Voice instrumental music

From Academic Kids

Voice instrumental music is the term used for compositions and improvisations for the human voice. This kind of music treats the human voice as an instrument just like the violin or the piano. It seeks to use the expressive capabilities of the human voice to express and perform music without words like a spontaneous improvisation on percussion or a violin sonata. It involves a class of singing which does not use words. In these cases the voice is normally being used as if it is a musical instrument with the mouth producing timbre and rhythm.

Most of all the increase in the listening of music across cultures has inadvertently made the experience of songs of different languages as voice instrumentals.


Mediterranean-voice instrumentals

Elaborate traditions of improvisations was and still is an important element in Turkish and Middle Eastern music traditions. Such voice music existed prior to the 1200s and the First Crusade into Palestine and the city of Jerusalem, possibly even before the year 900. The early christian plain songs and gregorian chants have their origins in Jewish voice instrumental music called as nigun.

Ancient voice music

Its use may even be older, considering that contemporary music and classic European music developed as a derivative of its parents, the Classic Poetry and the Myth-Drama plays from the Fertile Crescent Civilizations of Ancient Asia Minor and Northern Africa (Egypt, Rome, Persia, Mesopotamia Valley, Greece, Ethiopia, etc).

Interestingly, the modern descendants of the ancient !Kung tribes and clans of Southern Africa utilize similar traditional music techniques. That could mean the practice of musical onomatopoeia may be as old as human civilization.

European classical - Voice instrumental music

In European classical music, especially, since the music of Schoenberg, Carl Orff and Wagnerian composers, the role of voice instrumental music for solo vocalist, voices or chorus, as part of the orchestral score, has become very prominent.

The tradition of voice instrumental is very old and strong one in European classical music. It has its roots in the Jewish Nigun and further elaborated in the Gregorian chants. The Vocal instrumental concerto and the figured bass, along with a cappella compositions, during the baroque were a form of the use of the voice as an elaborate instrument. Later on Mozart operas had many arias begin in gibberish using the voice as a tonal instrument. This led to the serious use of voice instrumental music in classical compositions.

However, it was only with the rise of orchestral harmonic-chromatic music that voice instrumental music became a forceful feature in compositions. Richard Wagner used the voice as an integral instrument of the orchestra. His music interwoved the human voice and the orchestral counterpoints into a structural whole. Continuing this German neo-romantic tradition was the music of Gustav Mahler. His compositions used the voice as an orchestral instrument. Even though the voices are assigned words, the essential purpose of the voice is to express the human voice beyong words and linguistic meaning. This is exemplified in the symphonic compositions Das Lied von der Erde and Symphony no 8 also called as symphony of a thousand, because of its usage of a 150 musician voice orchestra along with a 120 person symphony orchestra.

Voice instrumental in 20th century Classical music

In 20th century classical music, one of the most prominent voice instrumental composers was the German composer Carl Orff. He composed voice instrumental music like Carmina Burana and Catulli Carmina, using voices and choral music which created forceful and primitive inspired rhythmic patterns and simple but powerful harmonic structure. The Second viennese school, especially Alban Berg and Schoenberg made the elaborate use of voice as instrument in what they called as Sprechmusik and Sprechstimme. Schoenberg employed these in his music Pierrot Lunaire, while Berg employed it in Wozzeck. Their music was also called as Sprechgesang. Voice orchestra was also used in the Kyrie by the Swiss composer Frank Martin.

In avant-garde music, voice instrumental musics became an integral aspect of aleatory music by composers like Luciano Berio and Steve Reich. The Russian composer Vladimir Chekasin wrote a piece called as (concerto for voice and orchestra), using the voice as a soloist instrument instead of the violin or the piano. Other concerto for voices were written by John Herbert Foulds : Lyra Celtica: Concerto for voice and orchestra op. 50 (1920s) and Reinhold M. Glière : concerto for voice and orchestra (1943).

The Polish composer Henryk Gorecki composed a prominent part for voice as an instrument in the holocaust music, symphony no3: symphony of sorrowful songs.

At present elaborate voice instrumental improvisations have become an important part of European free improvisation. This is a type of European classical music that combines the flow of improvisations and the rigour of atonal music.

Voice Transmutation in experimental Classical music

The French composer Pierre Boulez makes use of voice transmutation which he calls as centre and absence. In this the voice is used as an initial compositional model but which would not appear in the final form. Voice transmutation are also done by composers like Jonathan Harvey in compositions like Mortuos plango, vivos voco which interpolates the voice into instrument with the aid of computer techniques.

Voice instrumental in Classical Rock

Voice instrumental music is featured in Pink Floyd music; The great gig in the sky, from the album the Dark side of the moon. The classical rock piece Echoes by Pink Floyd, also uses the voice as part of the instrumental music even though there are sparse lyrics assigned to the voice parts.

Carnatic voice improvisation

A form of Voice improvisation called as Thillana is a very important feature of Carnatic music from South India.

Mouth music - Scottish

The musical tradition of mouth music was used in various forms of traditional music in the Anglo-Saxon and Gaelic communities.

Jazz and Pop Voice instrumentals

The most common types of voice improvisation in the Western world are found in jazz which knows it as scat singing and vocalese. In pop music, doo-wop and rap music employ it, and in the Gaelic tradition which has many terms for it, one of which is diddling. The nonsense choruses of old English ballads, "Hey nonny nonny" and the like are another well known example. Contemporary Jazz musicians have used what they call as voicestra. Using the voice as an orchestral ensemble. Barbershop music style is also used in many a popular songs. Jazz composers like Rhiannon have concentrated on exploring the beauty of voice instrumental improvisations in jazz music.

Hip hop has a very distinct form of vocal percussion called as Beatboxing. It involves, evoking many of the sound effects of pop music like creating beats, rhythms, vocal scratching and melodies using the human voice as an instrument.


Onomatopoeic music uses the mouth and vocal folds (that is, voice) as the primary musical instrument. A common musical tool in European and American cultures is a method of voice music, technically called as solfege. A solfege is a vocalized musical scale that is commonly known as Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-La-Ti. A solfege may be sung, spoken or used in a combination. A variety of similar tools are found in scat singing of jazz, Delta blues and also rock and roll and the ska of reggae (the last which is also called Two Tone).

Voice instrumental in Popular music

The neo-minimalist Film composer James Horner wrote music with voice instrumental passages by Charlotte Church for the motion picture A beautiful mind. A vocal orchestra music is used in the motion picture Paradise Road. It presented a 50 member female singing ensemble, set in the Japanese front of world war II.

Another contemporary example is the almost entirely a cappella album, Medúlla, by Icelandic singer/songwriter Björk. It features beatboxing, choral arrangements and throat singing.

Our Prayer by Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys is a wordless, acapella workout, featuring multiple vocal lines that intertwine and modulate into various chord shapes.


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