An App That Helps You Scat Sing A La Ella Fitzgerald Wanna be the next Ella Fitzgerald or Cab Calloway? As they say, there's an app for that. NPR's Rachel Martin tries out "ScatAbility" with vocal improv educator Michele Weir.
NPR logo

An App That Helps You Scat Sing A La Ella Fitzgerald

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/458661979/458661980" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
An App That Helps You Scat Sing A La Ella Fitzgerald

An App That Helps You Scat Sing A La Ella Fitzgerald

An App That Helps You Scat Sing A La Ella Fitzgerald

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/458661979/458661980" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Wanna be the next Ella Fitzgerald or Cab Calloway? As they say, there's an app for that. NPR's Rachel Martin tries out "ScatAbility" with vocal improv educator Michele Weir.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

When it comes to that special brand of vocal improv called scat singing, Ella Fitzgerald was the queen.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

ELLA FITZGERALD: (Scat singing).

MARTIN: And if you aspire to be the next Ella or Cab Calloway or Mel Torme or Anita O'Day, there's an app to help you out, believe it or not. Vocal arranger and educator Michele Weir is the designer of ScatAbility. She joins us from our studios at NPR West. Hey, Michele, thanks for being with us.

MICHELE WEIR: Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: I've downloaded this app onto my phone. Do I need to know how to read music, first of all?

WEIR: You really don't need any musical training. You don't need to know what a two-five-one or a dominant seven-sharp-nine is.

MARTIN: Good, 'cause I don't.

WEIR: They're scary for a lot of people. And yeah, it's an air-based approach to learning.

MARTIN: Is there one exercise that you recommend for first-timers?

WEIR: Anything that is a call-and-response would be a good starting point. So call-and-response 21, with singer Kate Reid, is a really good one to start with.

MARTIN: She's going to sing something, and then I repeat it?

WEIR: Yes.

MARTIN: That's the call and response? OK.

WEIR: Uh-huh.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCATABILITY APP VOCAL EXERCISE)

KATE REID: (Scat singing).

MARTIN: Oh, that was supposed to be me. (Scat singing).

(SOUNDBITE OF SCATABILITY APP VOCAL EXERCISE)

REID: (Scat singing).

MARTIN: (Scat singing).

(SOUNDBITE OF SCATABILITY APP VOCAL EXERCISE)

REID: (Scat singing).

MARTIN: (Scat singing).

(SOUNDBITE OF SCATABILITY APP VOCAL EXERCISE)

REID: (Scat singing).

MARTIN: (Scat singing).

(SOUNDBITE OF SCATABILITY APP VOCAL EXERCISE)

REID: (Scat singing).

MARTIN: Is that it? Am I scatting? That doesn't really feel like scatting. It just feels - I don't know what - I'm, like, talking like my 3-year-old.

WEIR: First of all, I think you're doing awesome.

MARTIN: Well, thanks.

WEIR: What you're doing is you're learning how to scat.

MARTIN: Am I? (Laughter).

WEIR: Well, it's like learning a language. If someone said, you know, como se dice or something in a foreign language...

MARTIN: Yeah.

WEIR: You know, you would want to hear that phrase a few times. You'd need to learn to hear the subtlety of the accent of the singer, their word stress, their tone, their inflection. And that's what you're doing with Kate, is you're listening to her and trying to soak in how does she do it. Then you're emulating it.

MARTIN: But it's crazy. Like, you're saying made-up words. And it's like, if you don't know the rules, you don't know what sounds ridiculous and what sounds cool...

WEIR: That's right.

MARTIN: In scatting.

WEIR: And we call them syllables. And you're right. That actually is one of the classic stumbling blocks for singers when I'm out in the world teaching - because until you can say (scat singing) and have it roll off the tongue easily, then it's a little difficult to get the notes out. But that's why we listen to the professional singers, you know, as role models.

MARTIN: There's one on here that you sing. Is that right?

WEIR: Mhmm.

MARTIN: Oh, you're at tude (ph) number one, Michele Weir.

WEIR: That's right. It's my app.

MARTIN: It's your app. You get to be number one.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCATABILITY APP VOCAL EXERCISE)

WEIR: (Scat singing).

This one is an A-tude (ph). And it's an actual improvised solo. Eventually, you can pretty much sing with it, especially when you've got the talent that you do.

MARTIN: Oh, now you're just, you know, shining me on. (Laughter) Keep going.

WEIR: Yeah, and then later we mute the singer. And we get a chance to improvise freely.

MARTIN: OK, so I'm going to do this one on mixer.

WEIR: And just touch the speaker icon and you will mute the singer.

MARTIN: Mute, oh, OK.

WEIR: And I won't take it personally that you're muting me. Don't worry.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SCATABILITY APP VOCAL EXERCISE)

MARTIN: (Scat singing).

How was that? That was ridiculous. That was the most ridiculous thing I've ever done.

WEIR: Well, you know, I mean, little by little, what we want to do...

MARTIN: (Laughter).

WEIR: Is move it more towards - (laughter)...

MARTIN: (Laughter). You're so sweet. (Laughter). Keep going. Keep telling me.

WEIR: We want to guide it toward what we hear in the demo singer.

MARTIN: So good try, Rachel. That was fun. But you did - you got - I did not get a good grade on that is what you're telling me.

WEIR: No, you got an A-minus. That's a pretty good grade.

MARTIN: Michele Weir, it has been so fun talking with you. Michele is the creator of ScatAbility. She joined us from our studios at NPR West. Thanks so much, Michele.

WEIR: Thanks, Rachel. I'm glad to be here.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE CHRISTMAS SONG")

FITZGERALD: (Scat singing). Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.TEST: THIS IS ONLY A TEST (Scat singing). TEST: THIS IS ONLY A TEST

Copyright © 2015 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.