What is Beatboxing?

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Beatboxing is a form of vocal percussion. Sometimes the term is limited to a certain style of vocal percussion connected with the musical genre of hip hop, but at other times it is used more broadly. It clearly does not apply to traditions of vocal percussion that are rooted in countries other than the United States.

Beatboxers use the microphone in unconventional ways.
Beatboxers use the microphone in unconventional ways.

Beatboxing may also include body percussion as well as vocal percussion, depending on which definition one goes by. However, Human Beatbox defines beatboxing as “the art of producing drum beats, rhythm, and musical sounds using one's mouth, lips, tongue, voice, nasal passage and throat.”

The content of beatboxing centers around a set of sounds that are imitative of specific drumset sounds. The three core sounds are considered to be the kick drum, the bass drum of the drumset; the snare drum, the freestanding drum that can be played with snares on or off; and the closed hi-hat cymbal, played with the foot pedal or tapped with a stick or brush.

Each instrument is linked to one or more vocalizations. The kick drum is represented as /b/. The closed hi hat as /t/ and the open hi hat as /ts/, and the snare drum alternatively as /pf/, /psh/ or /ps/. By combining these sounds in patterns and repeating the patterns steadily one can imitate a basic drumset groove.

But the practice of beatboxing doesn’t stop there. One can add other sounds, such as drum machine snare, cymbal crash, reverse cymbal, sweeping bass drum, techno bass, jazz brushes, rimshots, and click rolls. Advanced beatboxing adds humming or singing to the beatboxing.

Other important elements in becoming a beatboxer are mastering when to breathe. This is a different situation than talking or singing. With so many explosive sounds pushing air out, breathing has to be carefully planned. Another crucial element is the proper way to hold the microphone, if you choose to use one. Different grips are used in the production of different sounds, and in some cases two mics are used.

Part of the skill of beatboxing depends on a lot of hard work and practice. This is true whether one is beatboxing a known song, as is commonly done, or making up something new. Being able to ad-lib usually only comes after the elements have become really integrated into the beatboxer’s repertoire.

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to wiseGEEK about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

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Discussion Comments


@carrotisland: It was Darren “The Human Beat Box” Robinson. He was a member of the rap group called “The Fat Boys”. When Robinson was growing up, his family could not afford a drum set so he learned how to make percussion-like sounds with his mouth. That is where he got his nickname “The Human Beat Box”. He was also known as Buff Love, Doc Nice, and The Ox that rocks.

The Fat Boys were previously called Disco 3. While on a tour, the trio’s manager received a $350 hotel bill for “extra breakfasts”. He complained about the trio eating so much and told them they should change their name to The Fat Boys, so they did.

In 1995, The Human Beat Box was diagnosed with lymphedema. He died on December 10th of that year. You can view his beatbox videos on youtube.


In the 80's, there was a rapper who called himself the human beatbox. Does anyone remember who he was?

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