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Beatboxing audio sample

In beatboxing or beatboxing , drum computer beats ( beatbox is the informal English name for a drum computer ) - sometimes also scratches or drums - and other percussion rhythms, more rarely other instruments and other sounds - are imitated with the mouth, nose and throat. Unlike traditional singing , beatboxing usually fulfills musical functions that are comparable to those of rhythm or effect instruments . The art form, and sometimes the performing musician, are also known as human beatbox (outdated spelling: human beat box ). Beatboxing is often equated with vocal percussion , but strictly speaking only describes a special form of it developed in hip-hop .

Derivation of terms

A classic beat box : The TR-808 was popular in early hip-hop productions. The imitation of their beats is now part of the repertoire of many beatboxers.

The term is derived from the drum computers popular especially in the 1980s - called casually beat boxes in English (from beat "Schlag" or "Takt" and box "Kiste" or "housing") - with which the instrumental music of many people back then Hip hop pieces was created. Someone who creates beats and sounds with their mouths is called a human beatbox in the hip-hop context - that is, a “human drum computer”. (The ghetto blasters that were widespread in hip-hop culture at the time are also known colloquially as boom boxes or beat boxes .)

History and culture


Noise imitations and voice effects had a long tradition even before the human beatbox. As a regular musical element they found in the American popular music in the first half of the 20th century use, such as in the onomatopoeic syllables and imitations of instrumental phrases of Scat -Gesangs, in the deep thump tones and rhythmic accompanying hissing - and breath noise of Blues , Barbershop and Doo Wop or in the "hacking", pork and turkey sounds imitating, eephing the hillbilly music.

With the spread of radio and records, and later also through talkies, some vocal artists in the USA gained a wider audience , especially as comedy or novelty stars. The singer and voice actor Cliff “Ukelele Ike” Edwards imitated trumpet solos with his voice in his recordings in the 1910s and 20s or imitated entire backing bands. In the 1940s, voice actor Mel Blanc was known as The Man of a Thousand Voices for his cartoon-like sound effects and animal voices , and percussionist and bandleader Spike Jones has been using cowbells since the 1940s , Car horns, pistol shots or chicken cackling, there are always bizarre rhythmic voice effects in his music.

In the 1960s and 70s, some rock and pop musicians experimented in their music with vocal percussion such as rhythmic hissing or tongue clicking , pieces such as Time of the Season of the Zombies from 1968, Come Together from the Beatles from 1969 or Mungo Jerrys In the Summertime from 1970 international hits. Since the early 1970s, Michael Jackson has occasionally adorned his singing with vocal effects that specifically anticipated the sonic aesthetics of beatboxing, for example in 1970 in the song True Love Can Be Beautiful by The Jackson Five or in 1976 in Blues Away .

However, beatboxing as an independent form was only cultivated in hip-hop music.

See also the section: Beatboxing, Vocal Percussion, multivocalism

Hip-hop beginnings

The Original Human Beatbox : Doug E. Fresh beatboxed while performing in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in August 2010.

Beatboxing emerged around the beginning of the 1980s, only shortly after the still young hip-hop generation had started rapping to breakbeats - and soon afterwards to electronically generated rhythms . As a creative and inexpensive alternative to drum computers, playbacks or live instruments, not only hip-hop DJs but also beatboxers developed. Early representatives were Doug E. Fresh , Biz Markie , Ready Rock C, Darren “Buffy” Robinson from The Fat Boys , Leonardo “Wise” Roman from Stetsasonic and K Love as the first better-known beatboxer. As the first beatboxing recording in 1983 published applies Maxi Single Reality of Disco 3 (which shortly afterwards renamed Fat Boys).

Both Doug E. Fresh and Darren Robinson claimed to be the originators of beatboxing. Robinson gave himself the title The Human Beatbox (see also the piece Human Beat Box on the 1984 album Fat Boys ), while Fresh called himself The Original Human Beatbox (see also his maxi single The Original Human Beat Box from 1984). Ready Rock C was called The Human Linn Drum , corresponding to a drum computer from Linn Electronics that was popular at the time .

