I. Group Harmony
A wide range of voices (usually bass to high tenor or falsetto) must combine in vocal harmony or more commonly run underneath the lead vocalist. Usually the second tenor and baritone blend together as one sound, with the high tenor often falsetto running over the lead and the bass underneath.
II. Wide Range of Voice Parts
A Lead Voice - The lead voice is usually a tenor (castrato) such as Frankie Lymon and Leslie Martin, but a bass will lead in part of the song. Bass leads are more often found in uptempo songs, while falsetto are more often found in ballads. Melisma, a gospel vocal technique in which syllables are elongated to fit the meter of the song was used in some regularity by the lead voice in early doo wop ballads
B Bass - There is almost always a distinct bass part. The bass part often provides the introduction and/or punctuates the song between choruses. The bass typically runs under the lead voice, either as part of the background harmony, or a voice separate from the lead or the harmony. Occasionally the bass will provide a talking bridge in the middle of a song
C Falsetto - Falsetto parts are often found
in doo wop, most commonly at the end of the song, as part of the lead voice's fade out.
Especially in ballads, the
bass will echo the lead, be part of the background harmony or "run above" the background harmony.
III. Nonsense Syllables - There is a liberal and frequent use of nonsense syllables that have no mean such as doo wop, bum buh-buh-bum-bum, it-lit-lit-lit-lit-lit. Bass and harmony frequently use this device. They tended to be more restrained, simple and somber when used in ballads
IV. Beat and Instrumentation - background beats are simple and heavy, drumming uncomplicated and anything but subtle.
A Beat - doo wop started on the street corners with finger snaps and hand claps providing the beat.
B Instrumentation - Originating on the street, voices were the musical instruments and so it was when it moved to the recording studios. Instruments played little part in doo wop.
V Simple Music and Lyrics - Most doo wop songs are written with simple melodies, often with four chord progressions. Doo wop lyrics tend to be repetitive, simple, dialectical, hackneyed and occasionally ungrammatical.