6

What do you call it when someone sings a melody while another instrument plays the exact same melody in unison?

For example:

  1. "Crosstown Traffic" – The Jimi Hendrix Experience, intro: a guitar riff plays and is doubled by a voice singing the riff using the syllable "doo" over and over again.
  2. "Smells Like Teen Spirit" – Nirvana, 2min40secs: the guitar plays a certain bend and Kurt Cobain sings the word "Hey" in unison with the guitar.

The examples I provided are from what would broadly be called popular music but I'd also be interested in hearing about the technique from a classical perspective.

5
  • 3
    I feel like there's a certain jazz guitar (and bass) convention in which one would play and scat-sing their improvisation simultaneously in unison. For a classical perspective, I just came from a rehearsal of Handel's Messiah, where the violins spend much of the time "doubling" choir parts. Nov 29, 2022 at 3:52
  • Thanks @AndyBonner. Regarding the jazz convention you mention - could you point me towards a famous example of that, maybe with a single person who is a lead guitarist playing and vocal scatting in unison? Nov 29, 2022 at 11:54
  • 2
    As in my answer - George Benson does this a LOT.
    – Tim
    Nov 29, 2022 at 17:10
  • 1
    That note in "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is an ensemble : "a group producing a single effect" because the drummer is in on it too.
    – Mazura
    Nov 30, 2022 at 19:01
  • @Tim Pretty sure Oteil Burbridge does this a lot as well. Dec 1, 2022 at 13:50

3 Answers 3

20

It's called doubling. The term is correctly used in the OP: in the intro to "Crosstown Traffic", Jimi doubles the vocal melody on guitar (or the guitar melody on voice).

For example:

  1. When an accompanying instrument plays the same notes that a singer is singing. (Source: OnMusic Dictionary)

Wikipedia also discusses the term in its article on voicing in music:

Octave doubling of a voice or pitch is a number of other voices duplicating the same part at the same pitch or at different octaves. (Source: Wikipedia)

The term is used across styles of music.

One example from classical music — both of the technique itself and the use of the term — comes from Liszt's song "Comment, disaient-ils" for voice and piano (S.276). In measures 12 – 18, the vocal melody is doubled by the top voice of the piano part.

Here is a description from a dissertation discussing some of Liszt's songs:1

In the original version, the descending melody in the voice is doubled in the piano over a waltz-like left-hand accompaniment. (Source: "Franz Liszt's Songs on Poems by Victor Hugo", by Shin-Young Park, PhD diss., Florida State University, 2007, p. 20)

"Comment disaient-ils", mm. 9 – 18
(Image source: IMSLP)

Doubling can also refer to 1) a note that appears more than once within a chord, or 2) a musician who plays more than one instrument (James Moody played tenor sax and doubled on flute).


1 A couple of other examples of the term's use: 1) "The voice is doubled in the piano for the first time in the song in mm. 21-22, expressing the unity of our couple." ("Glances: an Analysis of the Song Cycle by Tom Cipullo", Renee Mae Clair, PhD diss., University of Memphis, 2011, p. 50); 2) "Then, for the last few lines of text, though the chords in the piano remain dissonant, the voice is doubled in the piano chords." ("Song Cycles for Soprano by Richard Pearson Thomas", Laura Faith Bateman, PhD diss., University of Northern Colorado, 2011, p. 74)