Individual beatboxers developed some considerable virtuosity and produced individual styles. Doug E. mimicked Fresh Electro sounds and combined quick sequences of clicks with deep bass sounds, Wise imitated scratches, Darren Robinson Cuíca rhythms and Ready Rock C generated video game sounds and bubbling sounds reminiscent of underwater recordings. In 1985 the single The Show / La-Di-Da-Di was released , on the B-side the recording of a pure beatbox / rap performance Doug E. Freshs and the rapper Slick Rick (then as MC Ricky D) could be heard. The single sold over half a million times in the USA, became a hit in England and the musicians appeared there on Top of the Pops . A year later, Biz Markie released his EP Make The Music With Your Mouth, Biz , on the tracks of which he mixed beatboxing, rap and singing to create a novel, idiosyncratic Style connected. The human beatbox had emancipated itself from its accompanying function and had become an independent form of artistic expression.

Some beatboxing pioneers, such as Doug E. Fresh or Biz Markie, are still musically active (as of 2010).



Rock concert with Human Beatbox: Rahzel opens a performance by Faith No More in July 2010.

With the emergence of new impulses in the hip-hop scene at the beginning of the 1990s, beatboxing initially became less popular as part of the so-called old school . However, the art form found its way into other styles of music and continued to be practiced and developed in various forms and mixed forms inside and outside of hip-hop. So beat boxed Rahzel in the hip-hop band The Roots and was on individual shots of Rakim , Da Bush Babees or the Fantastic Four to hear. Michael Jackson showed his beatboxing skills in an a cappella lecture of his song Who Is It in 1993 during a television interview with Oprah Winfrey and shortly afterwards released a version of the song as a maxi single - which was introduced with a beatbox intro and titled The Oprah Winfrey Special Intro . The music producer Timbaland has been integrating beatbox elements into the beats of its hip-hop and R&B productions since the mid-1990s , for example in Ginuwine's When Doves Cry from 1996 or Aaliyah's Are You That Somebody? from 1998.

In the German-speaking countries, musicians like Beatbox Eliot , Zlep and Christian “Bina” Birawsky began to beatbox on local jams in the first half of the 1990s , thus laying the foundation for the German-speaking scene. In 1996 the beatbox band Bauchklang was formed in Austria , which Bina has since joined.

Since around the turn of the millennium, the human beatbox has experienced a revival in many ways . Rahzel's debut album Make The Music 2000 , which was released in 1999 and on which beatboxing plays a central role throughout , is seen as a turning point . The title can be understood as a reminiscence of Biz Markie's Make The Music With Your Mouth, Biz , whose song of the same name can also be found on the album as a cover version . The album contains guest contributions by Slick Rick and well-known musicians such as Q-Tip , Erykah Badu and Branford Marsalis and concludes with a hidden track in which Rahzel creates a variety of beatbox sounds in a two-minute performance and these - based on the four elements - Teaching of ancient Greek philosophy  - assigns the "elements" earth, wind, fire and water. The track became known as The Four Elements and is now considered a reference for beatboxing techniques in the scene.

As an authoritative beatboxer 2000s alongside Rahzel example, the British beatboxer apply Killa Kela , the musician Matisyahu , Scratch , who has specialized in the imitation of scratching sounds and in the 1990s, partly as a human turntable (ger .:, human Turntable ') on concerts by the Roots the DJ replaced and Kenny Muhammad , whose production of the play Kenny's Joy to the New York City Symphony in 1998, a beat boxer is considered the first appearance with a classical orchestra and him the nickname the human Orchestra (ger .:, human Orchestra ').

The Human Beatbox achieved greater chart success again in 2002 with Justin Timberlake's beatboxing solo in his song Rock Your Body , which reached the top ten in several countries and in 2004 with the beatboxing-based playback of the song Drop It Like It's Hot by Snoop Dogg , which in became the number one hit in the USA. Rahzel toured with singer Mike Patton in 2004 , Killa Kela released various albums and worked with British bands such as Artful Dodger , Basement Jaxx and Stereo MCs , and world-famous musicians like Kanye West and Damon Albarn played on Scratch's second album Loss 4 Wordz from 2009 .

Shlomo beatboxed at the Be a Beatbox event in the Dana Center of London's Science Museum in July 2007.

