Improvised Voice Instrumental Music

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Project by Robert Searle

This entry is concerned with the possible development of Improvised Voice Instrumental Music, which can also be more simply referred to as Vocal Music. Essentially, it involves the use of the human voice to imitate musical instruments realistically but at the same time producing new compositions spontaneously (ie. improvised, impromptu/on the spot pieces). This latter feature distinguishes it from ordinary non-improvised melodious, and "non-melodious" Voice Instrumental Music, and is an area which can be deemed as being mainly terra incognito as far as "mainstream" music is concerned.

To many ordinary music lovers, musicians, and composers, the above will at first appear to be outlandish. Evidence clearly indicates though that the human voice can be trained to imitate the sounds of many musical instruments very effectively. Certain performances by a capella groups such as the Swingle Singers,the House Jacks(American) and Vocal Sampling (Cuban)are good examples of this. Indeed, there have been some "experimental" uses of it (of varying quality) via "mainstream" pop (eg. Bobby McFerrin), and classical music (eg. Gorecki who used a form of "chanting"in his famous Symphony No. 3.). Infact, the voice has not only been utilised to produce musical sounds effectively but also a whole variety of other "noises" too. The Hollywood Film Chorale Sounds Effects Choir springs to mind especially their Honda advert which involved the sounds of what a car can make in certain situations, and climes. This ofcourse was undertaken by the human voice.

This p2pfoundation entry has relevance because it implies. among other things that budding voice "artists" could offer up audio-visual materials of themselves performing on the internet. These could be solo, or group performances. Such recordings could be examined critically, and seriously by their peers, and improvements suggested.


The following presents some other basic insights on Voice Instrumental Music. But it must be undertstood that this subject is actually vast, and has all kinds of potentials which are largely unknown, or under-appreciated.

A.Basic Answers to Objections concerning Voice Instrumental Music.

Some people may think that effective vocalisations, or improvisations of musical instruments as being something "mad", or "too avant-garde". Au contraire, it is "natural", and challenging but has yet to attain a high degree of mainstream musical respectability.

Others might think of the whole subject as being something puerile. Again, it is not, if the vocalisers concerned can create mature, and interesting sounds.

Along with good whistling can be great value as an adjunct if performed well. It can sound just like an instrument being played, and indeed, maybe termed Improvised Musical Whistling in this context of this p2p entry.

For some, ordinary melodious, and "non-melodious" Voice Instrumental Music is seen by some as being something which is common, and cannot be taken too seriously as a genuine art form. Ofcourse, people do hum which can give an illusion of hearing many instruments at once in a band, or an orchestra. This is quite "common" but it is never really developed into something better, and more artistic.This in fact requires real skill, and practice, and is not as easy as it might look.

Furthermore, if most, or indeed, perhaps all the sounds of all musical instruments can be imitated then it raises the question of their necessity! Naturally, such a claim is absurd in extremis to some extent. Voice Instrumental Music should be seen as just another way of performing music which is both entertaining, and interesting.

It should be added that such music should be done without too much strain on the vocal chords. Thus, microphones should be used so that the resulting sounds are applified. This is very important to take note of so to speak.

B. The Emergence of "Experimental" Improvised Voice Instrumental Music. Basic Theory, and Practice.

Now, we shall have a somewhat brief look at melodious Improvised Voice Instrumental Music. This goes beyond Voice Instrumental Music as already indicated, and is more important. It is something which could be seriously developed. It could have important commercial implications if a cappella performers could be trained to do it successfully.

In many respects, it could represent a "revolutionary" step in the world of music because it involves musical intelligence to a very profound degree. It is spontaneous, impromptu/on the spot performances of new music which can be based on any musical style (eg. pop, baroque, jazz, renaissance, medieval, et al). It is a theory yet to be made provable by expert performers who would appear live on the public stage, on the radio, on the internet, and on television. Each performance would produce new high quality music by means of the human voice. It would be recorded for prosterity (if it is of a high professional quality), and/or even be transcribed into musical score if desired by means of specially programmed computers.

One performer could produce a simple tune be it string-like (eg.lute, guitar) piano-like, woodwind-like (eg. recorder, flute), and so on. The aim of Improvised Voice Instrumental Music is not necessarily to get an exact replication of an instrument (though purists may insist!). Rather it is the desire to create greater, and greater musical diversity by means of the voice. Some of this may not even have any obvious comparison to any known musical instrument.

How could the above be undertaken? As soon as one performer starts the others could with expert listening imitate the spontaneous melodious notes using distinct different instrumental-like vocal sounds in the most harmonious way possible. This for an amateur would be difficult in extremis. It would require some practice.

Another approach could involve the "opening" performer to stop after a few minutes, and one, or more person could carry on . Yet, they would produce a new "free-form" composition spontaneously. Other ideas could be introduced.

Strictly speaking, it must be said that Improvised Voice Instrumental Music is not exactly the same as the Jewish Nigunin of the Kabbalah tradition, Tuva Singing, Scat Singing in Jazz, Buddhist/Tibetan Chanting, Puirt a Beul(or Celtic Mouth Music, or "diddling"),Beatboxing, Yodelling, and other throat, or overtone singing. These vocal expressions are fine to a point but are not necessarily "melodious". Yet, Improvised Voice Instrumental Music should ideally be more "refined", and artistic par excellence. This is the point to grasp. Naturally enough, it can challenge orthodox musical thinking, and if successfully performed could open up new areas of music.It could even have esoteric, or spiritual implications too. It could be used as a form of creative concentration, and meditation. The scope is infact vast as well as the possible introduction of new spontaneous styles done in a mature manner.....

Yet, how could one learn to do it? The most obvious way for a beginner is to listen to music in general, and to instruments individually. Then, one simply tries to imitate the sound, and record them at home to see how realistic, and three dimensional they may appear. It is necessary to be a firm task master on all this to ensure that quality sounds are produced.

Onomatopeia is one method which could be used as a teaching aid for melodious Improvised Voice Instrumental Music. In music it can involve words that sound like the actual sound so to speak! For example, "boom" of a drum acts as a verbalisation of a musical sound. Another instance, is the "twang" of a guitar.

However, short nonsense words can be used for Voice Instrumental Music, and Improvised Voice Instrumental Music.The Swingle Singers have notably done examples of this on occasion. They have used repeated nonsense words such Bah, Bah, La, La, Na, Na, et cetera to form a piece of music. In Improvisation, the main concern should be the spontaneous creation of non-verbal music as opposed to short nonsense words.

More Information

YouTube notably has many examples of Voice Instrumental Music, and some links are presented here. Ofcourse, it can be improvised as well, as clearly stated in the above text. Such an approach is arguably far more challenging, and indeed, more interesting if done in a very professional, and credible way. Anyway, the examples presented below are of varying quality, and should give us an idea of the remarkable creative abilities of the Human Voice. Honda advert House Jacks a capella The Swingle Singers Nintendo Voices The Vocapeople Vocal Sampling Yodelling Beatboxing Tuva Throat Singing Jewish Nigun Mouth Music Scat Singing Bobby McFerrin

"Vocalised dance music is surprisingly widespread....."

David Munrow (1942-1976).

PS. As a side interest the following link may be of interest