12
  • 1
    It could be called doubling, and certainly now after becoming an internet truth as per this answer, someone will call it doubling, but do you have references of e.g. the player-singer calling it doubling themselves? Prior to 11/2022. ;) Myself, I would describe it as unison something, but I don't think I've actually heard that in the way the OP means, either. On Reddit they couldn't come up with a clear term back in 2014 reddit.com/r/Jazz/comments/2fgjdc/… "Vocalizing", "scat" and "vocalizing in unison" were suggested. Nov 29, 2022 at 9:02
  • 1
    Doubling could be used when someone uses two different instruments , on a recording, for example, and gets paid twice. For playing a different part, though. (As your last sentence hints). I don't think it's exactly the right word, as playing in unison is a proper, accepted term for what's happening. Just as 'the whole horn section played in unison' - take Sir Duke as an example. That one 'instrument is a voice is immaterial, I believe.
    – Tim
    Nov 29, 2022 at 14:28
  • 2
    @piiperiReinstateMonica I wonder if you're thinking of "vocalese": Does voice doubling an instrument's melody while improvising have a name?.
    – Aaron
    Nov 29, 2022 at 14:33
  • 1
    @piiperiReinstateMonica humming along with your solo seems different from what the question is asking, which I think is more generally about a singer "doubling" an instrument (or vice versa). Nov 29, 2022 at 16:55
  • 3
    @piiperiReinstateMonica: In classical music, doubling is a very well-established term, and it applies here but is also a lot more general, so it needs to include clarification — “Cobain was doubling” in isolation is meaningless, but “Cobain doubles the guitar riff in the vocals” is completely clear and accurate. “Doubling” doesn’t necessarily mean following an external source, it just means two voices/instruments playing the same line (or at octaves apart). It’s standard and commonly-used among classical musicians; I’ve no idea if it’s also used much or at all among jazz players.
    – PLL
    Nov 29, 2022 at 22:49
7

Unison is another term - singing (or playing) the same melody as another. Doubling is more often used to describe the same instrument (or voice) playing/singing the same line. George Benson is a great example of someone who plays and sings in unison.

Scat could come into the equation, with non-sensical 'words', although usually, that's not what is asked about here, and won't necessarily follow the melody line of another instrument, although the non-sensical part is applicable.

0
4

In this Reddit discussion from 2014, "vocalizing" (or "vocalising") was mentioned in three different posts as an actually used term:

https://www.reddit.com/r/Jazz/comments/2fgjdc/what_is_called_when_a_musician_will_sing_unison/

Vocalizing has other meanings as well, and one person in that discussion suggests "vocalising in unison", which would feel like a pretty clear name for the technique.

One quote from the discussion

I'm quite sure it's called vocalising, both when it's the same line as the solo (eg. Slam Stewart, Esperanza Spalding), and when it's not related to the solo (eg. Keith Jarrett). A better term for the first instance is probably vocalising in unison, or harmonising in unison. Scat singing is another thing that only vocalists do (putting syllables to a solo played by a vocalist rather than just humming a melody.

"Doubling" was not mentioned by anyone in that discussion, if that proves something.

10
  • @Rucksack I think this is closest to what you're thinking and suggests that (like so many things in jazz) it's a thing people do but doesn't necessarily have an established name. Nov 29, 2022 at 16:52
  • This is incorrect. "Vocalizing" is a general term for any vocal sound produced. Portions of the reddit thread acknowledge this: "I'm quite sure it's called vocalising, both when it's the same line as the solo (eg. Slam Stewart, Esperanza Spalding), and when it's not related to the solo (eg. Keith Jarrett)." The posters on that thread may be confusing the term "vocalize" (vo - cal - eyes) with "vocalise" (vo - cal - ees). In classical music, vocalise refers to textless vocal melody, and in jazz it refers to putting lyrics to an instrumental improvisation.
    – Aaron
    Nov 29, 2022 at 20:19
  • 1
    @Aaron The term has other uses and is ambiguous without context. So what. OP asks, what is it called, which means, "what do people call it." I presented a reference of people actually calling it vocalizing. People call it vocalizing, here's proof. And I have a hard time believing that George Benson would say to someone, "the audience liked it when I doubled." But "the audience liked it when I vocalized", that feels plausible. "I'll vocalize a bit for you", yes. But "I'll double a bit for you", no. Nov 29, 2022 at 22:37
  • In the Reddit as with here, it's along the lines of "I think people would call it ...". Vocalizing is a broad, generic term. George Benson very well might say "the audience liked my vocalization", but it would be entirely unclear whether he meant solo singing, accompanying his guitar with voice, or both. It would also be unclear whether he meant singing or grunting, since both are vocalizations. On the other hand, if he said "I like to double my guitar with my vocals (or vice versa)", there would be no ambiguity.
    – Aaron
    Nov 29, 2022 at 23:07
  • 1
    @Aaron It's not incorrect, I'm familiar with the term "vocalize" used this way. I've heard advice to "vocalize while improvising" to avoid haphazardly playing notes based on fingering patterns.
    – Edward
    Nov 30, 2022 at 1:30

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.