How to Use Scat Singing Technique in Jazz

(Last Updated On: May 1, 2020)

This article aims to provide you with some knowledge of scat singing in jazz for those who may not be familiar yet with it. In learning how to sing jazz, particularly “scat singing“, instead of pronouncing the correct words in the song, the jazz singer sings strange phrases such as “da la be she-bo do-wa” or “do-be-do-bap-di-she-wah.”  Chances are, you may not be aware of these words, and you may be wondering about their meanings.

What Is Scat Singing?

Singer is Singing Jazz Song.

Jazz scat singing is vocalizing nonsense words that have no meaning along with syllables used by jazz singers to make the equivalent of a solo instrumental music with only the voice being used.  In the world of jazz music, this is known as voice instrumental.  This style of singing is actually an improvisation of vocal jazz with random use of syllables and nonsense vocables or no words at all.

If you hear scat singing for the first time, you may be amazed by the way the singer plays around with weird phrases and syllables, yet, they can be pleasing to your ears in general.  Scat singing enables jazz singers to render improvised rhythms and melodies to come up with an equivalent of solo instrumental music using only the voice.

This kind of singing may have been around for some time in the past, but scat singing has its own identity that is much different from past melodies.  Another type of jazz singing is called vocalese, and it differs from scat singing through the use of lyrics instead of nonsense syllables.  Usually, rather than using melody improvisation, vocalese practitioners sing the lyrics of the song through improvisations done by instrumental performers.

With scat singing in jazz, instead of utilizing the sounds to mimic the melody line, the rhythm and melody are improvised just like with other improvisations of jazz music.

Scat singing, in vocal jazz, is a kind of vocal improvisation characterized by wordless “vocables” and nonsense syllables even without any word at all. In scat singing, you can use improvised sounds and syllables to scat over some instrumental tracks. In this way, you can turn your voice like an improvisation instrument. You can do this by removing real words and by merely focusing on melody, sound, noise, or tone. Scat singing, therefore, can be done by anyone. You can simply start making noises that you think would sound great over the instrumental track that you are hearing.

Scatting also includes your ability to modulate, accentuate, and have fun with syllables. It is about using your entire body to create sounds and noises to improvise far more than the given syllables. As you practice scatting, you can start playing with variables to expand your range of musical vocabulary while singing greatly.


Factors to Consider while Scatting

1) Accent

Spoken scats are indefinitely pitched. Hence, it is crucial that you use vocal inflection that could be suggestive of melodic contour. It is also necessary that you know how to punctuate rhythms with succinct markings. Moreover, it is critical that you articulate accents. Notating scat does not necessarily require that the rest configurations are written. You can naturally accent the notes by simply altering the vowel. As a general rule, the primary note of tied notes must be accented because it is usually indicative of upbeat anticipation.

2) Tone

The tone usually refers to how you would sound when your chin is tucked in, and your chest is puffed out. It may also refer to how your mouth can change the sound quality of your singing.

3) Volume

You can draw the attention of your audience by going quieter. Afterward, you can begin to build up towards a louder crescendo with louder syllables. The volume of your singing voice is one of the major elements you can play with in order to deepen the emotion of the song.

4) Pitch

Pitch is one of the essential factors to consider when scat singing. You can easily identify novice scat soloists by their weakness in improvising rhythmic vocabulary.


Steps on How To Use Scat Singing in Jazz

Step 1: Listening to popular jazz singers can be of great help.  Try to look for Ella Fitzgeralds’ old recordings, along with the musical creations of Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Scatman Brothers, Cab Calloway, and Mel Torme.  Concentrate on listening to them several times on how they perform scat singing in jazz.

Step 2: Don’t neglect Warming up your voice every time you perform.  Drinking plenty of water and practicing some movements of your shoulders in a backward and forward direction can be of help.  The next step is humming and singing some scales, beginning in your lower range, and remaining at an easy range.

Step 3: Practice regularly singing arpeggios and scales.  In the case of arpeggios, you should make it very natural so that you can listen to background music, and be able to sing notes that can blend with it.  Performing jazz scat singing requires a good listening ability and a kind of voice that is flexible to sing any song.

