A Capella – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you assembling a musical group that is planning to sing without any musical accompaniments? This is capped “a capella” — an age-old form of musical performance that makes artful use of harmony to deliver a great diversity of sounds with a lot of emotion.

Read what a capella means, and where it comes from, below.

Meaning

“A capella” literally means “in the style of the chapel” in Italian — “capella” is a chapel. The term refers to a musical performance in which only singing voices are used, and no musical instruments feature. “Acapella” is a fairly common alternative, but technically incorrect, spelling.

Example Usage

Are you wondering how the term “a capella”, meaning a musical performance without instruments, is used in practice? Take a look at the following examples:

  • Have you heard that new a capella group? It is truly amazing what they can do without any instruments!
  • Remember to be home on time. Your sister has her a capella performance tonight and she’d really appreciate it if you could show up.
  • Dude, those a capella vocals are hurting my ears! Please stop singing along when you’re listening to music on your headphones!

Origin

All research indicates that singing is an inherent and innate part of human expression. People have likely been singing since they first made their appearance, and some scientists even believe that musical vocalizations preceded coherent spoken language. Because a capella music almost certainly predates recorded history, there is no way to be certain as to when and how this happened.

As a musical style related to Christianity, and especially Catholicism (“a capella” means “in the style of the chapel”, after all, as well as having expanded to include any music that solely relies on vocals), a capella emerged in fifteenth-century Europe and continued to develop from there.

In the modern world, some famous a capella groups include Home Free, Rockapella, and Pentatonix. Because a capella music entirely relies on the singers’ vocals, and in particular on harmonies, a significant amount of skill is needed to be successful as an a capella musician.

Words Similar to A Capella

The term “a capella” is now used to mean any musical performance in which instruments are not used to accompany the singing. However, if you would like to avoid the religious connotations of this term, you can also say “unaccompanied singing”.

Alternative Meanings of A Capella

In modern slang, the term “a capella” is also sometimes used to denote sexual intercourse without a condom. “A capella” was defined as such on Urban Dictionary in 2006.

By the same token, some appear to use the phrase a capella specifically to refer to people who sing along with music they are listening to with headphones on, in a derogatory way. As the singer is unable to hear what the vocals sound like in this context, the resulting noise is often offensive to the ears.

What Is the Correct Word?

The correct term is “a capella”, meaning vocals without instrumental accompaniment.

Ways People May Say A Capella Incorrectly

In written language, “acapella”, spelled as one word without a space between “a” and “capella”, is by far the most common way to use “a capella” incorrectly. This misspelling is likely a result of the fact that, when spoken, “a capella” sounds like one word.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase A Capella

You can use the term “a capella” — written with a space between “a” and “capella” — to refer to any musical performance that exclusively relies on vocals and that does not feature any musical instruments. While the term originally referred to a specific style of religious Christian music, a capella has come to be an acceptable term to denote any such music. A capella music is typically produced by groups of singers rather than a single singer.

As a slang term, “a capella” can also mean sex without a condom, a use that is not commonly understood. If you are intending to use “a capella” in this way, you should be aware that people may not understand what you are talking about.

 

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