Beatbox essentially is the ability to replicate and create percussion sounds using only your mouth. Initially the artform focused primarily on the sole replication of percussion-based instruments, however it has developed and grown into so much more than just that. Beatboxing is filled with a diverse range of sounds spanning anywhere from scratches and snares to trumpets, sirens and zippers.
At the end of the day, however, the art can be scaled back to the usage of three fundamental sounds – the kick, the snare and the hi-hat. And for a bonus, we’ll be taking you through two snares today, not just one.
[Though there is no formal governing body that has set these standards, beatboxers use the letters B, T/Ts, K and Pf to refer to these basic sounds. You’ll see why in a minute.]
As a beatboxer that’s just starting out, the first sound that you’ll need to learn is the kick drum. Kickdrums play an integral role in beatboxing and are one of the three basic sounds that all beatboxers know and utilise. Kick drums, in a standard drum set, are the large drums on the bottom which are activated and played using a foot pedal.
The easiest way to create this sound is to say the letter ‘B’ without actually vocalising it. Keep in mind that while you’re doing this you want to force the air out. Build up the pressure in your cheeks and exert it out through the mouth.
Another way to learn this sound would be to say the word “boo” – now, take the oo out and that leaves you with buh. The more pressure you build up behind your lips while trying this the punchier your kick drum will sound. You can increase the punch or the volume of the sound by increasing the amount of force you exert when saying buh.
Purse your lips as tightly as possible, and build up a fair amount of pressure behind it before releasing the “buh” sound. This will ensure that your kick drums resonate loud and clear.
You can check out this video tutorial by Delhi beatboxer N-grave, for another explanation.
Hi-hats are by far one of the easiest sounds to replicate. They are as important as kick drums, and add a layer of depth to your beats. Hi-hats are the cymbals that open and close, and in a standard drum set arrangement they can usually be found placed closest to the drums.
In order to create this sound you have to combine the letters t and s – the sound produced is almost like a snake’s hiss. In order to improve the precision of the sound you can increase the pressure of your tongue hitting the back of your teeth. Make sure that you don’t let too much air out otherwise the hi hats will sound loose and scattered; you can regulate this by cutting the sound with our tongue. Its important to remember that the ts hitting behind your teeth are quick and precise hits so as to give the sound more clarity.
You can increase the number of ss at the end of the ts when replicating open hi hats this is useful as it helps a beatboxer effectively switch between various hi hats within a single beat sequence. The more you can regulate the air flow and “-sss” sound, the more you’ll be able to experiment with your beats.
K snares are another integral sound in a beatboxer’s arsenal. They play an important role in breath control, as they involve the intake of air as opposed to the two sounds mentioned above (which exert air outwards). That’s why, this sound is also called the “inward K”.
K snares are a little tricky for most beatboxers that are starting out, so don’t be disheartened if your k snare initially sounds different in comparison to the others. With a little bit of practice and repetition, you’ll get the hang of it. In order to create the K snare you need to adopt the same principle as kick drums – by thinking of the letter K and then making a hard K sound without actually vocalising the letter; the result is a resounding “kuh” sound. Try saying the word “cake” a few times while really punching the “k” sound, and you’ll get the hang of it.
Now, set your mouth in that position without actually making the K sound, without actually releasing air. You need to bring the air into your mouth by breathing in, and isolate the sound in the back of your jaw to where your back molar teeth meet. Breathe in, as you do the K sound – you might feel funny in the beginning, you might feel a choke or a cough coming on, and that’s perfectly normal. Once you get good at it, it should sound like a sharp clap, as you breathe in.
Its quite likely that excess saliva will build up when trying this sound for the first, and choking on your own spit is a real possibility… so make sure you don’t push yourself too hard. Once you’ve got the idea of how to create the sound you can focus on increasing the pressure in that particular spot at the back of your throat, and making sure you’ve got a consistency in your sound. If the sound is still rough, and you feel like you can’t get a hang of it, you can check out this tutorial by Jeewak.
Pf snares are outward snares that add a bit of groove and variety to your beat structures. On a drum kit, this is the drum that’s almost in your lap. Pf snares can be used in standard as well as complex combinations, and when done right can elevate your performance.
This sound requires the combination of the letters ‘p’ and ‘f’. Start by saying the word “poof” a few times, and then try to shorten the “oo” sound every time you do it. Poooof. Pooof. Poof. Puf. Pwf. Pf. Pf. Pf.
Similar to kick-drums, you have to build up some pressure behind your lips before releasing it out with a fair bit of force through your mouth. Make sure that you hold on to the f at the end so that the snare sounds profound and precise. Try not to blow air out from your lungs, as you’ll end up losing your breath while doing beats. Instead, you can use your diaphragm to regulate the amount of air and force used to make the sound, and can either increase or decrease the force exerted to vary the volume and level of the snare.
You can check out this video tutorial, for another explanation of the Pf snare.
I hope this article helps you take your first steps into the beautiful world of beatboxing. If you found this write up useful then make sure you check out our other articles in the Beginner Series.
– Warren Romer