What Is Scat Singing? (+ Great Examples!) Wednesday July 27 2022, 11:45 PM
Yona Marie
Singer, Songwriter, Producer.
What Is Scat Singing? (+ Great Examples!)

What Is A Scat In Music?


Scat singing is one of the most complicated techniques a singer can pull off correctly. It's mostly used in the genre of jazz, where improvisation is a big part of the performance for singers and instrumentalists alike. But for scatting in particular, the technique is reserved for singers who improvise vocal lines without using any meaningful words. These vocal improvs can include random vowels, small words here and there, or complete gibberish. 

The focus on scatting is not about what the singer can do with their words but about how they can freestyle a phrase that includes rhythmic and melodic improvisation. The singer is tasked with making up a line on the fly that will fit well within the song's chord progression and structure. As you can imagine, this is a very difficult yet really fun feat to try out as a singer.

Where Did Scatting Come From?


Although this method of improvisation came to the world in the early 1900s, scat singing had many influences, from lilting in Ireland to singing in tongues from various religious cultures around the world. Although one of the most influential artists of all time, Louis Armstrong, brought scatting into the spotlight, there were earlier examples heard in ragtime music. Gene Greene's "King of the Bungaloos" featured scat singing and was released somewhere between 1911 and 1917.

Louis Armstrong had a very interesting story about how he stumbled upon scat singing in one of his studio recording performances. He dropped his sheet music in the middle of his 1926 recording of "Heebie Jeebies" but didn't want to have to stop and mess up the process. 

"I dropped the paper with the lyrics—right in the middle of the tune… And I did not want to stop and spoil the record which was moving along so wonderfully… So when I dropped the paper, I immediately turned back into the horn and started to Scatting… Just as nothing had happened… When I finished the record I just knew the recording people would throw it out… And to my surprise, they all came running out of the controlling booth and said—Leave That In." - Louis Armstrong


Popular Scat Singers


When you bring up the topic of scat singing, you can't go without mentioning some of the bests to do it, including Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Anita O’Day, and Betty Carter. These sensational female jazz singers were renowned for their improvisation capabilities that most people would not be able to replicate!

Some instrumentalists in jazz are known to take a break from their instruments and switch to the vocalist side of things as well. In addition to Louis Armstrong, who did this a lot, musicians including Chet Baker and Dizzy Gillespie would go back and forth between their instrument and their vocal abilities for select performances. Imagine the talent you'd need to have to sing and play jazz improvisations that actually sound really good.

My Favorite Examples Of Scat Singing


I want to share dozens of my favorite examples, but I'm sure that three is more than enough for you to take in, and you'll see why after you hear these performances! Scats from the greats are almost overwhelming, especially if you're a singer like me trying to figure out how in the hell you would get all of those notes to come out well. One of my all-time favorite live performances is the one above of Ella singing "How High The Moon" in 1966. 

Another one of my favorite vocalists is a male voice by the name of Mel Tormé, who was a huge fan of Ella and seemed to have the same type of effortless flow with his improvisation. The performance above is from 1991 during a Labor Day Telethon.

This third example is what really got me interested in the idea of scat singing and helped push me to start studying some of the jazz greats that I've mentioned in this article. In my high school years, now popular R&B singer Jazmine Sullivan had just stepped on the music scene and had a killer jazz track that included some scatting towards the end. I fell in love immediately and started practicing for months and months after hearing Jazmine Sullivan's cover of "Round Midnight". 

Scat Singing In Modern Music


As I've shown with Jazmine's cover, scatting is not something that has to be limited to jazz music only. Early hip hop was highly influenced by jazz, and rappers, including Eazy-E and Tajai of the group Souls of Mischief, sourced scat singing as one of their inspirations. Talented Pop/soul singers, including Amy Winehouse and Bruno Mars, have incorporated scats into their original releases. The 90s hit "MMMBop" by Hanson incorporated a form of scat singing into the hook.

How To Scat Sing


Scatting isn't for everybody, and it definitely isn't recommended for beginner singers. In order to be good at scatting, you will need to practice and master three different musical skills. The first and most important thing you will need to have is an advanced musical ear. You will need to know all types of scales, in and out, and be able to keep up with all types of key changes. Jazz has some of the most complicated melodic structures out of all the music genres in the world, so you need more than a decent ear!

You will also need musical creativity to be able to master scat singing. While some can grasp pitches, chords, and keys, they might not be able to come up with their own phrases and be stuck at a point where they can only think of lines that are not original. And lastly, you will need to have exceptional skills for hearing, following, and creating rhythmic structures. Similar to a great ear, this will require tons of time and practice to master. 



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Yona Marie

As a session singer, writer, and producer that has worked with over 200 clients to provide high-quality jingles, singles, features, nursery rhymes, and DJ drops, she currently spends her time engulfed in creating and marketing new music and helpful resources for creators. Her most recent creative collaborations include work with PBS Sound Field, Tribe of Noise, and the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Check out Yona’s latest music releases on her Spotify, her Youtube and share the music if you like it!

If you are ever in need of singer, songwriter or song producer services for your music project or brand, see what Yona Marie can offer you on her song services page. As an Amazon Associate, Yona Marie earns from qualifying purchases. Amazon and other affiliate products are recommended to genuinely help readers and keep this site up and running as well.



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