In the a cappella scene, many formations now use vocal percussion as an additional element. The spectrum ranges from discreet, casual accompaniment in the tradition of barbershop and doo-wop to virtuoso beatboxing. A prominent example of the latter are the musical contributions by Rahzel and the British beatboxer Shlomo on Björk's 2004 album Medúlla , the music of which was produced almost exclusively with the human voice.

As an extension to the original four hip-hop disciplines DJing , MCing , breaking and writing , beatboxing is sometimes referred to as the “fifth pillar” or the “fifth element” of hip-hop culture and is therefore one of its essential characteristics. The reverse is only true to a limited extent, as the creation of beats with the mouth is generally based on drum computers and turntablism and can now not only be associated with hip-hop. The entire musical spectrum in which the human beatbox is used ranges from almost all varieties of pop music to jazz and world music to the avant-garde . The artists supplement the rhythm section in bands or replace it completely, they perform musical solo programs and form pure beatbox ensembles. In addition to belly sound, the Vocal Orchestra founded by Shlomo in 2007 is an example of a pure beatbox band.

Spoken Word

In addition to the purely musical use, the human beatbox is sometimes also combined with spoken language , for example in stand-up comedy . Sound imitations trained in beatboxing techniques are an essential part of the stage programs of actor and comedian Michael Winslow , stand-up comedian and musician Joshua Walters or the comedy duo The Umbilical Brothers .

Beatboxing is also occasionally used in the context of open mic events or other spoken word performances such as slam poetry . The imitation of specific noises is not always the focus here, but beatbox elements are also used as direct, lyrical expressions in the sense of sound poetry . In this case, certain boundaries between language and music necessarily blur, so that the results move in the area of ​​tension between spoken language, human beatbox and spoken word. The inclusion of African-American music borrowed rhythmic vocal effects in a lyrical speech is certainly in a certain tradition, the poems of jazz and were already in the 1940s and 50s Beat Generation -Poeten as Langston Hughes , Bob Kaufman or Allen Ginsberg from Groove , which influenced the phrasing and onomatopoeic expression of the scat, which was then cultivated in bebop .


The internet has contributed significantly to the spread of beatboxing since around the turn of the millennium. Many websites and numerous user videos on video portals are now part of a worldwide beatbox community and you can learn beatboxing techniques there using instructions and tutorials . The musicians present themselves in videos, publish their own recordings via audio files and exchange ideas in web forums . The scene's conventions , jams and battles are often organized over the Internet. On November 14, 2011, Google gained an entry in the Guinness Book of Records by organizing the largest beatboxing ensemble in the world in Ireland with 2081 participants.

watch TV

In July 2012, beatboxer and singer
Butterscotch, made famous by America's Got Talent , performed in the program of the Montreux Jazz Festival .

The human beatbox became popular on television, among other things, in the context of casting shows . The singer and beatboxer Philippe Bühler qualified for third place in the second season of the show Deutschland sucht den Superstar in 2004 and the beatboxers Albert "Alberto" Bruhn and Robert "Robeat" Wolf ran for the first season of the talent show Das Supertalent in 2007 . This phenomenon can also be observed internationally, for example the singer and beatboxer Antoinette “Butterscotch” Clinton qualified for the finals of America's Got Talent in 2007 , the beatboxer Joseph “Poolpo” took part in the French superstar variant Nouvelle Star and the beatboxer Aleksi Vähäpassi went, also in 2007, as the winner of the Finnish Super talent variant talent Suomi forth.

Beatboxing is also a popular motif in television advertising. Beatboxing has already appeared in spots for international companies such as Redbull, Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald's, Wal-Mart, Vodafone and Suzuki. Rahzel played in an advertisement for the Twix chocolate bar in 2003, Poolpo competed in a bizarre commercial in a musical contest against the Windows Vista operating system in 2007, and a 2010 commercial advertising the Wick Blau cough candy shows a performance of several beatboxers with a vocal ensemble .


The human beatbox can sometimes be heard and seen in the cinema. Beatboxing is used in many hip-hop films, from Doug E. Fresh's appearance in Beat Street in 1984 to the musical contributions of beatboxer Anthony "Click Tha Supah Latin" Rivera in 8 Mile in 2002. But also in films without a specific one With regard to hip-hop, beatboxing techniques are occasionally used: in addition to Michael Winslow's sound imitations as Officer Larvell Jones in the Police Academy film series, which began in 1984, the 2002 science fiction comedy Men in Black II features beatboxing. Biz Markie appears here in a supporting role as a mail clerk talking to agent James Edwards, played by Will Smith , in a beatboxing-based, alien language.

