HomeEvan Feist's Collegiate A Cappella FAQ

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If have any questions regarding collegiate a cappella, or would like to add to what I present here, please post your name and question in the comments below OR send me a message at Evanfeist@gmail.com. These are my opinions and thoughts, and I welcome discussion on the below!

How do I pick songs that will translate well to a cappella?
An energetic song with a good rhythmic pulse is always a good place to start.  Look for a song with an interesting form (not just ABAB) to give you room to explore different textures; a bridge is a great place to really propel the arrangement into another universe. 

Other things to be on the look out for are horn lines, some kind of vocal refrain, any kind of rhythmic figure (wah guitar, triplets, a percussive breakdown, etc.), and/or any change in the time signature (or feel).

Conversely, if the chosen song is a bit uniform on its own, try re-harmonizing or changing the rhythm of the 2nd verse to give it a fresh punch!

How can I prepare for an a cappella audition?
A good way to make sure you are ready for your audition is to over-prepare.

-Pick 3 songs you feel you sound good on and practice a verse and chorus of each (without accompaniment, of course).  Choose a song you love to sing, not what you think they want to hear.
-Also, rehearse ascending and descending scales as high and low as you can comfortably sing. 
-Next, at a piano, play 3-5 notes and then sing them back.

Remember to warm-up (physically AND vocally), relax with some deep breathing as part of your warm-up; avoid coffee, citrus, dairy, soda, spicy and very cold foods on the day of your audition; and most importantly, drink lots of water BEFORE your audition while trying to avoid drinking during your audition (which could cause air bubbles constricting in your throat).

How can I learn to beatbox (vocal percussion)?
The simple answer is to listen to instrumental/pop music (especially the percussion/drums) and try to imitate the different sounds of each drum with your mouth (finding your own syllable and sound) and just practice every second you get (in the car, shower, doing the dishes, walking to class, etc)

If you want a more structured approach, check out www.humanbeatbox.com.  They have great tutorials on different syllables, spelling them out phonetically with instructional videos.

Also, sites like www.beatoutsidethebox.com, www.mouthdrumming.com, www.discoverahobby.com, www.acappellafoundation.org, wikihow, and YouTube can really get your proverbial ball rolling and help you find your sounds and what works for you.

I also HIGHLY recommend Wes Carroll’s instructional DVD series, which you can purchase at www.mouthdrumming.com

How can I start my own group?
The first question is what kind of group do you want to be? (i.e. male, female, mixed, barbershop, choral, jazz, pop, experimental, etc). For best results, as in most things in life, don’t buy into a stereotype; the possibilities are only limited to your imagination.

Next, try to experience (whether online, CD, and hopefully in person) as many groups as you can in performance AND rehearsal.

You’re going to have to hold an audition and advertise for it (i.e. flyers, Facebook event, etc) I also recommend bringing someone else in on this venture with you to bounce ideas off of, share the work load, and to have another pair of eyes and ears at the audition.

Check out Joey C’s “A Cappella U” podcast on iTunes (especially the master classes on auditions and interviews)

How often should my group rehearse?
The simple answer is as often as you can commit to and still have fun.  But, generally I would say 2-3 a week for a few hours.

Always have rehearsals planned out and have a realistic goal of what you want to accomplish.  Many schools use “Blackboard” or some other website where you can post PDF’s and midi files of arrangements so your group can learn/practice out of rehearsal, cutting down on time spent learning in rehearsal.  Also, remember to leave time to warm up and down (physically, vocally, and socially) at EVERY rehearsal. 

Warming up isn’t just about getting your individual voice ready to sing, it’s about building foundational skills as a group. Every group should dedicate time in rehearsal to warming up with exercises on dynamics, syllables, blend, range, etc. together before working on specific songs.

How can I write effective (and fun) syllables?
This is where Sibelius (Finale, DP, etc) comes in handy.  To start, I play the arrangement back a few times to hear the rhythm and flow of the passage as a whole to get a general shape of the line.  Then, find the moments where each voice shines through and try to articulate the melodies you hear.

I always try to verbalize (sing out loud) specific lines as the instrument it’s imitating to find fresh syllables. 

