Singing without lyrics

Singing Without Lyrics: Exploring the World of Vocal Expression

Singing is a universal form of expression that transcends language barriers. While most songs are accompanied by lyrics that convey specific meanings and narratives, there exists a fascinating realm of vocal performance known as singing without lyrics. In this article, we will delve into the art of singing without words, exploring its origins, techniques, and diverse manifestations across various musical genres.

Scat Singing: The Jazz Origins

One prominent form of singing without lyrics is scat singing, which emerged in the realm of vocal jazz. Scat singing involves vocal improvisation using wordless vocables, nonsense syllables, or no words at all. It allows singers to create spontaneous melodies and rhythms, akin to instrumental solos. Renowned scat singers such as Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and Mel Tormé have contributed significantly to the development and popularization of this unique vocal style [1].

Non-Lexical Vocables: Exploring Musical Traditions

Non-lexical vocables are another form of singing without lyrics, characterized by the use of nonsense syllables in a wide array of musical traditions. In yodeling, Native American music, Pygmy music, and Irish and English traditional music, non-lexical vocables play a vital role. They act as formal markers, indicating the beginning and end of phrases, sections, or songs themselves. Additionally, non-lexical vocables serve as onomatopoeic references, cueing devices, and carry various other purposes within these musical contexts [2].

Singing Without Words Across Musical Genres

The practice of singing without lyrics extends beyond jazz and traditional music. It can be found in diverse genres, including a cappella music, doo-wop, rock, and even in newer genres such as industrial and nu metal. In a cappella performances, singers harmonize and create intricate musical arrangements using only their voices, omitting any instrumental accompaniment. Doo-wop, a rhythm and blues style, often incorporates nonsense syllables to enhance vocal harmonies and add rhythmic elements to the music.

Classical music compositions also feature instances of singing without lyrics. Italian composer Luciano Berio’s “Sequenza III for Voice,” composed in 1966, showcases a range of vocal sounds, from ordinary singing to laughter and muttering. This composition demonstrates the potential for vocal expression beyond conventional lyrical narratives [3].


Singing without lyrics opens up a world of vocal expression that transcends the boundaries of language. Scat singing, with its roots in jazz, and non-lexical vocables found in various musical traditions, showcase the versatility and artistic possibilities of vocal improvisation. From a cappella music to classical compositions, singing without words continues to captivate audiences across genres and eras, reminding us of the power of pure vocal expression in the realm of music.


  1. Wikipedia contributors. “Scat Singing.” Wikipedia.
  2. Wikipedia contributors. “Non-lexical vocables in music.” Wikipedia.
  3. CMUSE. “Singing Without Words.”

Note: The sources provided above were utilized to gather factual information for this article.


What is singing without lyrics?

Singing without lyrics refers to vocal performance that does not involve the use of specific words or lyrics. It encompasses various techniques such as scat singing, non-lexical vocables, and vocal improvisation using wordless vocables or nonsense syllables.

What is scat singing?

Scat singing is a form of vocal improvisation that originated in vocal jazz. It involves the use of wordless vocables and syllables to create improvised melodies and rhythms. Scat singers often mimic the sounds of instruments and explore intricate vocal improvisation techniques.

What are non-lexical vocables?

Non-lexical vocables are a type of nonsense syllables used in music. They are found in various musical traditions, including yodeling, Native American music, Pygmy music, and Irish and English traditional music. Non-lexical vocables serve as formal markers, onomatopoeic references, and cueing devices within these musical contexts.

Which musical genres feature singing without lyrics?

Singing without lyrics can be found in a wide range of musical genres. Some examples include a cappella music, doo-wop, rock, jazz, and even newer genres like industrial and nu metal. Each genre incorporates singing without lyrics in unique ways, showcasing the versatility and expressive possibilities of vocal performance.

Are there instances of singing without lyrics in classical music?

Yes, singing without lyrics can also be observed in classical music compositions. For example, Italian composer Luciano Berio’s “Sequenza III for Voice” (1966) includes a range of vocal sounds, from conventional singing to unconventional vocalizations like laughter and muttering. Classical composers have explored the potential of vocal expression beyond traditional lyrical narratives.

Can singing without lyrics convey emotions and meaning?

Absolutely. While singing without lyrics may not convey specific verbal meanings, it can still convey a wide range of emotions, moods, and musical ideas. Through vocal techniques, dynamics, phrasing, and melodic choices, singers can express and evoke various emotions in their performances, allowing the music to resonate with listeners on an emotional level.

Who are some notable artists known for singing without lyrics?

There are several notable artists known for their expertise in singing without lyrics. In the realm of scat singing, performers like Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and Mel Tormé have made significant contributions. Additionally, musicians from diverse genres, such as Bobby McFerrin, who specializes in vocal improvisation, have garnered recognition for their captivating wordless performances.

How can one learn to sing without lyrics?

Learning to sing without lyrics involves developing vocal techniques, improvisational skills, and a strong sense of musicality. Vocal training, studying the techniques of experienced scat singers, and practicing vocal improvisation can help individuals explore the art of singing without lyrics. Working with a vocal coach or participating in workshops dedicated to vocal improvisation can also provide valuable guidance and support in honing this skill.