"We do it without any instruments, it's all from our mouths!"The musical style of A cappella is music performed without musical instruments. The name comes from Italian, meaning "in the manner of the chapel" because instruments weren't originally used in churches. note A cappella may include singing, vocal sound effects, and sound effects made with the body like clapping or slapping. There are several traditional and modern movements such as religious music, choirs, barbershop, doo-wop, doit, beatboxing and so on. Traditionally, religious music and holidays' songs like Christmas carols might be performed without any instrumental accompaniment. (This was an Enforced Trope for Shaker religious music.) Also gospel music and choir performances often don't feature any instruments. Barbershop is a uniquely American style, typified by consonant four-part chords for every melody sung in homophony. They usually perform easily understandable lyrics and easy melodies. You may also recognize them by their striped outfits with straw hats. Doit is vocal ornamentation used in jazz music. Doo-wop is a style of vocal-based rhythm and blues music developed in black communities in the 1940s, achieving mainstream popularity in the 1950s and early 1960s. Beatboxing is a close concept and a form of vocal percussion. Musicians produce drum beats, rhythm, and sounds with only their mouth, lips, tongue or voice. It's connected with Hip-Hop, but not exclusively. Musical talent shows frequently have the auditions part sung A cappella. Tons and tons of Youtubers do A cappella covers of various songs (often with the original recording playing in the background) and sometimes create and sing new ones.
— Chloe, Pitch Perfect
Examples from media:
open/close all folders
Live Action TV
- On American Idol auditionees have to sing a cappella during the first rounds, however, later in competition they sing with backing music.
- The Sing-Off is a talent show on NBC specifically for a cappella groups.
- Friends: In "The One with All the Jealousy", Monica dates a co-worker named Julio who is a foreigner and a pretentious poet. In one of his poems, he refers to her as an "empty vase", then later claims it was a reference to all American women, not just her. Monica gets her revenge by sending an A cappella barbershop quartet to the diner to ridicule him (and call him a buttmunch) while he's hitting on another woman. Well played.
- Andy from The Office was a member of an a cappella group at Cornell.
- Da Ali G Show: Ali G is a wannna-be hip-hop artist and he would do beatboxing from time to time, often improvising on the topic that was discussed. As if the guests were not trolled enough already.
- On Glee, Blaine's group the Dalton Academy Warblers is an all-male a capella group (played by the Real Life Tufts University Beelzebubs).
- NewsRadio had an episode where Dave was visited by the other three members of his a capella group.
- There was an episode of Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place where the Girl had visions of an a capella group that would appear out of nowhere and sing Wilson Phillips songs.
- In an episode of Mad About You, Paul walks past an A Cappella group singing the theme song, which he'd cowritten. To further mess with the wall, he mentions its familiarity. At the end of the episode, Paul and Jamie listen to the same group singing the theme again as the end-credits play. This time, Paul recognizes the tune and grins with satisfaction, but does not identify the tune out loud.
- In "Slutty Pumpkin" of How I Met Your Mother, Ted goes to a Halloween party at the rooftop with a performance by an a cappella group. Barney thinks the party is super-lame.
- On Psych, Gus is revealed to have been in an a cappella group in college when his old bandmates seek him out for a case. For that episode, the show even got Boyz II Men to perform the theme song a cappella.
- The Rockapella from Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?. They sing a cappella, while rocking out.
Music - General
- When the American Federation of Musicians went on strike in 1942-44, the record labels initially hoped that their stockpile of songs they rush-recorded the month before the strike began would last them through the strike, but it ended up lasting much longer than they anticipated, so they started to record their vocalists accompanied by vocal groups acting as the "orchestra", taking advantage of the fact that vocalists were not AFM members. A notable example is Frank Sinatra, who had the bad fortune to start his solo career right in the middle of the strike: his first few singles with Columbia Records were recorded with a vocal group called the Bobby Tucker Singers and the label reissued a 1939 recording he did with Harry James' band. His legions of fans didn't mind, however, as most of the a capella tracks, as well as the reissue, made the hit parade.
- The AFM went on another strike in 1948, but this time they were more lenient, allowing the usage of "non-serious" musical instruments such as ukuleles, harmonicas and toy xylophones in recording sessions. The "vocal group as orchestra" trick was still often used however.