Another approach is to repeat the last step and take it one further.  Take the syllables you now have, and try to word associate phrases together (and then create a theme) from these syllables.  For example, the descant line from "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" could be “A Wii, Play-sta-tion 3, N sixty-four.”

How do I record my group for the first time?

Recording your group for the first time can be a daunting, time-consuming, and EXPENSIVE task if you don't know what to expect!  The recording process can be confusing to anyone unfamiliar with it.  The most important thing you can possibly do is to be totally, completely prepared. I can’t stress this enough!  You may know pieces well enough to perform them, but in a recording studio, you have to be able to start singing from any point in the piece and know exactly where you are (without the rest of your section). You can't have binders filled with sheet music either, because flipping the pages in session will be heard on the track. Some groups put each sheet in a plastic sheet protector and refer to them when asked to start in a random place, just to know where they are.  This is probably the most difficult part of recording, because people think they know a piece and then discussions and disagreement between form and especially over vowel pronunciation and consonant sounds (which must be identical) eat up studio time (which really means money!).

What are the ranges of the various vocal parts?

The standard range of the traditional parts is as follows: (with C4 = middle C, C3=C below middle C, etc.)
Soprano: C4 - A5
Alto: G3 - D5
Tenor: C3 - G4
Bass: F2 - D4

Note that the ranges aren't meant to limit you, as some singers defy all range parameters, these are just the standard that arrangers typically use when playing it "safe."

Also, bass/baritone falsetto goes up to at least A5/C6 territory, and with C2 being a low, but commonly reachable bass note. Four octaves are certainly possible for a fair number of basses or baritones.

Note for vocalists: If you're wondering what voice part you are, realize that range is only part of the equation. The "center" or "sweet part" of your range may tell you more than a laundry list of the notes you can hit. For example, many male a cappella vocalists are tenors, even though they can sing all of the requisite bass notes (or even sing lower).

Also, some popular musical styles and techniques have challenged these traditional ranges as many singers are often singing outside of their previously accepted range. For example, second altos in female quartets often sing a "bass line" that pushes the bottom of their range.  Conversely, tenors in male groups stretch their falsetto into the stratosphere and many groups utilize vocal percussion that isn't as dependent on pitch as they are on timbre.

Note for arrangers: You should arrange (or transpose) your music so that your vocalists can stay roughly within these boundaries, unless you know that a specific vocalist can sing comfortably outside them. These voice ranges are the standard upon which most traditional choral writing and arranging is done. One exception is that many a cappella groups incorporate a man singing in his falsetto voice, which usually adds at least an octave to the top of his range. Your best bet is to find out the specific ranges of the voices you're arranging for before you put anything on the page.

Why/When should we compete in the ICCA?
1. To have outside ears comment on your sound and tell you where you're strong and where you're weak. (That would be the judges)
2. To see some groups in your area perform live, and possibly expand your CD collection.
3. To perform for an enthusiastic audience of a size that you probably can't command on your own yet.
4. To exponentially expand your Aca-rolodex (contact info for other groups in your area, recording engineers, and other great resources)
5. To get an experience under your belt that's really unlike any other.

That's a lot of pros, and the only con I can think of is the possibility that you might feel embarrassed if your group isn’t on the same level with some of the other groups – and you couldn't take that kind of risk in a more supportive environment.

Even if you don't choose to compete this year, you should send an e-mail to the producer in your region (or to the Executive Producer) so you're in the database for next year's round of "wanna compete?" e-mails.

ALWAYS enter your group/recordings in anything you find (ie Voices Only compilation, John Lennon competition (not that this is for songwriters), and Harmony Sweepstakes), the absolute worst thing that can happen is you don’t get it, which is already the case since you didn’t apply in the first place.

While on the subject of submitting your group, send everything you have to sites like CASA.org, RARB.org and acaTunes.com you’ll get great feedback and maybe even sell some CDs!

