There have been "la la la"s and nonsense lyrics in music since ... well, since a long time back. Why, who could forget that sixteenth-century classic "Nos Galan"? And Nigunim have been part of Jewish tradition since at least the early 1700s. And Svara has been around for a couple of thousand years or so.

But do scat and Doo-Wop-style syllablizations (if I may coin a term) find their origins in earlier traditions, or are they distinct unto themselves? Where do they come from?

And for anyone unfamiliar with the song quoted in the title:

  • 2
    Looks like one reasonable origin theory is the syllables evolved from a capella vocals originally intended to imitate the sounds of instruments: en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doo-wop – Todd Wilcox Dec 16 '20 at 6:04
  • @ToddWilcox Interesting. It suggests, to me at least, that scat and doo-wop might have developed independently of each other. – Aaron Dec 16 '20 at 6:06
  • 4
    Well, whoever it was, I'd like to shake his hand – Andrew the Programmer Dec 16 '20 at 9:03
  • Maybe someone who was lost for words? Scatology comes to mind... – Tim Dec 16 '20 at 10:17

I think folk music presents a plausible, partial origin...


Come along, boys, and listen to my tale,
I'll tell you of my troubles on the Old Chizzum Trail.

Coma-ti yi yippy, yippy yea, yippy yea,
Coma-ti yi yippy, yippy yea.
Whisky in the Jar
Mush-a ring dum-a do dum-a da
Whack for my daddy-o
Whack for my daddy-o
There's whiskey in the jar
Paddy works on the railway
To work upon the railway

The last one is a nice example of whole lines/verses of nonsense.

I like the folk comparison, because the rhythms are usually snappy. Of course they don't have the back beat like Doo-Wop, but it seems a closer connection that la, la, la from madrigals.


You've answered your own question. Yes, 'Fa-la-la' and 'Nonnie-nonnie-no' have been around for a long time. Those are the origins. Jazz has added its own flavour.


interesting question! never wasted a thought about it.

Maybe it comes from singing and playing instruments in different attacking styles, using the tongue, lips or larynx:

voice: a_a_a_, ahhhh, lalalala, a/a/a/

flute: du____, hu____, dup, dup,

trumpet: ta____, Da_____, tatata, tut, tut,

sax/clarinet: be-bop, be-bop

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.