Vocal music

Vocal music is a type of music performed by one or more singers, with or without instrumental accompaniment (a cappella), in which singing 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.[1]

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 is probably the oldest form of music, since it does not require any instrument besides the human voice. All musical cultures have some form of vocal music.

Vocal music without lyrics

World traditions

European classical vocal music

Solfege, a vocalized musical scale, assigns various syllables such as ‘‘Do-Re-Mi‘‘ to each note. A variety of similar tools are found in traditional Indian music, and scat singing of jazz.

Jazz and popular music

Hip hop music has a very distinct form of vocal percussion known as beatboxing. It involves creating beats, rhythms, and scratching.

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


See Song and Category: Song forms for short forms of music with sung words. songs like this are more popular now than just music

Extended techniques that involve lyrics

The Second Viennese School, especially Alban Berg and Arnold Schoenberg, pioneered a technique called Sprechstimme in which singers half-talk, half-sing, and only approximate pitches.

Wide-ranging voices

  • Lucrezia Aguiari: C4 – C7.[4]
  • Elizabeth Billington: A3 – A6.[5]
  • Elvis Presley: B1 – A5. Elvis' B1 may be heard on the song "Such a Night", and on "Mystery Train" an A5 is reached towards the end. Towards his later career, he developed a rich barytone voice which still mastered the higher register with immense power, such as on "American Trilogy", "Unchained Melody" or the joking "Little Darlin'".[6]
  • Daniel Gildenlöw: A1 – A5. Top range may be heard on songs such as "Dea Pecuniae", "A Trace of Blood" or "This Heart of Mine"; for low range, "Imago", "Of Dust" and "Beyond the Pale" are good examples.
  • Maria Callas: F3 – F6.[7][8][9] In his review of Callas's June 11, 1951 concert in Florence, music critic Rock Ferris of Musical Courier said, "Her high E's and F's are taken full voice."[10] In a 1969 French television interview with Pierre Desgraupes on the program L'invité du dimanche, La Scala's maestro Francesco Siciliani speaks of Callas's voice going to high F.[9]
  • Isabella Colbran: G3 – E6.[5]
  • Ewa Podleś: A2 – E6.
  • Michael Jackson: F2 – E6
  • Clara Butt: A2 – B5
  • Avi Kaplan: E1 – C5
  • Farinelli: C3 – C6.[11]

  • Yma Sumac: her range was said to be "well over four octaves"[16] and was sometimes claimed to span even five octaves at her peak. From B2 to C7[17][18]
  • Cher: A2 – F6
  • Mariah Carey: A2 – A7. Carey has hit an A2 while talking on an interview and an A7 in a live performance of her song "Emotions" in 1991 at the MTV Music Awards, making hers a vocal range of exactly five octaves.
  • Axl Rose: C1 – B7 (F1 – A5 in full voice)
  • Georgia Brown – G2 to G10
  • Adam Lopez – Eb2 to E♭8

See also


  1. Titze, I. R. (2008). The human instrument. Sci.Am. 298 (1):94-101. PM 18225701
  2. "Cante Alentejano, polyphonic singing from Alentejo, southern Portugal". unesco.org. UNESCO. Retrieved November 3, 2015.
  3. "Fado, urban popular song of Portugal". unesco.org. UNESCO. Retrieved November 3, 2015.
  4. "Lucrezia Aguiari, dite La Bastardella ou La Bastardina ou Lucrezia Agujari, dite La Bastardella ou La Bastardina. Encyclopédie Larousse"
  5. 1 2 "Encyclopédie Larousse. Chant"
  6. Video demonstrating Elvis' vocal range through the years
  7. Ira Siff, « I vespri siciliani » in Opera News, March 2008.
  8. Ardoin, John (1991). The Callas Legacy. Old Tappen, New Jersey: Scribner and Sons. ISBN 0-684-19306-X.
  9. 1 2 L'Invité Du Dimanche, The Callas Conversations, Vol. 2 [DVD] 2007, EMI Classics.
  10. David A. Lowe, ed (1986). Callas: As They Saw Her. New York: Ungar Publishing Company. ISBN 0-8044-5636-4.
  11. F Haböck, Die Gesangkunst der Kastraten, (Vienna, 1923), p. 209
  12. Soto-Morettini, D. (2006), Popular Singing: A Practical Guide To: Pop, Jazz, Blues, Rock, Country and Gospel, A & C Black, ISBN 978-0713672664
  13. Saint Bris, Gonzague (2009). La Malibran (in French). Belfond. p. 25. ISBN 978-2-7144-4542-1.
  14. Saint Bris, Gonzague (2009). La Malibran (in French). Belfond. pp. 37 and 104. ISBN 978-2-7144-4542-1.
  15. Nicholas E. Limansky (Translated from English by Jean-Jacques Groleau): Mado Robin, soprano (1918 - 1960)
  16. Ellen Highstein: 'Yma Sumac (Chavarri, Emperatriz)' Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy. (Accessed 8 August 2006)
  17. Clarke Fountain, "Yma Sumac: Hollywood's Inca Princess (review). Allmovie, reproduced in the New York Times. 1992.
  18. David Richards, "The Trill of a Lifetime; Exotic Singer Yma Sumac Meets a New Wave of Fans." The Washington Post, March 2, 1987, STYLE; PAGE B1. Accessed August 6, 2006, via Lexis Nexis,
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