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Science of Beatboxing

Beatboxing has been making a comeback in recent years, but few people understand the science behind the sound.

By Will VasquezPublished 7 years ago 4 min read

Beatboxing, or the art of producing the track to a song with nothing but one's voice, has been seeing a resurgence lately, but few understand the science of beatboxing. Scientists have recently been studying beatboxing in order to gain insights into how human beings produce sound, and the results have fascinated linguists and researchers alike. This new research promises to give us a peak into this mysterious and catchy practice. Join us now for a look at the science of beatboxing.

The Latest Beatboxing Research

Scientists have used an MRI to analyze what is going on in a beatboxer’s mouth, throat, head, and chest for the first time in order to gain insight into the practice. The goal was to gain a better understanding of how human beings create sound. Additionally, many linguists are intrigued by this research because they hope it will answer questions about different ways that sound-creation affects human communication.

The project used MRI to gain a previously unseen look at what goes on while someone is beatboxing. This gave scientists and researchers the opportunity to study the sound creation in real time and see how the subject’s body was producing the sounds. As a result scientists and researchers now have fresh data to better understand the science of beatboxing.

Linguistic Discoveries

Scientists and researchers found that the sounds produced by their subjects were all sounds that could be found in the world’s many different languages. This may seem trite but it actually goes a long way in answering a number of important linguistic questions relating to the sounds we use to communicate. Researchers have long wondered if human language takes full advantage of the array of sounds that can be produced by people. No one language incorporates all of the different linguistic possibilities, and understanding the range of sounds an individual can make may provide some answers as to why that is the case. If researchers found sounds that were not used in any human languages then that would raise new questions about why people choose the sounds they do to communicate.

This turned out not to be the case, as linguists found that the tools they already use to describe different types of speech can be applied to the sounds made by a beatboxer. As a result they were able to determine that the subject was producing sounds that did not fit into any language he knew, but were still represented in different languages.

Researchers found that the subject, who was able to produce a huge array of sounds at different tempos and rhythms, utilized precise control over the different sound producing features of the human body in order to execute his performance. The performance relied on many different types of sound production, including those that we hear in the words around us every day, but also including sounds from other languages that would be unfamiliar to those who speak a European language.

One example of this is the use of ejective consonants, made by closing the vocal cords to produce a burst of air. To western ears this sound imitates the sound of a kick drum, providing the bass line to the beatboxer’s composition, but these sounds are used in words in many languages, including First Nations languages from Canada, as well as in Chechen and the African language Hausa.

The beatboxer was able to use this, and other such sounds, to imitate different musical instruments, mostly in the percussion class. Examples include the previously stated kick drum, as well as rim shots, hi-hats, snares, and cymbals.

Researchers argue that these discoveries don’t just show us how beatboxing works, but can provide insights into other facets of human speech as well as sound imitation. They argue that understanding the different ways that sounds are produced gives us a valuable look into the complex emotional power of speech and sound. If this is true then the science of beatboxing could affect the way that multiple academic disciplines operate, making this potentially groundbreaking research.

Another important area of study that can gain insight from this experiment is the connection between sound, speech, and music, and the different ways that those things affect us physically and emotionally. Philosophers and theorists have argued for thousands of years that music can affect the mood of human beings, and learning what connection different sounds have to different types of speaking and sound production techniques may shed some light on why different sounds and music cause us to experience different emotions.

Beatboxing Going Forward

While this study provided new details for researchers to ponder, there is still much more to be don when it comes to using beatboxing as a lens to understand different aspects of sound production and how sound affects us. One area that researchers are eager to delve more deeply into is how some beatboxers are able to produce percussive effects while humming or speaking at the same time. Such research could also provide new strategies for speech therapists to help individuals who have different types of speaking disorders, or problems making certain types of sounds.

Other questions involve the physical act of beatboxing. Researchers want to know how long it takes a beatboxer to develop their different skills and how difficult they are to acquire. This could point the way toward more effective language learning techniques. Moreover, understanding the process that beatboxers use to develop their craft could also provide insights into earl language acquisition as well as provide a fresh look at the way the brain controls the parts of the body that produce sound.

As you can see, there has been a great deal of work to be done to understand how beatboxing works. This research has provided a number of important scientific and linguistic insights that will likely influence research into human speech, music, and sound physiology for years to come. Only time will tell what we will ultimately be able to learn, but one thing is clear; the science of beatboxing produces amazing research as well as amazing jams.

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About the Creator

Will Vasquez

Venue manager in Austin, TX. No, you can't meet the band.

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    Will VasquezWritten by Will Vasquez

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