New to a cappella? Here's a quick rundown of everything you need to know.
What is a cappella?
A cappella is not a genre but a style of musical performance: any music performed by voices alone (or, to be a bit more inclusive if a bit less precise, by the human voice, vocal apparatus, and sometimes body alone). Although any type of music may be performed a cappella -- and every type has been! --, thanks to the popularity of contemporary a cappella, the term is often used to mean voices-only performance of modern genres of music from the 20th and 21st centuries, including barbershop, doo-wop, hip-hop, jazz, pop, R&B, and rock and its derivatives.
Historically, the Italian term a cappella referred to music performed "in the style of the chapel": vocal music either without instrumental accompaniment or, at most, with instruments only duplicating the vocal line(s). As "chapel" implies, one strong tradition of such vocal music was non-secular or sacred in subject-matter; it was often liturgical, performed as part of religious service. Whether sacred or secular, the earliest attested vocal music was monophonic, consisting of a single vocal line or melody.
Over time, Western vocal music developed traditions of polyphony (multiple vocal lines or voices) and harmony (with those multiple voices sounding different notes simultaneously). At the same time, the range of subject-matter expanded to include secular topics. Both harmony and topics were -- and are -- subject to traditional constraints; alongside differentiated styles of vocal delivery and visual performance, this resulted in recognizable genres of a cappella music, eventually leading to those mentioned above and to others.
Grounded in those musical traditions and genres, contemporary a cappella is old enough now to have traditions of its own. These include groundbreaking groups in each of those genres (for example, and respectively: Boston Common and OC Times; The Mighty Echoes and The Persuasions; Duwende and Kickshaw; mpact and Take Six; Blue Jupiter and The Flying Pickets; Naturally 7 and Schrödinger's Cat; and Fork and The House Jacks; as well as genre-defying and artform-defining groups like The Bobs, Chanticleer, and The King's Singers); producers and engineers specializing in a cappella (Bill Hare, diovoce, Liquid 5th Productions, VocalSource); annual festivals (like the Los Angeles A cappella Summit, SingStrong, SoJam, and the Vermont A cappella Summit); annual competitions (ICCA and ICHSA); national and international organizations (including BHS, CAL, CASA); recording awards (BOCA, CARAs, Voices Only); and a growing number of third-party critical and review organizations (Mouth Off, RARB).
A cappella music -- not the term, but the style of musical performance -- has been part of every human culture, and must be as old as humankind! Think of the naturally audible and meaningful harmony resulting from difference in basic pitch, or formant, between male and female voices, or adult and child voices.
Listen to A Cappella Music
A Cappella Albums: A Cappella Mega-Sale, singers.com and Amazon.com
Digital Downloads: iTunes, acaTunes and Amazon MP3.
Compilation Albums: The best of the best.
A Cappella Podcasts
Watch A Cappella Performances
A Cappella YouTubes Videos
Festivals: SoJam, LA-AF and more.
Competitions: ICCAs and Harmony Sweepstakes
CASA Calendar: Keep track of all events going on the a cappella world
Learn from the Professionals
CASAcademy: the comprehensive online learning portal for all things a cappella!
Getting A Cappella Arrangements: Total Vocal, Joseph Bates
Producing an A Cappella Album: Bill Hare, Dave Sperandio, VocalSource, Liquid 5th, and more.
Master Classes: available at all major festivals.
Get Involved / Find a Place to Sing
The Contemporary A Cappella League: Sing for Your Life!
The Collegiate A Cappella Directory
The CASA website
The Contemporary A Cappella League (CAL)
Ambassador Program: Volunteer at CASA.
A Cappella Originals Podcast
A Cappella Originals mp3 Library
Tunes To Teens (TTT)
Contemporary A Cappella Recording Awards (CARA)