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A Cappella FAQ Part 1/7

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Subject: A Cappella FAQ Part 1/7

See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge


Since the inception of the newsgroup in early April
1993, a cappella singers and fans the world over have been discussing all
manner of topics on both a cappella newsgroups, and as people come and go,
the same questions will no doubt be asked several times. To make the
newsgroup a better place for us all, please read this file before asking a
question that might have been asked before. Of course, if a topic is not
covered within to your satisfaction, feel free to discuss it on the 'Net.

The topics are arranged in Q/A form. The questions have been arranged into
seven sections:
  1) General Information and A Cappella Organizations
  2) Getting Started in A Cappella and Copyright Issues
  3) A Cappella Albums, Arrangements, Workshops, and Competitions
  4) Arranging, Performing, and Recording A Cappella
  5) A Cappella Recordings
  6) A Cappella Groups
  7) A Cappella Internet Resources

Album reviews and advertisements for albums are not included in this FAQ.
Although some may say it isn't fair to include discographies and such for
certain professional groups and not for collegiate groups (for example),
we have included this information because people frequently ask for it.

If you're looking for a particular college group's album, you can always
link to their home page via our web directory, and they're bound to have a
list of all available albums as well as ordering information. You can also
search CASA's Yellow Pages at  .
For a list of all known collegiate and professional albums, check out the
CASA album library at

If you have any ideas for questions to add to this FAQ, please contact us.
We can be emailed by replying to this post or email direct to Feel free to ask us any a cappella related questions as

A Cappella FAQ - Part One: General Information and A Cappella Organizations

Questions answered in part 1:
   Q 1.1 What is a cappella? Is there a standard definition of "a cappella
music", and what makes an "a cappella group"?
   Q 1.2  How do I learn to sing in an a cappella group? Can just anyone do it?
   Q 1.3 What is the range of the various vocal parts?
   Q 1.4 Are there any international or national organizations for a
cappella singers and/or fans?
   Q 1.5 Are there any a cappella publications?
   Q 1.6 Are there any people in my area who can tell me about the local a
cappella scene?
   Q 1.7 Are there any a cappella radio shows in my area?
Q 1.1 What is a cappella? Is there a standard definition of "a cappella
music" and what makes an "a cappella group"?

The phrase "a cappella" is Italian in origin, as are most musical terms.
Literally it translates to "in the style of the chapel" which does *not*
mean "unaccompanied". It refers to choral music without *separate*
instrumental accompaniment. Instruments may be used to double the vocal
parts, such as using an electric bass to strengthen the vocal bass line,
and the piece is still a cappella.

In light of this, an "a cappella group" is one that sings a cappella
music. But does a group such as the Nylons, who often use synthesized bass
and drum machine, or Boyz II Men, who perform some songs a cappella but
are usually accompanied, qualify as an a cappella group? This question is
left to individual discretion and opinion.

However, to most people in the world, the term a cappella means "music
created with nothing more than the human voice." With the growing
popularity of vocal percussion and other vocally produced instrumental
textures, a wider range of vocal sounds is being employed, and fewer
instrumental doublings and drum machines are being found.

Also, it should be noted that a cappella isn't a style of music - it's
simply a choice of instrumentation (in this case it's a lack thereof). A
cappella is found in virtually every style of music, and is a part of the
musical tradition of every culture around the globe.

The spelling of "a cappella" can also get on some people's nerves if not
done properly: a letter to the editor in the CAN (Contemporary A Cappella
Newsletter) commented: "In truth, 'a capella' means 'in your hair,' 'a
cappello' means 'in your hat,' and 'A Capella' is an astronomical
reference to the first planet circling the star Capella in the
constellation Auriga." ;-)

Vocal band, another term used to descibe a cappella groups today, has
recently crept into the vocabulary of contemporary a cappella. Deke
Sharon, CASA President and Musical Director for The House Jacks, put this
spin on the usage of the term. "I think 'Vocal Band' is a subset of 'A
Cappella'. much as Barbershop is. The term is an attempt to create a new
image in the minds of the uninitiated. In other words, within our circles,
the term is largely moot, as most of us can write a dissertation on the
differences between Spiral Mouth and m-pact's sound, style, repertoire,
etc. To the outside world, however, a cappella usually connotates
barbershop, doo-wop or choral music -- none of which accurately represent
many current groups."

Q 1.2 How do I learn to sing in an a cappella group? Can just anyone do it?

