Often in songs, the lyrics will be "na na na", "doo doo doo", etc., in a particular section or part. Is there a name for these sorts of sounds? I've seen "non-lexical vocables" which, while being accurate, is a bit of a mouthful. It feels like there should be a snappier name, so if you were talking about the lyrics you could say, for example,

Oh and during the ________ section, the backing vocals shouldn't be too loud.

Hopefully this makes sense.

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    Maybe vocalizations? Or perhaps the scatting, but that's too narrow and doesn't include melodic vocalizations like la la la.
    – Dan Bron
    Dec 3, 2014 at 14:37
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    Or "vocalise"? Dec 3, 2014 at 14:59
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    @DanBron - That's what we would call it in speech and language development. I can't think of anything else to use for it. "Vocalize" for a verb and "vocalizations" as a plural noun.
    – miltonaut
    Dec 3, 2014 at 15:01
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    Hmm, Wikipedia calls these sounds vocables. From that article: Such non-lexical vocables are often used in music, for example "la la la" or "dum dee dum"....
    – Dan Bron
    Dec 3, 2014 at 15:09
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    It looks like either CopperKettle or KristinaLopez should post a proper answer. "During the vocalese" looks like the best fit for "during the section that goes 'bom-diddilly do do diddily ramala-ramala pop, yeah'". It makes sense to call those "words" vocables, but the section, the lyric, is vocalese. Dec 3, 2014 at 16:41

5 Answers 5


The use of non-words to "sing" a melody is called "vocalise" (pronounced [voh-kuh-leez]), which is a noun and is defined in dictionary.com as:

  1. a musical composition consisting of the singing of melody with vowel sounds or nonsense syllables rather than text, as for special effect in classical compositions, in polyphonic jazz singing by special groups, or in virtuoso vocal exercises.

  2. any such singing exercise or vocalized melody.


These are called non-lexical vocables.

An interesting video about them:

History of Lyrics that aren't Lyrics

And then the old fashioned: Wikipedia entry on their use in music.

Examples of popular music employing non-lexical vocables include:

A cappella (singing without instrumental accompaniment, sometimes accompanied by a chorus of nonsense syllables)

Beatboxing (vocal percussion)

Doo-wop (style of rhythm and blues music that often employs nonsense syllables)

Kobaïan (language used by French progressive rock band Magma)

Hopelandic (gibberish language employed by the Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Rós)

Van Morrison employed scat in his performances.[5]

Scat singing influenced the development of doo-wop and hip hop. It was popular enough in doo-wop that Barry Mann and Gerry Goffin made it the subject of a 1961 song, Who Put the Bomp (in the Bomp, Bomp, Bomp)". It has also appeared in various genres of rock music. Jim Morrison of The Doors sings a chorus of slow scat on the song "Cars Hiss By My Window", trying to replicate a harmonica solo he had heard, as well as on the song "Roadhouse Blues"; scat singing also notably opens the B-side of Joe Walsh's 1973 album The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get with the song "Meadow". The technique was employed in the song "The Great Gig in the Sky" by Pink Floyd, as well as the R&B song "Rubber Biscuit" by The Chips (also as by The Blues Brothers).

Scat also makes appearances in newer genres, including industrial music, in the chorus of Ministry's 1991 song "Jesus Built My Hotrod"; nu metal music, in the band Korn whose lead singer Jonathan Davis has incorporated scat singing into songs such as "Twist", "Ball Tongue", "Freak on a Leash", "B.B.K.", "Beat it Upright" and "Liar"; and the heavy metal subgenre of death metal, where scat singing is used by John Tardy of the band Obituary. Jack Black incorporates scat into several Tenacious D songs, most notably: "Tribute", "Cosmic Shame", "Classico," "Jesus Ranch," Low Hangin' Fruit," and "Bowie". Singer JoJo performs ad-libbed scats on the track "Yes or No". Other modern examples include "Under Pressure" by Queen (band), "Rag Doll" by Aerosmith, "Under My Voodoo" by Sublime, "No! Don't Shoot" by Foxy Shazam, "Ma Meeshka Mow Skwoz" by Mr. Bungle, "In My Bed" by Amy Winehouse, and "Stuck in the Middle" by Mika. Scatman John successfully combined scat and early-1990s electronic dance music.

Examples by popular non-anglophone singers using such techniques include "Bla Bla Bla" by Gigi D'Agostino, Eena Mina Dika in the Bollywood film Aasha, Eduard Khil's "I Am Glad, Cause I'm Finally Returning Back Home" (known as "Trololo") sung entirely without lyrics, "Restless" (Fu Zao) by Faye Wong and "Lagu Lagu" by Sa Dingding.

Due to the wide-ranging vocal styles used in popular music, occasionally songs have been mistakenly categorized as having non-lexical vocables, when in fact the singers are performing actual lyrics rendered partially (or completely) unintelligible to the ear of certain (but not all) listeners. Two famous 1960s examples are "Louie Louie" as recorded by The Kingsmen and "Wooly Bully" by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs.

  • thanks - i know about the "non-lexical vocables" term (i mention it in my question). But it's too much of a mouthful, no pun intended. I'm not going to say to someone else i'm recording a song with, for example, "during the non-lexical vocables section, can we make sure we don't get too loud". I can barely even say it aloud, it's a tongue twister! Dec 3, 2014 at 16:27
  • Actually, i think "doo wop" works fine- even if the song isn't a doo-wop genre song as such, and even if the syllables "doo" and "wop" don't feature, i think most people would guess what i mean if i say "during the doo-wop section..." Dec 3, 2014 at 16:28

Parelcon is another useful concept here. Parelcon can be, like, when a speaker adds vocal ticks or syllables like "like" earlier in this sentence.

  • As defined by the Free Dictionary, parelcon appears to be a good word to describe Stevie Wonder's phrasing in "Signed, Sealed, Delivered," where he sings (at 1:02–1:05) "I've done a lot of foolish things-uh that I really didn't mean-uh."
    – Sven Yargs
    Feb 13, 2016 at 20:34
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    Like The Fall's Mark E Smith, who-ah "sings" like-uh THIS-ah!? Nice word Feb 14, 2016 at 12:05

Critics use the term ''burden'' to describe Ophelia's nonsense singing in Hamlet: ♪♪ Hey. non nony. nony. hey. nony ♪♪ ♪♪ Down. a-down. a-down. a-down ♪♪

  • Can you please provide a reference? Answers without citations are often deleted.
    – jimm101
    Jun 6, 2018 at 13:28
  • A burden is specifically a chorus or refrain, including one made up of nonsense (hey nonny no, etc) but not necessarily nonsense. merriam-webster.com/dictionary/burden
    – Stuart F
    Sep 28, 2021 at 7:51

"Folderol"- are the nonsensical syllablic words in the refrain of a song.
Folderol stems from "Folderal" which meant nonsense.

  • 1
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