Music - Groups
- The Blanks: A cappella group fronted by Sam Lloyd who plays Ted Buckland on Scrubs. The band has made many appearances on Scrubs, introducing themselves as The Worthless Peons. They have covered many things ranging from commercial jingles to TV show theme songs.
- The Bobs, a novelty a cappella group.
- Bobby McFerrin, for instance his famous "Don't Worry, Be Happy".
- The group "DaVinci's Notebook" was a cappella.
- Visa Röster: A group doing Chiptunes a cappella. Mostly tunes from Commodore64 games.
- The Flying Pickets are an a capella group who scored the UK's Christmas #1 single of 1983 wtih a cover of Yazoo's electro-pop song 'Only You'. This was their only hit, however they have continued under various lineups to this day, covering songs including Under the Bridge, Who's That Girl and You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling
- Van Canto is an a cappella metal band, which besides using real drums creates all of the guitar effects vocally, and covers the songs of other metal bands.
- German band Die Prinzen made many a cappella songs and are quite famous for this style.
- Pentatonix, the winners of the above-mentioned The Sing-Off contest show's season.
- Moosebutter is a comedy band that always performed in a cappella.
- *NSYNC were more famous as a Boy Band, but their ability to perform a cappella in five-part harmony is their musical genesis and remains their point of pride. Hell, their name comes from the fact that they could sing a cappella in harmony. Unaccompanied numbers include "I Thought She Knew" from their second album, No Strings Attached, and "O Holy Night" for their Christmas album. In addition, they contributed an a cappella version of "When You Wish Upon a Star" for the DisneyMania CD series and have performed "The Star-Spangled Banner" for the 2000 World Series and 2002 Winter Olympics as well as an a cappella tribute to The Bee Gees for the 2003 Grammys.
- Peter Hollens sings multiple vocal tracks, frequently a hundred or more, for his recordings. He frequently records with other vocalists, notably his wife Evynne Hollens, Avi Kaplan and Tyler Ward, as well as other musicians such as Lindsey Stirling.
- The Nylons, best known for their a cappella versions of "Drift Away" and "Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)".
- Home Free is a rare country music a cappella group, doing a mix of contemporary and classical country covers.
Music - Specific Songs and Albums
- Janis Joplin, "Mercedes Benz" from Pearl. It is an a cappella song written by singer Janis Joplin with the poets Michael McClure and Bob Neuwirth. In the song, the singer asks the Lord to buy her a Mercedes-Benz, a color TV, and a "night on the town".
- Queen, "We Will Rock You" from News Of The World. The song is generally set in a cappella form, using only stomping and clapping as a rhythmic beat, except at the very end, which has a guitar solo. "We Will Rock You" has been covered, remixed, sampled, parodied, homaged, referenced and used by multiple recording artists, TV shows, films and other media.
- Kelis has a song called Acapella: Listen to it here. Strangely, the song is not A Cappella, but there was a version done in that mode.
- The Futureheads have a handful of a cappella songs, and they brought out a whole a cappella album, including a cover of Kelis song. See it here.
- The song "Ievan Polkka" note (Finnish for "Eva's Polka") is a Finnish song with lyrics written in the early 1930s by Eino Kettunen to a traditional Finnish polka tune. It is also known as "Loituma's Polka" (or "Loituma's Polkka") because it resurfaced after an a cappella performance by the Finnish quartet Loituma. A part of the song was used for the Internet meme "Loituma Girl" (also known as "Leek Spin").
- "Tom's Diner" is an a cappella pop song written in 1981 by American singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega. It's about impressions and feelings of a woman in a city during one morning. She did later also an instrumental version of the song. The song was actually used to develop the MP3 sound compression process, and is technically the first MP3.
- Crosby, Stills, Nash (And Young)'s "Find the Cost of Freedom" is an A Cappella song with lots of harmonizing that they regularly used to finish off concerts.
- Tori Amos's "Me and a Gun" is a quiet vocal solo about her experience with rape.
- Claire Hamill's 1986 New Age album Voices consists entirely of Hamill's multitracked vocalisations. An instrumental album without instruments, so to speak.