Sure, but like most things in life, it takes practice to be great. A good
sense of pitch is important as is a good singing voice (particularly one
that can blend with others). Singing a cappella is much like singing in a
chorus, except there is usually only one person singing each part so it
demands more from each vocalist. Novices might find more enjoyment (and
less stress) by joining an a cappella chorus initially, rather that a
group that has them alone on their part. Other ways to improve are to take
voice lessons and to practice singing background parts along with a
cappella recordings.

Q 1.3 What is the range of the various vocal parts?

The standard range, or compass, of the traditional parts is as follows:
(with C4 = middle C, C3 = C below middle C, etc.)

Soprano: C4 - A5 (Also known as treble)
Alto: G3 - D5 (Also known as contralto)
Tenor: C3 - G4
Bass: F2 - D4

Note that the ranges aren't meant to describe possible capability, just
the vast commonality that arrangers typically use when playing it "safe."

Also, bass/baritone falsetto goes up to at least A5/C6 territory, and with
C2 being a low but commonly reachable bass note. Four octaves is certainly
possible for a fair number of basses or baritones. 

Note for vocalists: If you're wondering what voice part you are, realize
that range is only part of the equation. The "center" or "sweet part" of
your range may tell you more than a laundry list of the notes you can hit.
For example, many male a cappella vocalists are tenors, even though they
can sing all of the requisite bass notes (or even sing lower). Also, some
popular musical styles and techniques have challenged these traditional
ranges as many singers are often singing outside of their previously
accepted range. For example, second altos in female quartets often sing a
"bass line" that pushes the bottom of their range, and many groups utilize
modern or non-western vocal techniques (like vocal percussion) that aren't
as dependent on pitch as they are on timbre.

Note for arrangers: You should arrange (or transpose) your music so that
your vocalists can stay roughly within these boundaries, unless you know
that a specific vocalist can sing comfortably outside them. These voice
ranges are the standard upon which most traditional choral writing and
arranging is done. One exception is that many a cappella groups
incorporate a man singing in his falsetto voice, which usually adds at
least an octave to the top of his range. Your best bet is to find out the
specific ranges of the voices you're arranging for before hand.

Q1.4 Are there any international or national organizations for a cappella
singers and/or fans?

Yes! There are several....

* The Contemporary A Cappella Society of America - CASA *
CASA is a non-profit organization that was formed in 1990 to foster and
promote a cappella music. Members include thousands of fans and vocalists
as well as professional, collegiate, and recreational a cappella groups
around the world.

CASA publishes a newsletter, The Contemporary A Cappella News (The CAN),
filled with articles covering all aspects of a cappella from the latest
news and an international calendar to interviews and how-to articles. CASA
provides assistance and information for all a cappella members - from fans
to professional musicians. There are several levels of membership -
including Basic (mainly for individuals) and Advanced (more for groups),
plus other levels at a higher cost, of course, but with lots of added
perks. ;-) Check The CASA Web page at to find a full
listing of all the CASA benefits and services.

There are several related companies and organizations that offer discounts
to CASA members who have joined at the Advanced Level or above.

CASA has an International network of volunteers, called Ambassadors, that
are there to help those who love a cappella, with everything from finding
fellow singers to publicizing a cappella events where they live. To find
and ambassador near you, check the complete listing at

CASA is also involved in outreach programs such as The Urban Harmony
Movement and A Cappella Radio International and are co-sponsors of the A
Cappella Summit. They publish songbooks, release CDs, and publish
materials that can help all a cappella performers - a full service
organization for performers and fans alike. (More details on these
programs can be found in later, more pertinent sections of this FAQ.)

CASA has several other programs designed to fit the needs of nearly
everyone, both fans and performers alike.   
1) Acappellafest, day long events various locations around the country -
filled with singing, performances and workshops.  More info can be found
2) A program of Sunday Sings where fans get together and sing - just for
fun.  Check out
3) A Cappella Academy where you can learn skills needed to perform,
arrange and write music. There's more info at
4) Classified Ads, where you can post ads - whether they be for a group
looking for a singer or vice versa. Go to

    PMB #1449
    1850 Union St. #14
    San Francisco CA 94123-4309
    Phone: 415.563.5224
    Fax: 415.921.2834

NOTE: In case you are curious about the letter "A" in the CASA acronym, it
stands for "of America" which is still part of the legal name.  However,
in an effort to reach the International audience, it is not used in many

