Singing without lyrics

Singing Without Lyrics: Exploring Non-Lexical Vocables in Music

Non-lexical vocables, characterized by nonsense syllables such as “la la la” and “na na na,” are a fascinating phenomenon found in a wide variety of musical traditions across the globe. This article delves into the concept of singing without lyrics, exploring its historical and cultural significance, as well as its influence on different genres of music.

Traditional Musical Forms

Non-lexical vocables have long been employed in various traditional musical forms. For instance, yodeling, Native American music, Pygmy music, and Irish and English traditional music all make use of non-lexical vocables to convey meaning and enhance musical expression. In these traditions, vocables serve as formal markers, indicating the beginning and end of phrases, sections, or songs themselves. They also function as onomatopoeic references and cueing devices, adding depth and texture to the overall musical experience.

Scat Singing: The Art of Wordless Vocables

Scat singing is a type of voice instrumental music that embraces the use of wordless vocables and syllables. Popularized by jazz singers, scat singing allows vocalists to create improvised melodies and rhythms, akin to instrumental solos. Artists like Ella Fitzgerald, known for her remarkable scatting abilities, have showcased the versatility and creativity that can be achieved through wordless singing.

Vocalise in Classical Music

Within the realm of classical music, vocalise holds a significant place. Vocalise refers to a singing exercise or vocal passage consisting of a melody without words. It serves as a means to develop flexibility, control of pitch and tone, and overall vocal technique. Composers such as Sergei Rachmaninoff and Maurice Ravel have composed vocalises that challenge singers to convey emotions and musical expressiveness solely through the power of melody.

Popular Music and Vocal Harmonies

Singing without lyrics is not limited to traditional and classical genres. It can also be found in various styles of popular music. A cappella music, characterized by singing without instrumental accompaniment, often incorporates nonsense syllables as accompaniment or as part of intricate vocal harmonies. Similarly, doo-wop, a style of rhythm and blues, frequently employs non-lexical vocables to create catchy and harmonically rich vocal arrangements.

Influence on Other Genres

The impact of singing without lyrics extends beyond specific musical styles. It has influenced the development of other genres, such as hip hop and rock music. Artists like Jim Morrison of The Doors, Pink Floyd, The Blues Brothers, and Ella Fitzgerald have incorporated non-lexical vocables in their performances, adding a unique and memorable dimension to their music.

Orchestral Accompaniment and Cinematic Soundtracks

Another context where singing without lyrics can be encountered is in orchestral accompaniment for movie and video game soundtracks. In these compositions, non-lexical forms of Latin are often utilized to create an ominous or grandiose effect. By employing strings of Dog Latin syllables and deep tones, composers evoke a sense of drama and intensity, enhancing the visual and emotional impact of the accompanying visuals.

Distinct from Vocalese

It is important to note that singing without lyrics should not be confused with vocalese. While singing without lyrics involves the use of non-lexical vocables, vocalese refers to the practice of setting words to instrumental jazz solos. Vocalese is a distinct art form that combines the improvisational nature of instrumental jazz with the lyrical craftsmanship of vocal expression.

In conclusion, singing without lyrics, characterized by non-lexical vocables, is a multifaceted and widespread phenomenon in music. From traditional musical forms to popular genres and even orchestral accompaniment, non-lexical vocables play a significant role in enhancing musical expression and creating memorable sonic experiences. By exploring this unique aspect of vocal performance, we gain a deeper appreciation for the diverse and captivating world of music.


What is singing without lyrics?

Singing without lyrics refers to the practice of vocalizing melodies using non-lexical vocables, such as nonsense syllables, instead of singing actual words. It is a form of vocal expression that focuses on the melodic and rhythmic elements of music rather than conveying specific lyrics or textual meaning.

What are non-lexical vocables?

Non-lexical vocables are syllables or sounds that are used in music to convey melodic patterns, rhythms, and expressive elements without having any specific linguistic or semantic meaning. Examples of non-lexical vocables include “la la la,” “na na na,” and “do do do.”

In which musical genres can singing without lyrics be found?

Singing without lyrics can be found in various musical genres, including traditional music forms like yodeling, Native American music, and Pygmy music. It is also prevalent in jazz music, where scat singing is a prominent example. Additionally, singing without lyrics can be heard in popular music styles such as a cappella, doo-wop, and certain forms of rock and hip hop.

What is the purpose of singing without lyrics?

Singing without lyrics serves multiple purposes in music. It allows performers to focus on the melodic and rhythmic aspects of a composition, showcasing their vocal abilities and improvisational skills. It can also be used to create vocal harmonies, add texture to a musical arrangement, or evoke specific emotions without relying on explicit lyrical content.

How does singing without lyrics influence the development of vocal technique?

Singing without lyrics, particularly in vocal exercises like vocalise, helps develop important aspects of vocal technique. It aids in improving pitch accuracy, control of tone and dynamics, breath management, and overall vocal flexibility. By focusing solely on the melody, singers can refine their vocal skills and expressiveness.

Are there any notable musicians who have incorporated singing without lyrics in their performances?

Yes, several notable musicians have incorporated singing without lyrics into their performances. Examples include jazz singers like Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, who were renowned for their scat singing abilities. In the realm of popular music, artists like Jim Morrison of The Doors and bands like Pink Floyd and The Blues Brothers have utilized non-lexical vocables to enhance their musical expressions.

How is singing without lyrics different from vocalese?

While singing without lyrics involves using non-lexical vocables, vocalese is a distinct practice where singers put words to instrumental jazz solos. Vocalese involves crafting lyrics that fit the melodies and rhythms of existing instrumental jazz improvisations, whereas singing without lyrics focuses solely on using vocal sounds and syllables to convey musical ideas.

Can singing without lyrics be found in non-vocal music?

Yes, singing without lyrics can also be present in non-vocal music. For example, in orchestral accompaniment for movie and video game soundtracks, non-lexical forms of Latin or other vocal sounds may be used to create atmospheric or dramatic effects. These vocal elements, although wordless, contribute to the overall sonic experience of the composition.