A cappella music is when a group or person sings without accompaniment. There has been an increased interest in a cappella music in recent years that has been shown in shows like The Sing Off on NBC. Many of the a cappella groups are located in high schools and colleges throughout the country, but there are also professional groups that only sing a cappella. Although a cappella is technically defined as singing without music, the styles of a cappella have grown, and some groups use their voices to emulate instruments, while other groups are more traditional and focus on harmonizing. You can enjoy a variety of a cappella styles from gospel music to contemporary to barbershop quartets.

History of A Cappella

A cappella music was first heard in churches. One example a cappella style music that was performed in churches is the Gregorian chants. Some churches do not believe that instruments should be used inside of chapels, and so they use a cappella arrangements instead of traditional accompaniments.

Some Jewish and Muslim services use a cappella music, as well. A great deal of the music from the Renaissance was also a cappella.

church choir

Emulating Instruments

In the 1990s, a cappella began to grow in popularity as more groups began to emulate instruments as part of the performance. This allowed groups to take already popular songs and change the arrangements. This was done primarily in collegiate groups throughout the country, though some professional groups did this as well.

Generally, one or two people will hold the bass and drum sounds while the other singers will emulate the sounds of different instruments. It creates a very full sound.

black and white image of microphones

A Cappella Musical Theater

There have been just a few performances of musical theater with entirely a cappella music. One of these was Avenue X, and it was performed in 1994. More recently Perfect Harmony and In Transit were performed in off-Broadway theaters. Both of these productions took place in 2010.

a capella theater

Barbershop Style Music

In addition to the collegiate style a cappella music, barbershop style music has been very popular throughout the United States. This style of a cappella focuses on harmonizing and originally started with men’s groups. The style got its name because the first groups were started in barbershops. Although this style was started in America, it has grown in popularity and spread throughout the world.

barbershop quartet

General Resources