Dictionary definition: "to sing without musical accompaniment". Like Janis Joplin singing "Mercedes-Benz", or you in the shower (and would you mind either keeping it down or learning the concept of staying in key? Thank you. And no more Counting Crows! OK? Sheesh!). But it's also used to describe doo-wop, which bends that definition a little: the group becomes the accompaniment for a soloist (usually its lead singer), in lieu of a backing band.

Literal translation, "in the chapel style". This refers to a period in Western music when sacred works were performed without accompaniment.

Think of Gregorian Chants from the 7th century until some of the masses in the 16th.

Back before Jinmyo took the oh-so-sensible action of correcting this node's title, it was "a capella." No big deal, right? One letter difference can't change "a cappella" that much!

Well, it does. In English, a desert is very different from a dessert, isn't it? But I digress. I don't ordinarily node spelling errors, but for this one, I had to. You see, I learned this particular mistake the hard way: I made 200 posters for the Mental Notes, a college a cappella group, and handed them to the president of the group, who spoke Italian. She laughed for a moment, until she realized how many I'd printed. It is amusing--the literal translation of "a capella" is "of (or with) a hat". The other common typo, "a capela", means "of/with capela", which is a type of pasta (think capellini, which are small capelas).

To clarify:

  • The Village People are "a capella".
  • The cast of Iron Chef is "a capela", and if wearing their hats, also "a capella".
  • The Mental Notes are "a cappella" unless there are hats or pasta onstage... which happens more often than you'd think.

Many thanks to Jinmyo for going through the hassle of changing the stripes on this tyger.

A cappella vocals are widely used in mash-up tracks. They are often extracted from CD tracks by an ingenious DIY method:

A CD single is located containing both a vocal and instrumental version of a song. Hopefully, the two tracks will be identical apart from the vocals. Both are ripped to uncompressed audio files - wav or AIFF. The rest is a combination of precision and mathematics, and no small amount of luck. The two files must be synchronised perfectly - this is achieved by visually editing the waveforms so that both begin at precisely the same point. The instrumental version is then inverted in a sound editor. By mixing the two files together, the instrumental can then be 'subtracted' from the vocal version. This should, hopefully, leave just the vocals - with a few unavoidable (and largely unnoticable) artefacts - ready for use.

Rap a cappellas are particularly valued, as their spoken nature makes them easy to integrate with another song. It's sometimes possible to find a CD single with an a cappella track included, which would be a huge time-saver. A cappella tracks are often traded via the web and file sharing programs. Some are more popular than others - Missy Elliot's Get Ur Freak On and Work It are somewhat ubiquitous.

A more detailed guide to this technique by a master of mash-ups can be found at http://4trak.net/dsico/archives/000082.html.

A cap*pel"la (#). [It. See Chapel.] Mus. (a)

In church or chapel style; -- said of compositions sung in the old church style, without instrumental accompaniment; as, a mass a capella, i. e., a mass purely vocal.


A time indication, equivalent to alla breve.

© Webster 1913.

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