SPEBSQSA stands for The Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of
Barbershop Quartet Singing in America. They are a very large organization,
with over 35,000 members. In addition to sponsoring educational workshops
and competitions from local to international levels, SPEBSQSA assists high
school music programs through its "Harmony Explosion" program. SPEBSQSA
also supports the following charities: Heartspring, a lifeskills learning
center in Wichita, Kansas, that treats speech disabilities in children and
adults, and SingAmerica/SingCanada, a fund that supports a variety of
projects to encourage vocal music in our education systems and our

They have a number of useful pamphlets on singing and arranging, as well
as an arranger's manual, available for about $30. Note that this manual
only deals with barbershop-style arranging, which deals almost solely with
major, minor, and dominant seventh chords. SPEBSQSA run a week-long
training camp in the first week of August in St. Joseph, Missouri called
Harmony College, and run competitions extensively.

6315 Third Avenue
Kenosha, WI 53143-5199
Phone: 1.800.876.SING (8464) (or from overseas 414.653.8440)
Fax: 414.654.4048

The Barbershop FAQ can be found at

You can get the latest version of this FAQ via email at: and
in the BODY of message type: "SEND HARMONET FAQ"  As with all usenet
newsgroups and mailing lists, proper "netiquette" calls for you to read
the FAQ files before sending questions to the list. NOTE: The scope of
this FAQ does not cover all aspects of barbershop harmony, or even of
SPEBSQSA. To keep this file relatively short, its intent is to cover the
content of the barbershop mailing list so that new members can come up to
speed quickly.

There are a number of affiliated (but independent) organizations in
several countries, including:

Australian Association of Men Barbershop Singers (AAMBS)
Mell McMichael, President,
16 Booral Street
Buderim, Queensland 4556, Australia
Web: http://

BinG! Barbershop in Germany, 
Manfred Adams, President
Schwanenwall 37
44135 Dortmund, Germany
Phone:   ++49.231.527449
Fax: ++49.231.571285

British Association of Barbershop Singers (BABS)
Central Communications Office (CCO) for
Frank Withey
16 Wessex Road
Horndean, Waterlooville,
Hampshire, England
Phone/fax +44 1705 593558

Dutch Association of Barbershop Singers (DABS)
Herman Feitsma, President,
Klavermeen #1
Harderwyk 3844 BR, The Netherlands

Irish Association of Barbershop Singers (IABS)
Mark Elmes - Chairman
Fir Hill House, Monkstown, Co. Cork
Phone: +353 21 841086

New Zealand Association of Barbershop Singers (NZABS)
Ross Gainsford, President
25 Gordon Street
Avalon, Lower Hutt, New Zealand

Society of Nordic Barbershop Singers (SNOBS)
Kjell Lindberg, President
Norrangsvagen 54 (two dots over both a's)
S-141 43 Huddinge, Sweden

Southern Part of Africa Tonsorial Songsters (SPATS)
Chris Molyneux, President
PO Box 242, Rondebosch 7700
Cape Province, South Africa

* Sweet Adelines International *
The Sweet Adelines are the female counterpart to SPEBSQSA, with around
29,000 members around the world. Although they also emphasize the
barbershop style of harmonizing, they don't make as much of an effort to
"preserve the style" as SPEBSQSA. The Sweet Adelines web site has links to
many local Sweet Adelines web pages. Check there if you desire more
information about what's happening in your location.

Sweet Adelines International
PO Box 470168
Tulsa, Oklahoma 74147
Phone: 1.800.992.SING

* Harmony Incorporated *
Harmony, Inc. was formed when the board of directors of Sweet Adelines,
Inc. passed a By-Law that was not accepted by the membership. There was no
right of referendum, however, so the By-Law remained. The result was that
five chapters left the organization in 1957. By 1959 they were able to
incorporate and formed Harmony, Inc., incorporated in Rhode Island as a
democratic organization with a right of referendum.

