How To Scat Vocal Jazz Improvisation

The following article is a reblog from my old blog. What is scat singing? scat singing is simply singing nonsense syllables like “doo wop, ba doo ba doo bop”. Louis Armstrong (Pops) made it popular during the swing era, probably the most popular scat phrase is in the song “What a Wonderful World” where Pops scats the ending of the song continued with an “Oooh Yeeaahh…” you must know that right? Vocalists like Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Torme, Bobby Mcferrin, and Kurt Elling are among those who scat a lot in their music. Vocalists use scat singing as a way of improvising a solo, they use their voice like an instrument, like a sax or trumpet. Now you know what scat singing is, let’s talk about the technical side.

Where do we start? Jazz Phrasing, for me, I believe that phrasing is the most important aspect of scat singing. There are of course other important technical aspects for improvisation like scales and stuff, but really if you phrase good, you’ll sound good. How do you phrase a line? Well, there’s not a better way than to listen a lot to the masters like Lester Young, Charlie Parker, and other cats from the bebop era, why? cause that’s when the jazz language starts to take form. It won’t hurt to listen, if you can, transcribe their solos, you don’t necessarily have to write them down, just try to sing along with the recording. A good improvisation line will sound even greater with a good phrasing. You can start by taking a simple 4 bars solo line from a bebop recording (that you think sounds good), write it down, and replay (sing) it yourself without any emphasis, no dynamic, no swing feel, whatsoever, that solo line is guaranteed to sound lame. It’s impossible to explain more about phrasing in writing, maybe I’ll post a video later to take us further.

Next, the syllables, do you say bop, doo, wop, dah, day, what?? well, there are no rules in singing the syllables really, that’s why they call it nonsense syllables. But why people tends to sing bop doo wop bee doo? believe it or not, if you listen to a sax solo, a piano solo, or bass solo whatever, you will somehow can hear a syllable that matches the notes, in time, you will automatically find a syllable that sound just right for the notes. You can improvise a solo singing Da da da, or La la la, or Bu bu bu, it doesn’t really matter, as long as it sounds right for you.

How about improvising, what notes or scales do I sing? improvisation is a big topic to discuss, we will need another blog to talk about improvising since there are lots and lots of things in it, chords, guide tones, options, changes, scales, modal, outside inside, upper structure, blah blah. It’s recommended that you look for books or other sources that discuss music theory for this matter. But for a start, improvisation is spontaneous, expressing yourself, making melodies on the spot, singing what you hear in your head. If you listen to those bebop recordings and you can sing along with it, you’re learning the language, as a whole, not note by note. Tyr raedngi tihs lein, adn yuo wlil udnerstnad it anwayy, why? like I said, you understand the language as a whole. My point is, just go ahead and try it NOW, don’t need to worry too much about anything other than expressing yourself, just start scatting. Listen, listen, listen, absorb music, jazz, learn the technique, know the theory, do it step by step, but just do it.

That’s it for now. Have fun y’all!

Recommended listening:
Charlie Parker
Lester Young
Miles Davis (50’s)
Dexter Gordon
Cannonball Adderley
Ella Fitzgerald
Louis Armstrong

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