May 2019

Techniques: Doo-Wop Songwriting

All that’s old is eventually new again in pop culture, with the doo-wop vocal style of such 1950s groups as The Platters and The Drifters coming back over the decades to influence acts from Boyz II Men to BTS.

National Standards: 1-3, 5-7, 9, 11


Have the class read Techniques: Doo-Wop Songwriting (page 22 of the student edition).

Key points in the article:

    • In the same way chokers were popular in the 1920s and 40s, then made resurgences in the 90s and again in the 2010s, musical styles fall in and out of favor
    • Doo-wop began in the 1950s, getting its name from the syllables used for singing harmonies


Example 1

Play the three scales from the first example on a piano. Explain that each scale contains exactly the same notes, but sounds different only because of the note each scale starts with.

Example 2

Play “Casbah” by Sandy Nelson. Ask students to listen for the major triad in the melody, and how every measure begins on one of the tones of the G major chord.

Example 3

Play the F minor melody from example three on a piano. Have students listen for the minor triad, especially how it contrasts with the B natural in the melody.

Example 4

Play Duke Ellington/Juan Tizol’s “Caravan.”

Take note of the chord progression and how it changes every few measures. These chord changes are between C7 and F minor. Have students listen for how the soloist plays between the C Phrygian dominant scale and F natural minor to blend the two scales together.