About the author:
Evan Feist has been composing, arranging, teaching, and singing a cappella music and vocal percussion for over eight years and has his Bachelor’s Degree in Studio Composition and Arts Management from SUNY Purchase's Conservatory of Music and is working towards his Master' Degree in Music Education at Columbia University, Teacher's College.  He has created and managed many successful groups, such as the A Cappella Innovations’ honored Choral Pleasure, SUNY Purchase Soul Voices, and the Plainview-Old Bethpage JFK Honors Choir.  Evan is the founder and president of Oven Feast Productions, and the business manager of Stacks of Wax Records, currently based out of Jersville Studios. He dabbles in all things musical and plays the piano, drums, percussion, trumpet, shofar, bass, and guitar.  Evan is currently building a collegiate mixed a cappella group in NYC (open to ALL students in the area)

Comments

Gigs

Being a big supporter of a cappella music for a few years now but only a beginner in the collegiate a cappella community, I've always wondered what is the best way to going about getting off campus gigs? It is a great thing to get your group's name around campus but I know one needs to get their name in the community and out in the local area. Does one just constantly till they find gigs or is there a certain way of doing it?

Brian Alexander
UNT Green Tones
President (2008-2011)
CD-Chair (2011-2012)
Co-Founder

Off-Campus Gigs

Great Question, sorry I couldn't answer sooner.

As Mr. Tim said, Open Mics are a great way to "break in to" an area.

On that note, you'll probably want to have some kind of demo to give to the people running the open mic.  I reccomend not giving them a CD of yours, but making a 5 minute medley of the best moments of your best songs in a make-shift press kit.  Include pictures, any press you can must up, and (of course)  ONE contact phone number and e-mail adress.

-Contacting groups from neighboring schools near you to perform with them is a FANTASTIC way to get "out there".  Not only are you getting off-campus to sell some merch and have a great time, but you also widen you mailing list.  I've found that if you offer to throw an after-party for both groups, you can usually acquire lodging for the night.

-Touring local high schools is another good off-campus gig.  Most high schools have choirs and/or other performing groups that would love to be inspired by you.  Again, another way to expand your mailing list and perhaps sell some merch.  If you contact them (and send a professional looking press kit) they very well might pay you.  Even if it's only gas money, if you do 5 or 6 twenty minute sets in an afternoon, you will break more than even.

-Guerrilla-capella is my FAVORITE way to get "out there".  Find a populated street corner, mall, train station, etc.  and just get together an sing!  Make a BIG sign with you group's name (and website, if applicable) and bring some CDs or flyers to give away (or sell).  A hat for tips isn't a bad idea either.  One of my favorite thing about a cappella groups is that they are infinitely portable, you can sing literally ANYWHERE.

Just make sure if you are in some kind of establishment, that you get permission to perform there before you start.

-The absolute easiest thing you can and should do is create a facebook group (or artist page) and amass fans. Then, send out bi-weekly updates about what the group is doing and mention that you're looking for gigs.  Your fans LOVE you and your performances and will let you know if they see or hear anything.  For fun, offer invitations to the after party of whatever gig they help setup.

Again, THANKS for the great question and

KEEP THEM COMING!!!

Got a question about [collegiate] a cappella?  POST IT HERE or Email Evan at Evanfeist@gmail.com

open mics

I would start with open mics. They are the best entree into regular gigs. You get to be seen by the booking person (often), work on your stuff, low pressure...I don't know where you are, but here's a list: http://openmikes.org/

Amy Malkoff http://www.amymalkoff.com/harmony CASA (Contemporary A Cappella Society) Program Manager + Director of Web Content - http://www.casa.org Judge - ICCA, ICHSA, Harmony Sweepstakes, etc.

off-campus gigs

 

EVERY college group should make an effort to perform out in the community.  Keep in mind that it is a different audience than a college audience (ie. keep it clean, and don't indulge yourself in college in-jokes).

Most towns have an arts council, a recreation department, a tourism division, and / or a conventions and visitors bureau.  Contact them.  Most communities have summer concerts, holiday events, arts festivals, special holiday events, and / or full performing arts series.  They will be administered by one of the above listed groups.  Contact them, tell them who you are, ask them about getting onto one of their programs.  You'll probably have to start free, but once they see you, and people know about you, wham bam!

Open mic nights are GREAT.  Many require original music.

The same venues that do open mic nights probably have live music on other nights.  Talk to those venues.  Local restaurants, coffee shops, even shopping malls are often open to having live music.  

Keep your eyes on the local calendars: every time you hear about an event that you think you should be singing at, contact the organizers of that event.  Might be too late to get on the program for this year, but they'll know who you are for next year.  And, most events organizers are connected (within government, within the local music scene) and once they know you, they can plug you in to other events you may not have heard about.