- Billy Joel's "The Longest Time", from a singer/songwriter who normally plays either the piano or guitar.
- Most of the songs on Bj÷rk's Med˙lla are a cappella.
- Florence + the Machine's cover of Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love" is a cappella for the first verse only.
- Big Daddy's cover of "Eye of the Tiger" is done In the Style of... an a cappella street corner do-wop group.
- The B-side of Yes' "Leave It" was the same song A cappella.
- Ben Folds released 'Ben Folds Presents: University A Cappella!, an entire album of his songs covered by collegiate a cappella groups after hearing his song "Brick" covered by a collegiate group.
- In Havergal Brian's "Gothic" Symphony, several sections of the "Te Deum" are sung by unaccompanied choruses, including the first 5 1/2 minutes of "Judex crederis esse venturus," which has over 20 independent vocal parts.
- "Si puer cum puella" from Carl Orff's Carmina Burana is sung by the male chorus a capella. The sequel Catulli Carmina has the singers entirely unaccompanied except in the framing scenes.
- Todd Rundgren has an entire album of a cappella music entitled, appropriately, "A Cappella". While several songs use vocal samples to create drum and keyboard tracks, the only sounds on the album are Todds voice.
- Tones On Tail's "Slender Fungus" is composed of vocals over rhythmic mouth noises.
- "Hi How Are You?" and "She Called Pest Control" from Daniel Johnston's Hi, How Are You and "King Kong", "The Dead Lover's Twisted Heart" and "Rarely" from his album Yip/Jump Music.
- "The Dust Blows Forward And The Dust Blows Back", "Well", "Orange Claw Hammer" from Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart.
- "Because" by The Beatles in the rendition of The Beatles Anthology.
- Yoko Ono and John Lennon read newspaper clippings about them by singing them during "No Bed For Beatle John" on Unfinished Music No. 2: Life With The Lions.
- The Manhattan Transfer are capable of a cappella vocals, notably their version of "A Nightingale Sang at Berkeley Square".
- "The Union Forever", a Citizen Kane Shout-Out from The White Stripes' White Blood Cells, has a bridge made up only of handclaps and Jack's vocals.
- Haken does this in parts of "Cockroach King", the opening of "Because It's There", and the mid-way point of "Crystallised".
- In Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 2, the chorus sings the first verse of the Resurrection Chorale as quietly as possible, totally unaccompanied unless the chorus needs help negotiating some of the harmonic shifts. Each successive verse of the chorale is sung louder with more accompaniment, finishing with full orchestra and pipe organ.
- Arthur Sullivan's The Golden Legend includes two a cappella chorales, "O gladsome light" and "O pure in heart."
- In Hector Berlioz's "Grande messe des morts," the orchestra and four brass bands fade away quickly at the end of "Rex tremendae," and the chorus proceeds with "Quaerens me" unaccompanied. "Hostias" has highly intermittent accompaniment for the male chorus, most of it being flute and trombone chords played while the singers take a breath between phrases.
- "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Since You've Been Gone" is done a cappella with several Weird Als singing all harmony except the bass line, which is done by his bassist Steve Jay.
- Country Music band Southern Pacific was known for doing an a cappella rendition of Peter and Gordon's "I Go to Pieces" in concert. They released a studio version, also done a cappella, as a single in 1990.
- And another rare example: Ricochet recorded an a cappella rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" for a 1996 NASCAR promotional album, and sent it to radio due to fan demand. Later on, they sent an a cappella version of "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow" as a Christmas single.
- Da Yoopers did "My First Time Ever" on their 1995 album We're Still Rockin', the first album after Jim Bellmore took over as lead guitarist/songwriter. The track features Bellmore singing all four parts in the style of a barbershop quartet.
- In Benjamin Britten's War Requiem, "Kyrie eleison," "Pie Jesu Domine" and "Requiescant in pace" conclude three of the work's sections with quiet variations on the same mournful chord progression, with the chorus accompanied only intermittently by the bells tolling their dismal tritone together.
- The Beach Boys' "A Young Man Is Gone" from their Little Deuce Coupe album, an a cappella homage to James Dean based on the melody of "Their Hearts Were Full of Spring" by The Four Freshmen, itself an example.
