Acapella Music and Timeless Vocal Classics

Updated on May 12, 2020
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As a music teacher and choir conductor, I list acapella as one of my favourite music genres.

An acapella group.
An acapella group. | Source

When you think of acapella, silky vocal harmonies without musical accompaniment come to your mind. While that's true, there's more to this music. What is acapella music, and what's its appeal? This article answers these questions and reviews a few acapella favourites.

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What is Acapella Music?

Acapella means "in the way of the chapel" in Italian, and it refers to group or solo singing without music. Musicians initially used the term to differentiate between Renaissance and Baroque music. People didn't realise that instrumentalists doubled as the vocalists, which led to the misconception that was no music involved.

But the misperception became true. Acapella music meant singing without instruments. It originally featured in religious music, with the multi-voice, 12-mode Gregorian Chant developed for the Roman Catholic church during the time of Pope Gregory 1. There was, in fact, opposition to the use of instruments during religious ceremonies. Singing without instruments was here to stay.

Ways to Make Great Acapella Music

1. Hone your singing technique

First, you cannot achieve the acapella sound without practice. Singers who haven't had much vocal training usually sing from too high in their chests, when they should be working from their diaphragms.

When you sing, stand with your feet a shoulder's width apart, and tuck your tummy in, and roll your shoulders back (do not tip too far back). A guide? Pretend that you have a glass of water on top of your head.

2. Practice Staying in Pitch

This advice sounds trite, but it's crucial to successful acapella singing. It certainly seems easier said than done but is certainly not impossible.

Play a few notes on a piano and match your voice to them. Then, record a song without music. Play it with instruments to see if you are in pitch. Alternatively, use a pitch pipe.

3. Practice Harmony

Acapella singing involves harmony and lots of it. A hallmark of this type of music is an uncanny musical blend of voices.

Timeless Acapella Favorites

Caravan of Love

Isley-Jasper Isley, one-half of the Isley Brothers, intended his soulful, harmonic blend to be a representation of his Christian beliefs. Little did he know that it would turn out to be one of his group's greatest hits.

The notes lend themselves to melodic vocal arrangements, and the song has continued to be a firm Acapella favourite. The song has both religious and secular appeal. After all, everyone relates to the concept of love.

The Lion Sleeps Tonight

Initially written in Zulu by Solomon Linda under the title Mbube (Zulu for Lion in 1939), The Lion Sleeps Tonight is an acapella staple. Covers of this song seem endless, the best-known being the one by Doo-Wop group The Tokens. The harmonic layers of this piece mean that there is lots of room for vocal callisthenics. Enjoy Jimmy Fallon's and Billy Joel's updated version below.

The Longest Time

This 1984 Doo-Wop single by Billy Joel is creative to the hilt and never gets old.

It features Joel on all vocals, lead and backing. The intricate harmonies are the reason for the many acapella covers of it. All sounds on the track are his, including drums and finger snaps. It's an acapella work of art.

Don't Worry. Be Happy.

The whole point of singing acapella is to have fun, and Bobby McFerrin knew how to do just that. This song was the first acapella number to make the Billboard Hot Hundred, and win Grammys in several categories, including

Song of the Year, Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, and Record of the Year. It displaced Guns and Roses Sweet Child of Mind that year.

Rolling in the Deep

This edgy number by Adele didn't make way up Billboard for no reason. The song, from the Album 21, was a colossal crossover hit for the past 25 years.

The number had reached the top spot on many Billboard charts and propelled the British singer to success. It had sold 8.7 million copies by February 2012, making it the best-selling digital song by a female artist. The dramatic bass and notation make it fodder for acapella harmony, particularly for female singers.

Just the Way You Are

This saccharine-sweet melody by Bruno Mars, from his 2010 debut solo endeavour, Doo-Wops and Hooligans, show appreciation for a woman's beauty, no matter the circumstances. It peaked in the Billboard Top Hundred charts in many countries in August of that year.

But it's not Mars' version that is Acapella-friendly. Instead, the vocal arrangement in Pitch Perfect (2012) wins over acapella fans and highlights the versatility of the song.


Acapella is vocal majesty. Take some time to revel in it like a vocalist, as well as enjoy old and new musical favourites.

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    • profile image

      Devika Primic 

      2 weeks ago

      I like these songs your choices took me back down memory lane.

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