Good Luck!

 

The wisdom of Mr. Tim!

Keep in mind that it is a different audience than a college audience (ie. keep it clean, and don't indulge yourself in college in-jokes).>>

THIS is so important it should be on a plaque. Your job, in front of a non-college crowd, is to entertain everyone, in a short period of time, knowing nothing about them, and vice versa. In-jokes, whispering to each other on stage - all that has to be removed from your off-campus shows (if it's there to begin with). That's as important as the music.

Also, I've never been to an open mic that requires original stuff, and I've been to so, so many. Many assume you'll do original stuff, and if you're doing a regular gig (non-open mic) at the same place, they might require it, but for open mics, it's usually anything goes.

 

Amy Malkoff http://www.amymalkoff.com/harmony CASA (Contemporary A Cappella Society) Program Manager + Director of Web Content - http://www.casa.org Judge - ICCA, ICHSA, Harmony Sweepstakes, etc.

originals at open mic

This may be a Western desert thing: so many of the open mic venues I play at require you do only originals.  Vegas, Utah, Colorado.  For some, they are fostering the original music scene, and don't want (as they see it) hacks playing covers.  For others, and I think this goes for a lot of them, they're too poor (or too cheap) to pay the ASCAP fees to cover the covers.  

improv

Hey, how can i start to integrate improv singing into my group?

 

thanks,

Kelly

Circle Singing

Hey Kelly,

Great question!!! I think improv is way too scarce in a cappella music/groups!

 

In my group, we do this great exercise/warmup that we like to call "Circle Singing" - simply because we all stand in a circle...and sing.

I adapted it from seeing Bobby McFerrin's  Voicextra use a similar kind of technique.  The easiest way to describe it is that it's live looping, but with a group instead of a pedal or software.  

The group circles up and someone steps into the middle of the circle and just starts singing, scatting, beatboxing, whatever comes to mind  (it can be syllables, sounds, or words; really anything as long as it's off the top of their head).  

Once they find something they like, they walk over to a singer or group of singers and repeat it for them until they can sing it on their own (usually I then harmonize it up/down a third and such to give it some more color) .

Now the first "loop" is going and the "leader" simply just solos/freestyles/improvs over that until they find something else that they like.  Repeat the previous step until everyone has a part or someone taps them out.

Usually I like to keep the previous loop going and the new "leader" now starts to change up and/or build upon the groove that's already been set up. 

So, there are only two rules:

1.  Once you start singing, you can't stop (goes for the leader more than the loop singers)

2. NO THINKING, complete stream of consciousness

 

I think it's a great warmup since it not only warms your pipes, but helps develop the idea of the group as a whole and individual parts at the same time.  We usually spend about 10-15 minutes Circle Singing at the top of every rehearsal.

Bringing back elements of previously successful Circle Sings also can make a great mic check for shows.

 

Thanks for the question

-Evan Feist

PLEASE KEEP THE QUESTIONS COMING!

Circle singing FTW

Always good, circle singing.  Raw beginners to jaded pros - it's sooooo worthwhile.

Other improv ideas: there are lots of improv comedy games that are great to warm up the voice, warm up the mind, warm you up socially with other members of the group.  

Here's a link to some fun ideas, many that will work the music theory part of your brain, too:  http://plato.acadiau.ca/courses/educ/reid/games/Game_descriptions/Improvisation_Games.html

There was a game I've seen and played called 'hot spot', essentially a free association music game: someone starts singing a song (top 40, karaoke hit), and someone else picks up and sings another song based on a word, a phrase, or some connection in the other song (person #1: Yellow Submarine; person #2: Yellow Brick Road; person #3: Hello, Goodbye (from the word 'goodbye'); person #4 Lionel Richie's 'Hello,' ... etc).

You can also combine circle singing with creation of a song: set the expectation that songs will be short, start a circle song as explained above, then pick someone and give them a topic, a word, a piece of fruit to sing about.  End it after 30 or so seconds.  Try to make each new song different from the previous one(s).  Singers get to play in lots of different styles, you have to make up lyrics on the fly... tons of fun!

Lastly, do like the House Jacks do, and take requests in a show.  Only do a few to start out, but you'd be surprised what you can turn out.  

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