I am looking for a bunch of verbs to denote various variations of a specific kind of singing, where the singer essentially… wails? There are no lyrics of any sort, the voice is essentially used as an instrument.

So far, I know of ‘howling’, which is close enough for emitting an ‘uuuh’ sound (like the vocal in ‘moon’). Imagine a pack of wolves howling towards the midnight moon. It might not be the best choice of verb to describe singing, but in some cases, it comes close (I can’t find an example right now, though).

Also, there is ‘chanting’, which associates with an ‘aaah’ sound. ‘Guild’ and ‘Fresco Dome’ are textbook examples of that.

How would one call something similar, but using an ‘iiih’ sound (like the vowel in ‘beep’)? To give an example, consider the female voice recurring throughout ‘The Beginning of a Journey’ and especially ‘Naia’.

Same thing, but with an ‘oooh’ sound (like the vowel in ‘whore’)? ‘Fresco Dome’ fits to some degree; if I find a better example, I’ll link to it.

I’m not looking for ‘to vocalise’ or similar verbs—I already know about them, and it’s the superclass of the kind of words that I’m looking for. I want to know whether there are other words similar to ‘to chant’ or ‘to howl’ for some specific cases of vocalising that might be useful for my purpose. If such words actually exist, that is. It might just as well be that there aren’t, and that this is the reason why I can’t find any.

  • Please link to an example? It could be singing, chanting, ululating, yodeling, or just vocalising - it's hard to tell without hearing it though.
    – A E
    Nov 7, 2014 at 19:05
  • It’s certainly not yodelling. ^^ ‘Singing’ is too broad (and implies lyrics which aren’t there), chanting and ululating are the class of words I’m looking for, though. I’ve linked some examples; if I find more, I’ll add them as well. Nov 7, 2014 at 20:29
  • Dunno about you, but if someone characterized my singing as "howling", I'd be rather offended. In other words, "howling" doesn't mean what you want it to mean. "Chanting" at least is a type of singing, but it's not specific to the vowel used.
    – Marthaª
    Nov 7, 2014 at 21:08
  • Good point. I was thinking about somewhat less conventional types of music, where ‘howling’ was a somewhat more appropriate, but it’s not a good match in any way. Anyway, non-lexical singing with an ‘oooh’ sound seems uncommon. Nov 7, 2014 at 21:43

3 Answers 3


It sounds like you're talking about the noun vocalise (the last syllable is pronounced to rhyme with Chinese and Japanese):

a musical composition consisting of the singing of melody with vowel sounds or nonsense syllables rather than text


any such singing exercise or vocalized melody.

(source: dictionary.reference.com)

It is not the same word as the verb vocalize (used in past tense in the second definition above), which is sometimes spelled vocalise in British English.

  • The definition precisely matches the superclass of the kind of compositions I want to classify; the American Heritage Dictionary concurs with your definition. However, I’m looking for some specific verbs to describe the various subtype of vocalise-style composition. Nov 7, 2014 at 20:26

The vocal on ‘The Beginning of a Journey’ sounds like Enya. I'd say 'mezzo-soprano vocalist in the New Age genre'. If pressed I might use the word 'choral'; in respect of ‘Naia’ the word 'celtic' comes to mind..

In my opinion what she is doing is 'singing', in spite of the lack of lyrics (or rather, the lack of consonants in the lyrics - she seems to have plenty of vowels).

See also:

Non-lexical vocables, which may be mixed with meaningful text, are a form of nonsense syllable used in a wide variety of music. A common English example would be "la la la".

  • 1
    I guess I am on the wrong track. While your answer isn’t what I’m looking for, your links contain a wealth of other vocabulary that might allow me to circumnavigate my ‘problem’. Nov 7, 2014 at 21:47

I should have been paying more attention. If I had actually read the page I was linking to to provide an example, a part of the answer I was looking for is written right there on the page.

At least concerning that particular ‘iiih’ sample, the correct term apparently is kulning, i.e. ‘a high-pitched vocal technique … that can be heard or be used over long distances … [with a] fascinating and haunting tone, often conveying a feeling of sadness’ (my emphasis).

Fits perfectly.

This will do for this specific example. I guess I will have to settle on chant for the other vowels; ululate actually fits some narrow edge cases. Ultimately, trying to categorise different kinds of chants on the vowels sung is probably misguided.

For the rest, A E’s links seem to have enough pointers to allow me to circumscribe, together with the whole semantic field around kulning, joik, puirt à beul, loxian and so on. It’s an outlandish aspect of an absurd hobby project anyway, and I feel that I have sunk far too much time into it already. ^^

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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