Step 4: Mimic the recordings of your scat singing repetitively.  Here, you can sing along and learn how to sing scats.  When you have mimicked great jazz singers, try doing your own.

Step 5: Sing along with some instrumental jazz recordings.  At first, begin with an easy one just like the 8 bar blues, then, sing a melody in the music with your chosen syllables like yow, wee, bop, bee, etc.  By doing this, you will notice later that you have improved a lot in scat singing in jazz.

Developments of Scat Singing in Jazz

It may be true that based on records, scats singing in jazz music originated in West Africa just as many people believe.  The patterns of percussion may have changed into vocal lines by way of utilizing syllables applied to standard rhythms.  However, some people also believe that scat singing is the forerunner of jazz music singers based in the US with sounds imitated in jazz instruments.  This was entered in the early recordings of blues in New Orleans.

If you listen carefully to these words, you’ll probably wonder why the singer has included them with the lyrics of the song.  But as you go along listening to the tone of these phrases, you’ll become accustomed to them, and appreciate the melody because they’re nice to hear.  Scat singing is not new in the music industry; even in the past, you could have probably heard it already with some singers.

Prior to the widespread scat singing in jazz craze in the US, a kind of this singing style has already been used by a group of ragtime vocalists.  A couple of ragtime pioneers such as Tony Jackson and Ben Harney were already known scat singers as early as the 20th century.  A popular ragtime scat singer was named Gene Greene who made renditions of scat choruses in the song entitled “King of the Bungaloos” and other popular songs recorded in the years 1911 to 1917.

The well-known stage entertainer named Al Jolson also performed scat singing in his record entitled “That Haunting Melody” which was produced in 1911.  Other known jazz musicians who rendered scat singing in jazz include Red Nichols, Cliff Edwards and Don Redman.  However, the one who contributed a lot to popularize scat singing to a wider scope of audience was Louis Armstrong, through his record “Heebie Jeebies.”


Valuable Scat Singing Techniques

1) Duplets and Triplets

Although novice scat solos often make use of quarter and duplet rhythms because they are safer to use, the use of these rhythms, however, can be a significant damper. On the other hand, triplets when well-placed and tastefully used can significantly enhance phrases. It is important to note, however, that triplets are rarely used to accent middle notes. Moreover, long “e” is usually added for more balance and color.

As you get more comfortable with awesome straightforward rhythms, you can then shift to shorter, yet complex phrases. Always remember that duplets are simply two distinct sounds that are quickly thrown together, while triplets refer to three sounds. If you want to create a swinging bouncy feel, you can instead make use of other phrases while leaving spaces between them. You can do this instead of using or vocalizing straight quarter notes.

Another advice is to hold some notes as three beats; afterward, you can cram ten notes into two beats. Then, you can allow for some silence before scatting back again. This method of rhythmic variety is necessary to create surprise and tension at the same time. You can study how Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald do their own scatting as good examples of rhythmic variation. Rhythmic variation is undoubtedly an innovative way to create complex and more enjoyable scat solo without necessarily creating crazy vocal range and notes.

2) Being Cognizant of Chord Progressions

If you want to become a versatile jazz singer who could improvise or scat, it would be good for you to learn the rudiments of chord progressions. As you learn and become master of chord progressions, you can become a great scat singer for great scat singers and soloists are usually locked into the underlying melody and chords of the song that they are singing over. They can perfectly adjust their melody at the right time because they know the next chord changes in the song. You can become a master scat singer if you would listen intently to the song that you are going to sing over. As you listen over and over again, you will get the hang of the chords, and they will feel natural to you.

Moreover, it is also important to be cognizant of the following chord progressions like the 12-bar blues. The 12-Bar Blues is the most common progression in Western Music. In this progression, you will notice that no matter what the key is, the chords will still change in the same manner and order. This progression allows you to scat easily to any 12-bar blues anytime and anywhere as long as you know the form.

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