A cappella is a form of music produced solely by using the human vocal chords. There are no instruments at all neither to accompany the singer or on their own as a musical interlude during the song. With roots in Christian Gregorian chants, Arabic chants, and Jewish psalms, a cappella has grown to incorporate nearly every style of music, and it has developed into a genre of its own.
Here’s a closer look at a cappella, where it comes from, how it works, and what it sounds like in today’s modern music era.
Origins of A Cappella
A cappella is Italian for “in the manner of the chapel," referring to pre-15th century chants (like the Gregorian Chant) that was sung in churches. In the Jewish faith, hymns were sung in a cappella from its earliest days because the religion forbids musical instruments to be used on the Sabbath and High Holidays. A cappella was an obvious solution for infusing music into these holy days without breaking the Jewish traditional law.
A cappella evolved over the centuries, with great names such as Bach, Monteverdi, Schutz, and Tchaikovsky making use of the style.
A Cappella in Modern Time
The early 1940s brought a cappella out of the church pews and into a more modern light. The AFM (American Federation of Musicians) was boycotting US recording studios, so there was a gaping hole in the industry. The Song Spinners stepped in to fill the void, and the public went gaga over the fresh new sound. They just couldn’t believe it was coming from the mouths of these talented artists.
The 50s and 60s continued the a cappella trend with a modern twist, introducing jazz tunes to the mix.
But things really exploded in the 80s.
From the 1980s onward, a cappella became as familiar a genre as rock, pop, jazz, and classical music, with artists such as Boyz II Men, Huey Lewis and the News, Backstreet Boys, and All 4 One popularizing the sounds and making a cappella the next hottest thing to hear. Today you can enjoy the self-made melodies of groups like Rockapella, Pentatonix, and Maccabeats.
The Sounds of A Cappella
The most fascinating thing about a cappella is that when done well, you cannot differentiate between an a cappella performance and an instrumental one. Artists are so skilled at mimicking the sounds of each instrument that the performance comes across as flawlessly as a guitar, drums, saxophone, or other instrument being played.
Best of all, a cappella is the most economical form of making music because it utilizes the only musical instrument that is totally free…your voice. So if you aren’t quite ready to learn piano, or if you're looking to supplement your piano lessons with additional musical fun, you can turn to this uplifting musical form. Go ahead and give it a try.