When you want to learn something about a cappella, where do you turn? YouTube? Social media? These resources can be fantastic, but their knowledge isn't permanent - a video can be taken down; a comment thread deleted by moderators. A cappella festivals are another fantastic place to learn, but it can cost quite a pretty penny for an all-access pass, not to mention transportation, to those events. Another resource for learning? Loose sheets of paper, organized and bound with printing glue: we call them books. Here is a (fairly complete!) list of the books on a cappella that an aspiring musician or educator might consider adding to their shelves.
General Books About A Cappella:
Brody McDonald’s group, Eleventh Hour, was the first high school group to appear on The Sing Off. Following that success, Mr. McDonald published this “handbook” for groups looking to enjoy similar success in contemporary a cappella, from auditions and group dynamics to rehearsal techniques and making a polished final product.
Drawing upon his experiences, the historical context of a cappella, and groups ranging from amateur to professional, Deke created this text (in partnership with the National Association of Teachers of Singing) specifically for performers looking to make great a cappella music. With topics ranging from vocal technique, rehearsal practices, and vocal percussion to voice science and health, this is a great resource for groups and their members!
A “tome” of over 400 pages of a cappella advice, this book combines the expertise of Deke Sharon with high school a cappella directors Ben Spalding and Brody McDonald. A complete resource for anyone interested in starting an a cappella group, arranging, running auditions and preparing for performance and more, this book is another nice option for people looking for a lot of information in one place.
Teaching Music through Performance in Contemporary A Cappella, Deke Sharon, J. D. Frizzell, and Marc Silverberg, eds.
The newest offering in this “everything you ever hoped to know about a cappella” series, and part of the wildly successful “Teaching Music Through Performance” series, this book collects chapters about expression, singing in multiple styles, and navigating the competitive space from the editors as well as chapters from Erin Hackel and Ben Spalding. Notably, the book also includes educational resources and analysis for 82 a cappella works in genres like Barbershop, Contemporary, Doo-Wop, Folk/Classical, and Vocal Jazz.
Books About A Cappella Arranging:
“The” arranging book for contemporary a cappella, this work by Dylan Bell and Deke Sharon is a complete guide to arranging, from conception to execution and advanced topics. Full of great resources and examples from Dylan and Deke’s arrangements, the book also discusses writing original works in an a cappella style.
Anna’s Amazing A Cappella Arranging Advice: The Collegiate A Cappella Arranging Manual, by Anna Callahan
While this book is technically “out of print,” it’s a great arranging resource, if you can find it! Published in the year 2000 by Anna Callahan, one of the original members of the University of Michigan’s Amazin’ Blue. Beginning with basic arranging tips, including analyzing other arrangements and mapping out a song structure, with well-recorded audio examples, the book works through a number of genres including folk, pop, rock, and jazz.
While a cappella musicians focus a lot of time and energy on arrangements and rehearsal precision – correct notes and rhythms – too often they forget how important it is to understand the feeling of a song and how to communicate that feeling through expressive performance. Applicable not only to a cappella groups but to any size ensemble that involves singing, this book is all about how expression can set a powerful performance apart from one that’s just “precise.”
Vocal warm-ups are extremely important to a successful a cappella group, and a good warm-up can prepare a group for successful performance in a specific style at the same time that it warms up the vocal mechanism. With 30+ exercises that warm up the body, the ear, and the expressive mind, Deke and J. D. Frizzell have created a resource that is useful for all sizes and genres of a cappella groups.
A Cappella History:
Beginning with social singing in the glee clubs of early colleges, this book by Josh Duchan moves through 150+ years of collegiate singing, through Doo-Wop and Barbershop and into the explosion of contemporary a cappella groups in in the 1980s and 1990s. It’s important to know where “we” come from, and this is a great resource for people interested in learning about how we got where we are today.
Another interesting historical read, this book focuses more on early singing in collegiate life. As colleges became more common in the US through the late 19th century and into the 20th century, singing became more and more common, from simple melodies in their classes to fraternity songs, alma maters, and athletic “fight songs.”
You’ve seen the movies, but have you read the book? Journalist Mickey Rapkin followed three a cappella ensembles through a season of competition and recording, and the result is a massively interesting book that spawned a cinematic phenomenon. The “Bellas” are there as Divisi from the University of Oregon mount their competitive “comeback,” but this isn’t just a retelling of the movies. Other chapters of the book focus on the Tufts Beelzebubs response to the critical reception of their album “Code Red,” and on the UVA Hullabahoos as they navigate their own competitive landscape.