of musical instrument, a cappella singing is performed only with the voices of a group of vocalists. A style that became prominent in the 19th century, the a cappella musical genre developed out of the popularity of gospel music and other religious congregational genres. Coming from an Italian term that means “by way of the chapel,” a cappella is often performed in groups. The singers typically have different parts that correspond to the harmonies produced by musical instruments.

Because there are no backing instruments, a cappella singers must be highly polished to produce a good sound. A cappella singers must pay close attention to their breath and their diaphragm, throat, and mouth muscles to stay in key and avoid going flat. They also must make sure their vocalizations keep time with the beat of the song they’re singing. A cappella singers join together to cover the low, mid, and high pitches of the vocal spectrum.

A typical a cappella group consists of five major voice parts. From highest to lowest vocal ranges, the voice parts are soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, and bass, much like a choir without musical instruments. Depending on the size of the group, it may have multiple sopranos, altos, tenors, baritones, and basses. A cappella groups also depend on a percussion voice part to keep the beat. Often, the person responsible for the percussion voice part uses beatboxing vocal techniques to create the percussion sounds.

A cappella music has evolved into several forms, including classical (or choir), barbershop, and contemporary styles. The contemporary or modern style is more complicated than barbershop and classical a cappella. The voice arrangements in contemporary a cappella tends to be more dynamic and creative. The contemporary style typically features heavy bass and a wider range of beatboxing sounds that mimic a variety of musical instruments.

If you want to develop your a cappella singing skills, start by listening to the music you want to sing. Listening to the singing styles you want to emulate helps you pick up the styles of the performers. Practicing the songs helps you develop technique and trying different things will ultimately help you create your own style.

Tuning your voice to hit precise musical notes is a key part of singing a cappella. Developing perfect pitch is a skill that takes time, but pays off when you can sing in tune with others. Listening to live or recorded a cappella singers will help you develop your sense of pitch and learn to get your voice in tune. Training your ear to hear pitch will also help you evaluate the quality of any musical performance.

Learn to read music and familiarize yourself with music theory to further develop your a cappella skills. When you join an a cappella group, you will likely receive sheet music for the songs to be rehearsed, and you will need to be able to read and sing the notes of your voice parts from the music sheet.

If you are serious about excelling as an a cappella singer, practice daily with exercises such as melisma warm-ups, vocal range stretching, and pitch training. Over time, your regular practice will pay off with improved muscle memory and increased vocal agility, which will greatly improve the quality of your performances.

Robert S. Castellini — Active in Philanthropy