How to Sing A Cappella

Five Parts:Learning to SingImproving Your A CappellaJoining an A Cappella GroupForming Your Own GroupGigging And Performing

Singing a cappella is slightly different from other singing experiences. It requires a higher level of vocal prowess, and is often more demanding in terms of range and technique. There's no substitute for practice and voice lessons, but there's a lot you can learn to make the path easier.

Part 1
Learning to Sing

  1. 1
    Learn basic singing techniques. If you want to be a singer, it's vital to articulate and to project your voice. Untrained singers often breathe from too high in their chest, compress their throat as they sing, and adopt poor posture that affects their voice. Whenever you sing, stand up straight, place your feet shoulder width apart, and roll back your shoulders. Keep your chin straight and breathe from your diaphragm, low in your torso.
  2. 2
    Practice a cappella. Start with a simple song you know by heart. Listen to the tune intently to make sure you are singing it correctly; most people adopt minor changes without realizing it. Identify the starting note of the song, and which key the song is in. Keep practicing until you can sing the song all the way through without switching keys.
    • Assuming you do not have perfect pitch, use a pitch pipe to get you started on the first note.
  3. 3
    Take classes. Singers can broadly be categorized into two groups, the trained professional and the talented amateur. Nearly all trained singers can immediately tell when someone has been trained, simply from the pitch, phonation and projection of the singer. Singing a cappella requires vocal flexibility, durability, and a good ear. Professional voice training will help you improve these skills.
  4. 4
    Join a choir. Joining a good choir will rapidly improve your voice, pitching, ear, and sight-singing. In addition, it builds the maturity and professionalism needed to sing as part of a group. If you don't have any choral experience, pay particular attention to these skills:
    • Learn to sight sing or pitch off the singer who has the solo or melody. Using your own memory or perfect pitch can disrupt the group.
    • Support the group by blending in with other singers. Singing too loudly, trilling, or singing with a titled larynx, or singing in thick folds while the choir is in thin folds can all cause issues if you drown out the rest of the group.
  5. 5
    Get performance experience. Many singers overlook this, but getting performance experience both as a part of an ensemble and as a soloist is very important. Learning to overcome stage fright and stress is vital for any performer.
    • Stage fright can cause your false vocal cords to constrict. If not addressed, this can make your voice muddy, grainy, breathy, or strained, and could lead to fatigue and damage.
    • Pace yourself in performances. If your voice is easily fatigued, sing glottal. If the performance involves dancing, try to avoid running out of air.
    • It's significantly easier to overcome nerves in a group, another reason why choir performances are a good idea.

Part 2
Improving Your A Cappella

  1. 1
    Understand the group dynamic. Singing too loudly is a common mistake in a cappella. Remember your role in the group. At any moment, only one or two voices are the melody. These should come across loud and clear, enough so that they have some flexibility to reduce volume for effect. The other singers are the equivalent of percussion and background instruments, and are there to harmonize and keep the rhythm.
    • Of course, a bass singer may drop the percussion part for a short solo or a bridge. Understand when projection is appropriate, and when to keep it quiet.
    • Many a cappella groups have set parts, often a soprano/meso soprano part, an alto part, a tenor part, a bass part, and perhaps a beat boxer. Baritone parts, while beautiful, are very rare, as tenors and basses can often sing the baritone parts. Depending on your range, you may be able to choose a part each song, rather than always getting one part.
  2. 2
    Practice a consistent tone. You'll need a good ear and a confident tone, two attributes that come with plenty of practice. Avoid sliding down or swooping up to a note, a bad habit which is particularly dangerous a cappella. Also make sure you do not drift downward in pitch as the song progresses, another common mistake.
    • Keeping a consistent rhythm is important as well. Avoid changing tempo without thinking, and respect the rests.
  3. 3
    Prepare for durability and flexibility. Since a cappella is all voice, you'll be singing more than you would in a typical performance. You'll need the vocal durability to keep this up the whole way. You should also be ready for on-the-fly adjustments, as many a cappella groups like to switch up the tempo, dynamics, and parts.
    • Your voice will be much more durable if you learn proper singing techniques.
  4. 4
    Practice arranging harmonies. Many performing a cappella groups write their own arrangements, and some gigs and competitions require it. You'll need to understand how to construct pleasing harmonies.
    • If you're not yet able to recognize and sing 3rds, 5ths, and other intervals, practice singing scales with these intervals. For example, when singing any scale, sing 1,3,1,3,1, then go a semitone up and repeat.
  5. 5
    Extend your vocal range. Many a cappella arrangements require certain singers to sing with extended ranges, especially tenors, sopranos and altos. Even if you are able to sing all the notes in a song's range, you may need additional practice to keep the sound fluid and soft. Tenors in particular may need practice flipping between modal and falsetto registers.
  6. 6
    Be professional. Respect the other singers involved, including the effort they go through to fit the a cappella group into their schedule. When you're late to a rehearsal, you're letting everyone down and wasting their time. Keep a professional, mature attitude, and don't expect to always be the center of attention.
  7. 7
    Develop your performance. Solo and a cappella delivery are very different. If you incorporate dance routines or gestures into your performance, make sure everyone is on the same page. The performance just doesn't work if one member is rocking the upbeat 70's moves, while another looks like they're performing a Whitney Houston ballad.

