I heard my chorus director refer to it as something sounding like dest cant or something, but since I'm hard-of-hearing, I couldn't hear all the letters.

If someone can give me the correct name for this, as well as more information and resources about it, that would be excellent.

  • 4
    'Descant'? But it's not really oohs and ahs. Descant is singing another part over the top, literally, of an existing melody. Singing oohs and ahs is simply 'songs without words' - although there's probably an authorised word for that.
    – Tim
    Oct 7, 2019 at 7:53
  • @Tim, maybe the teacher meant "distant" singer, not descant Oct 7, 2019 at 9:24
  • I think I've found now the correct term (s. the edit of my answer: BV'S = backing vocals Oct 19, 2019 at 9:27
  • There is a word "descant", which is defined in the answers below. The word for "oohs" and "aahs" is "vocalise", which you can read about here: Is there terminology for vocals that do not use lyrics in certain parts?
    – Aaron
    Feb 17, 2021 at 7:12

4 Answers 4


The term would not be "descant"

The term you and your director are looking for is "vocable"

We use the term "vocable" to describe sounds singers make that are outside of intelligible language. Beyond "oohs" and "aahs" it would also include whoops, screams, pops, clicks, lip buzzes and any of the other thousands of sounds the human voice can make.


  • I'm not sure if I should post this as a separate question, but someone told me that a song I showed them had descant in it, or counterpoint or countermelody. It makes me associate it with a mashup because you have a second melody mixed in with the first. It was Joy to the World in 3/4 time, mixed with The First Noel. Dec 21, 2019 at 9:58

A descant is a melody added above the main melody. Common in festive arrangements of hymns. Maybe this was the word he used to describe the oohs and ahs, though it doesn't specifically mean that.

I can't think of a word that exclusively means that sort of singing except 'oohs and ahs'. Maybe 'vocalising' would cover, if not define it.

  • I don't think he said descant ... Oct 7, 2019 at 9:29
  • Any other suggestions for 'something sounding like dest cant or something' ?
    – Laurence
    Nov 20, 2019 at 13:00
  • (The downvote is not from me.) Now I would agree with you that the leader might have said descant. But I’m still searching for a term. As we say humming for consonants it should be ooing or aaing Nov 20, 2019 at 13:09
  • This is so clearly the right answer. It explains descant, which we should assume the director used intentionally - unlike the accepted answer - and it explains vocalise which is the point of the question in the title. The OP basically asked two questions. Dec 8, 2020 at 14:18

In captioning, it is generally described as "vocalizing" or "harmonizing." Neither of these are exact definitions but they connote what's going on for a deaf viewer who is not a musicologist, especially when used in context. As used in this way, vocalizing and harmonizing are located on a continuum between singing and scatting.


What is it called when a group of vocalists or chorus sing Ooh's oh's, ah's,

In my Gospel choir and school classes

I used the term "back ground"

back-ground voicing or back-ground singing

The typical arrangement of aah and oohs is that they are just homophone voicing the lead singer harmonizing the chords like an organ or guitar accompaniment.

(Of course will find also polyphonic background voicing.)


I've deleted the links provided as they haven't been corresponding to my text above. What I mean is not the same as backing voices or backup singers or also barbershop style.

I just taught the children to sing the chords (triads) following the tune in half notes or whole notes e.g. the background voices in Hey Jude.

Maybe the term "background" has changed its meaning through the years, but that's what we have used in Swiss Jazz School in the late sixties. And I would still use it in Jazz arrangements where instruments are playing divided chord notes like the Aah and Oh in harmony of human voices.


I thought that distinguished to consonants like mm, hm, nn, ng this kind of vocal accompaniment will be called vowel background.

But now here is the link with the correct answer:




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