- As mentioned previously, the Trope Namer comes from the ancient practice of singing church music without any instruments. Today, the Eastern Orthodox Churchesnote , the Churches of Christ, conservative Mennonite churches, some Presbyterian congregations, and a few Baptist churches do not use musical instruments in worship.
- In Islam, whether or not music is haram (forbidden) remains debatable. Officially, it is neither discouraged nor condoned, but a capella music is generally looked upon more highly than instrumental music.
- In The Music Man (both the stage play and the film) Professor Harold Hill teaches the four squabbling members of the school board to sing Barbershop. All of their performances from then on are a cappella. All the other songs, performed by anyone else, have orchestral accompaniment (except for "Rock Island," which isn't really sung anyway). In both the original production and the film, the School Board was played by the Buffalo Bills, the 1950 International Quartet Champions of the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America (SPEBSQSA).
- Peter Schickele's Go For Broke: A Comedy For Chorus. The only instruments indicated in the score are pitch pipes played at the beginning of each scene so the singers can start in the right key.
- The Student Prince includes an a cappella chorus of the traditional college song "Gaudeamus Igitur."
- In Leonard Bernstein's Mass, "Almighty Father" is a chorale accompanied only intermittently after phrases by the drum rhythm from the (faster) previous number.
- The Pirates of Penzance has the entire cast joining in singing the a cappella anthem "Hail Poetry".
- In Cabaret, a male chorus sings "Tomorrow Belongs To Me" mostly a cappella.
- Down in the Valley has the spiritual "Little Black Train" sung a capella by the Greek Chorus taking on the roles of congregation and preacher. The first verse of the title song is also done this way.
- In Where's Charley?, the nostalgic opening number, "The Years Before Us," is sung a cappella by a male ensemble.
- In The Sound of Music, the opening chant and most of the Latin hymns are sung by the nuns' choir without accompaniment, though the orchestra does provide light accompaniment for the canticle "Confetimini Domino" (sung at the wedding) as well as full accompaniment for their reprises of "Maria" and "Climb Ev'ry Mountain."
- In Peer Gynt, the Morning Hymn in Act V is supposed to be sung a cappella, though some editions of the score include an accompaniment for rehearsal purposes only.
- Lunar: The Silver Star: Luna/Althena's "Song" from Lunar Silver Star Story. Here is a youtube link. This song is used as a kind of "theme" that's attempted by others in singing, though tempo and quality varies. It's kind of the game's "staple song" and is incredibly familiar to all who've played the game in any of its incarnations.
- Ni GHTS Into Dreams: Christmas NiGHTS Into Dreams has an a cappella version of the game's main vocal theme "Dreams Dreams" over the credits.
- Super Mario Sunshine has secret levels in which the background music, "Platforms a Plenty", is an a cappella version of the original Super Mario Bros. theme.
- ''Bioshock Infinite:
- An a capella rendition of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" opens the game.
- The second piece of sung music you hear in Bioshock Infinite is a barbershop arrangement of The Beach Boys' "God Only Knows," written and performed by the real-life quartet A Mighty Wind.
- Crash Twinsanity has an entire soundtrack based around a cappella.
- trudbol/Julien Neel's videos of song covers on YouTube, posting videos that usually consist in all the recordings (video recordings) singing to the camera at the same time.
- Sonic the Hedgehog 2: Special Edition: In one video, the game degrades because not enough people believe it's real. One of the symptoms is that the level music is replaced by a crude a cappella cover version. In the very last video, apropos of nothing, there's an a cappella version of the Sonic 2 ending cutscene music, this time With Lyrics.
- Ultra Fast Pony has a bonus video where the cast sings an a cappella version of (Soft Cell's version of) "Tainted Love"
- Smooth McGroove, who sings songs from video games a capella.
- On his Paint channel, Jon Cozart sings his songs a cappella in multiple parts, then mixes them together for the final result.
- In one flashback episode of The Simpsons, Homer, Skinner, Apu and Barney performed as Be Sharps, a barbershop quartet and they are epically successful. Their career path mirrored The Beatles.
- Let's face it, everyone's done it in their spare time at least once (whether just walking somewhere, in the shower, etc.).