Part 3
Joining an A Cappella Group

  1. 1
    Consider solo singing. It is possible to be a solo a cappella singer, by recording yourself singing each part. Most singers are more interested in group singing, but this could be a way to become more familiar with the style while you're looking for an opportunity.
  2. 2
    Look for an audition to preexisting groups. Find these by scouring the internet, forming connections with other singers, and looking in local newspapers. Remember to be safe about where you audition, and avoid offers that look too good to be true.
  3. 3
    Prepare your "musical CV.". This document should outline past experience, the styles and schools you trained in, any special programs or vocal health workshops you've attended, and any groups or choirs you've been a part of. You may also include any musical study you did, how many minutes of repertoire you have, and so forth.
  4. 4
    Attend the audition well prepared. Make sure you know your part as well as you possibly can. If you get to choose your audition piece, bring sheet music with you so the people judging you can follow along and see whether you're singing it accurately. If the audition requires you to sing a certain part in a certain arrangement, make sure you can stick to your part even in a group, as this may be how they test you.
    • Get plenty of rest and water in the days prior to the audition.
    • Make sure you're well dressed and well groomed. Dress for the part and for the general vibe of the group, not just based on what flatter you personally.
    • Confidence is key. Smile, look the group members in the eye and tell them loudly and clearly your name, what you'll sing and who the song is by. Hand them the music and your "musical CV," stand up straight, and sing with confidence.

Part 4
Forming Your Own Group

  1. 1
    Advertise to form a group. If there are no suitable a cappella groups in your area, consider forming your own. Here are the first steps:
    • Put together a demo pack about yourself. This can include solo pieces with your choir, a recording over a backing track, or a snippet from a singing recital. Make singers feel like it would be great to work with you.
    • Market, market, market. Tell your singer friends, and ask them to tell their friends to. If you're in a choir, invite anyone you think would be a good fit. Advertise your contact details.
    • Close the entries at a certain date, and hold yourself to that cut off date with an iron grip.
  2. 2
    Organize the auditions. Once your entries are in, narrow them down to the people you think deserve an audition. Don't make the mistake of going too easy on people out of fear that you won't find enough members. It's better to put out a second call than to clog the auditions with people you can't accept.
    • Make sure you know the range of each person auditioning in advance.
  3. 3
    Hold the audition. Here's an example of how an audition could go:
    • Hit a few keys on the piano within the singer's range, or sing a few notes on your own, and ask them to pitch them back to you. A good singer should be able to hit the notes without sliding into them.
    • Ask the singer to sing a short snippet of a song to you.
    • Ask whether the singer has perfect pitch. Someone with perfect pitch can be great for providing starting pitches at live gigs, but the singer must be able to ignore it and stick to the group when the group goes slightly off-key.
  4. 4
    Choose the group. Diversity is key. Just as there are many different instruments in an orchestra, you'll need different vocal ranges. A spread of voices ranging from bass to soprano unlocks many more arrangements than a few voices near the same range. The size of the group is up to you: a talented group can succeed with five singers, but you could form a large a cappella choir if that's what you're interested in.
    • A beat boxer can be very useful to keep rhythm.
    • You may need to run additional ads or word-of-mouth campaigns to fill the final position or two. Be as specific as possible for these, for instance "Seeking a leggiero tenor with a range of at least B flat1- B7'."

Part 5
Gigging And Performing

  1. 1
    Find gigs. Assume that you followed all the steps above and your group is dedicated, rehearsals should run smoothly. The real challenge is honing your performance, and finding opportunities to try it. Gigging in a cappella is a little different than the pub and restaurant sets where many other musicians start out, as light choral-inspired music is not usually in demand there. You can expect to sing for free for a while to build up your name recognition. Here are a few places to consider volunteering (or to look for paid work, if you can get it):
    • Caroling for churches, hospitals and nursing homes
    • Weddings and other events
    • Busking and fundraisers
    • Sing back-up vocals for another performer
  2. 2
    Bring something unique to the table. To make it big, your songs must immediately ring a bell in people's minds. You want the audience to remember your faces, appreciate your voices, and get your songs stuck in their heads. Set yourself apart with dancing, dress, or an unusual singing style. You can take this nearly to the pantomime level — perhaps not as far as the sock-waving "Sock-A-Pella" group in Pitch Perfect, but getting close to it.
  3. 3
    Hone your performance. Your sound is your main priority, but spend effort on other visual aspects such as facial expressions and choreography. A giant smile during a blues song can make the experience off-kilter. All dancing should be well-practiced and fit the song's theme — no vogue dancing during a quiet heartbreak song.


  • A cappella has become more famous due to its use in modern songs, but its origins are choirs and barber shop quartets. Most songbooks designed for a cappella only contain these older songs. Most a cappella groups expect you to understand music theory and create your own arrangements.
  • Don't be discouraged if you don't get chosen after an audition. Most musicians put in years of practice and many auditions before they find their dream opportunity.
  • Don't focus so much on the harmonies that you forget to practice singing with lyrics. Quality intonation, pacing, and enunciation are good skills to have.

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Categories: Singing | Music Techniques