Do you hum a tune while waiting at the bus stop, sing in the shower to the latest pop song, or break out Rihanna style while commuting to work? Whether or not you realize it, you are singing acapella in all of these situations. Acapella is the type of music in which the performers sing without the addition or accompaniment of instruments such as pianos or drums. Quite recently, the popularity of acapella music has swept many college campuses, including MSU. However, what else is there to acapella music besides the absence of a piano? A lot, as it turns out.
Since no instruments exist in the background, acapella can be very different from traditional vocal music. When this style is sung by singers, their voices act as both the voice and the instrument at the same time. Since they do not have the luxury of a piano or a drum, they must re-create the sounds with their voices instead. Singers referred to as “vocal percussionists” use their voices to imitate the sounds of percussion instruments.
“The voice acts as the drum set in the song,” music education senior Claire Gibbons said. Gibbons is president of Ladies First Acapella. Well Noted Acapella’s vocal percussionist Mike Hilliker, an engineering junior, described some of the challenges in regards to vocal percussion. “Vocal percussion requires the right amount of breathing, in time to the music and its rhythm. If you drop out to take a breath, no one else is there on the same part,” he said. [claire]
While this may seem simple, singing acapella comes with its own unique set of challenges. Performers of acapella must adjust the musical piece for acapella singing, which requires them to rearrange or reorganize the music. They do this before they even begin to rehearse the music into different parts. The groups, in addition, must memorize their parts in order for performances. While most vocal groups usually memorize their parts, choirs usually have multiple singers performing each part while acapella groups may only have one or two people on each part. This adds to the increased responsibility of each individual acapella singer. “If you don’t know your part, then the whole group will be off,” Gibbons said. It also makes teamwork critical. “There’s a definite element of group dynamics involved,” Hilliker said. Aiming for perfect harmony is also very important in acapella groups. Since groups are small, consisting of no more than twenty members, even the smallest out of tune notes come through. The lack of instruments also makes it difficult to find the right pitch.[mike]
Despite the increased challenges of acapella music, MSU’s acapella history has expanded to include many groups. When acapella first started, only two groups were connected to the campus, Ladies First and the Spartan Dischords. Today this number has grown to include the Accafellas, Capital Green and Ladies’ First (the sister group of Spartan Dischords) along with the original two. Hilliker also recently founded the newest acapella group on campus, Well Noted Acapella. Like Capital Green, it is a co-ed acapella group.
These acapella groups are fairly diverse, as they are open to students of all majors, not just music majors. Currently there are no music majors in the Spartan Dischords and many of the other groups are made up of non music majors as well. Students of all levels can be found in the ranks of each acapella group.
Acapella performances can be seen many places around the MSU campus. These groups perform many different holiday concerts, such as Acafellas Eve around Halloween. All the groups join together each year for Acapalooza where attendees can hear the stylings of all five groups. Some groups on certain occasions may even come right into your dorm. The Spartan Dischords started the tradition of “dorm gigging” where they perform in a different girls’ dorm each Tuesday of every week. It’s a great opportunity to see these talented singers in action.
The growth and number of acapella groups at MSU comes during a time that interest in acapella music has grown. Nationwide, support for acapella groups is coming from prominent musicians. Popular artist Ben Folds recently sponsored a nation-wide acapella contest after he saw YouTube videos of acapella groups. The acapella groups were challenged to arrange and record one of his music compositions; winners are to be featured on his next CD. While no group from MSU was selected, the support of such prominent figures has helped popularize acapella groups.
With dozens of bands rocking out on guitar, drums or harmonica, the solo sound of voices can be a refreshing change. So next time you’re singing along in the shower, take a cue from these musicans. After all, it might be hard to fit your drum set in the shower.

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