Harmony Incorporated
c/o Joanne Rohrer, Editor "Keynote"
RFD-1 Box 142,
East Calais, VT, 05650

* The American Choral Directors Association *
One of the largest music organizations in the country, comprised primarily
of directors of elementary, high school, and college choruses, as well as
professional ensembles. They hold a bi-annual conferences. Membership is
$55 a year ($20 for students).
Gene Brooks, Executive Director
PO Box 6310
Lawton, OK 73506-0310
Phone: 405.355.8161
Fax: 405.248.1465

* Associated Male Choruses of America *
They're an organization comprised of professional and recreational male
choruses in the US and Canada. They also publish a newsletter, "The
Associated Male Choruses of America
c/o Ron Felsch
1204 South First St.
Stillwater, MN 55082

* Chorus America *
An organization comprised of the best professional choruses in the US
(Chanticleer, Dale Warland Singers, etc.). They publish a newsletter that
includes information about these groups and the classical choral scene in
Chorus America
2111 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
Phone: 215.563.2430

* Sydney A Cappella Association *
Based in Sydney Australia, they publish a newsletter (the "Oral
Majority"), support local and touring groups, and promote and sponsor
workshops, singing classes, and performances. They are the largest a
cappella organization in Australia, and although they are centered in
Sydney, they have information about a cappella across Australia.

Sydney A Cappella Association
PO Box 40
Broadway NSW 2007
Phone: +61 2 9144 5501 or 61 1800 679 115
Fax: 61 2 9387 4086 or 61 2 9560 4385

* United Group Harmony Association - UGHA *
UGHA is the SPEBSQSA of doo-wop and 50's vocal harmony singing, although
its membership is comprised of a higher percentage of record collectors
and fewer performer/singers than most of the organizations listed above.
They sponsor a large annual convention each year, as well as a number of
concerts (mostly in the New York/New Jersey Area). If you love doo-wop,
this is the organization for you.
Ronnie Italiano
PO Box 185
Clifton, NJ 07011

*Vocal Area Network - VAN *
Vocal Area Network, an organization of volunteers dedicated to the
advancement of vocal ensemble music in the New York City area, strives to
provide a physical and spiritual home for the growing community of
professional and avocational ensemble singers and their audiences. Vocal
Area Network today offers services and events targeted to the needs of the
vocal ensemble community and plans eventually to create a full-service,
high-quality performance space that will be attractive, affordable and
friendly to singers and audiences. Their goal is to establish Vocal Area
Network as the center for vocal ensemble activities and information in New

Vocal Area Network
890 West End Avenue 11B
New York, NY 10025-3521
Phone: 212.662.2759

Q 1.5 Are there any a cappella publications?

There are many a cappella publications. In fact, most of the organizations
listed above have their own publications: SPEBSQSA publishes "The
Harmonizer," the SAA publishes "The Oral Majority," CASA publishes "The
CAN" (Contemporary A Cappella News), UGHA has a newsletter, the ACDA
publishes a magazine (not solely devoted to a cappella).

If you would like to catch up on some of the articles, interviews, and
even the trivia contests that have been in the CAN, check out the
Publications Section of the A Cappella Almanac on the CASA Web page at

Also, many a cappella groups and organizations have mailing lists and
distribute information periodically. See FAQ #7 for more information.
Q 1.6 Are there any people in my area who can tell me about the local a
cappella scene?

Yes, CASA Ambassadors are volunteers from all over the US and around the
world who keep tabs on their local a cappella scene, help groups and fans
in the area, and organize a variety of local events. Whether or not you're
a CASA member, feel free to contact these people. To find your local
Ambassador, check the CASA Web page at

Q 1.7 Are there any a cappella radio shows in my area?

There are currently over 50 a cappella radio shows around the world
featuring all cappella or some a cappella in their program schedule.
Debbie Baddour maintains the list for CASA, which she posts periodically
to the a cappella newsgroups. The complete list can be found at  Send any new
stations and programs that need to be added to the list to Debbie at

There are also some stations that have programs devoted to doo-wop, some
of it a cappella.  That list can be found at

If you're in a group (professional, recreational, or collegiate) it would
be an *excellent* idea to send a copy of any recordings you have made to
each and every one of the addresses on the list. If there's no show in
your area, why don't you try and get one started?

* A Cappella Radio International - ARI *

As a part of CASA's ongoing mission to foster and promote a cappella
worldwide, they have started a new program called A Cappella Radio
International (ARI). ARI is an effort to bring together all of the world's
existing a cappella and vocal music radio shows and to offer a unified
monthly international broadcast. The hope is that it will serve as a
springboard to allow more shows to get off the ground. The show is offered
free of charge on CD to all radio stations who request and will play it.
To get all of the details, check

A   PMB #1449, 1850 Union St. #14
S   San Francisco, CA 94123-4309 USA
A   415.563.5224 -

End of FAQ Part One

Ann Griffee & Jenn Griffee - Washington State Ambassadors
 The Contemporary A Cappella Society of America - CASA
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ or
            Visit CASA Washington on the Web at: 

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