When people sing without knowing or using the text, they often sing as lalalala...

  • It is quite widespread in my experience, though why is a mystery to me.
    – user6726
    Jun 1 '18 at 15:34
  • 1
    This would probably be better asked at Music: Practice & Theory.
    – curiousdannii
    Jun 1 '18 at 16:43
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    Relevant Wikipedia article: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-lexical_vocables_in_music
    – Duncan
    Jun 1 '18 at 18:10
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    Probably because low vowels (a) and laterals (l, r) are the phones that allow air to flow more freely? Jun 1 '18 at 22:39
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    /a/ is easy to explain; it's the most open, resonant vowel. A sonorant consonant is easy to explain; you need a continuous, non-noisy, periodic sound to carry pitches and melodies. Why the specific sonorant is /l/ is more speculative. It could be /n/, /m/, /j/ which are, indeed, also common in this role; perhaps /l/ is simpler than /m,n/ because you don't have to open and close the nasal passage. To my personal taste /l/ sounds beautiful, though that’s probably a consequence of the properties that also make it useful for music, and not the cause of its use in music. Jun 5 '18 at 15:50

I am not sure why la is used widely as a non-lexical vocable (it could be an arbitrary selection that gained popularity), but I can tell you it is not a worldwide phenomenon.

In Indian Classical music, there is a segment called alap (or alapana) which is non-rhythmic improvisation done without lyrics. Typically, the singer says "aaa..." as he vocalizes (other vowels are used, albeit very rarely). In other variants such as the nomtom (or tanam) use nonsensical syllables such as nom, tom, na, tana, rana, and so on.

In fact, there is whole a class of (rhythmic) compositions called taranas, which are entirely made up of meaningless syllables.

  • 1
    Ditto the "terirem" of Byzantine music, which sound just like taranas. Duncan Whyte linked to en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-lexical_vocables_in_music, and @boiko referenced sonorants, and that's more on point: sonorants and "a" are going to be more frequent, and "la" is just the choice of sonorant + vowel that the hegemonic culture has made... Jun 6 '18 at 7:48

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