Vocal music is a genre of music performed by one or more singers, with or without instrumental accompaniment (a cappella), in which singing (i.e. vocal performance) provides the main focus of the piece. Music which employs singing but does not feature it prominently is generally considered instrumental music (e.g. the wordless women's choir in the final movement of Holst's The Planets) as is music without singing. Music without any non-vocal instrumental accompaniment is referred to as a cappella.
Vocal music typically features sung words called lyrics, although there are notable examples of vocal music that are performed using non-linguistic syllables, sounds, or noises, sometimes as musical onomatopoeia. A short piece of vocal music with lyrics is broadly termed a song.
Vocal music without lyrics
- Indian classical music is based on a rich vocal tradition, wherein even instruments are evaluated on their ability to follow the human voice, imitate it, or recreate the same expressions. Alap which usually precedes the texted performance is a Raga based improvisation which centers only around notes.
- Elaborate untexted vocal improvisation was and still is an important element in Turkish and Middle Eastern music traditions. Such music existed prior to the 13th century and the First Crusade into Palestine and the city of Jerusalem, possibly even before the year 900.
- The modern descendants of the ancient Kung tribes and clans of Southern Africa utilize similar traditional music techniques.
- A form of improvisation known as thillana is a very important feature of Carnatic music from South India.
- Tuvan throat singing often features wordless and improvised song. The sygyt technique is a particularly good example of this.
- The Anglo-Saxon and Gaelic communities.
- Hasidic Jews use a form of voice improvisation called nigunim. This consists of wordless tunes vocalized with sounds such as "Bim-bim-bam" or "Ai-yai-yai!” often accompanied by rhythmic clapping and drumming on the table.
- Puirt a beul, also known as "Mouth Music", is a Scottish technique based around imitating the sounds of bagpipes, fiddles, and other instruments used in traditional Scottish music. It was popularized in North America by Scottish immigrants, and has been incorporated into many forms of American music from roots music to bluegrass.
European classical vocal music
Jazz and popular music
The singer of the Icelandic group Sigur Rós, Jón Þór Birgisson, often uses vocals without words, as does Icelandic singer/songwriter, Björk. Her album Medúlla is composed entirely of processed and acoustic vocal music, including beatboxing, choral arrangements, and throat singing.
Singer Bobby McFerrin has recorded a number of albums using only his voice and body, sometimes consisting of a texted melody supported by untexted vocalizations.
Vocal music with lyrics
Extended techniques that involve lyrics
- Human Voice
- National Center for Voice and Speech
- Sweet Adelines International
- Vocal registration
- Allmusic. Vocal music. Retrieved October 23, 2008.
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