Documentaries on beatboxing have also been shown in the cinema. In 2002, director Joey Garfield gave an overview of the origins and history of beatboxing in his film Breath Control: The History of the Human Beat Box and interviewed key figures such as Doug E. Fresh, Wise, Biz Markie, Rahzel and Scratch while the director was in progress In his film Love, Peace & Beatbox in 2008, Volker Meyer-Dabisch specifically addressed recent developments in the German beatboxing scene.


Similar to the battle rap in DJ battles or poetry slams occur beatboxer occasionally in public contests - so-called Battles (ger .: battle , battle 'or' struggle ') or Championships (ger .: championship , championship ') - against each other on. Either the audience evaluates the performances of the individual beatboxers through applause or voting, or a jury determines the winners. The length of each performance is usually limited by a time limit. Evaluation criteria can be, for example, technique, style or musical originality of the performance. Both individual performances and the direct confrontation of several musicians improvising simultaneously or alternately are common . In contrast to the so-called battle rap has Dissen optionally have a more peaceful character within the music not much space, thus beatbox battles.

Local battles are now being held in many cities around the world and there are also national and international competitions. For example , nationwide battles take place in Belgium , France , Poland and England at irregular intervals. The Berlin hip-hop artist Bee Low has organized the Beatbox Battle World Championship every year since 2002 , where beatboxers from all over the world compete against each other.

Beatboxing, vocal percussion, multivocalism

Killa Kela's multivocalism isn't just influenced by hip hop.

Beatboxing has meanwhile emancipated itself from its hip-hop roots in many ways, which is why the term is often used synonymously with vocal percussion in general and within many non-traditional contexts the differentiation between the two terms is also obsolete. Ultimately, however, a general equation is wrong, because historically beatboxing is only one type of vocal percussion and besides it there exist other forms that are completely untouched by hip-hop, such as Konnakol, which is rooted in traditional South Indian music, or certain elements of the Gaelic-speaking area resident Puirt a beul .

In the meantime, however, it has been observed that beatboxers are increasingly making references to vocal music without a beatboxing background, for example, in an interview in 2008, Killa Kela named jazz singer Urszula Dudziak as a source of inspiration and beatboxer Kid Lucky named the vocal artist Bobby McFerrin and the performance artist Diamanda Galás as musical influences. It is not always possible to clearly distinguish between musical forms and it often depends on the self- image and the musical background of a musician whether his music is now as beatboxing, as vocal percussion, as multivocalism (from multi 'multiple' and vocal ' verbally 'or' vocal ') or otherwise.

See also the sections: Precursors and Chant


Sound and rhythm

Beatboxing is basically about creating percussive rhythms with the vocal tract . In contrast to conventional singing techniques, which deal more with voiced sounds (such as vowels ), the focus in beatboxing is much more on the tonal possibilities of unvoiced sounds (such as consonants ).

In this sheet music example , syllables based on bass drum and snare drum are arranged in a simple hip-hop beat. Contemporary beatboxing is usually a lot more complex, both sonically and rhythmically.

Based on common drum computer sounds, for example, [pʰ] , [p͡f] , [p͡s] , [t͡ʃ] or [k͡ʃ] to imitate the snare drum , [b] , [b͡ʍ] , [b͡m] or [ŋ] for the Bass drum and [t͡s] , [t] or [k̟] used for the hi-hat . Such a basic repertoire can be varied and expanded. A wide spectrum of sounds can be produced with the mouth, nose and throat - for example through song or speech fragments, through clicking tongues , whistling or humming, through controlled breathing , snoring , coughing or swallowing , through lip vibrations and finally through combinations of these techniques be generated. The noises are used to imitate percussive timbres (such as cymbals , tom toms , cowbells or congas ), drum rolls , rhythm, melody or bass instruments , synthesizer sounds , vocals , samples , scratches, cuts , audio effects or everyday noises, and occasionally as independent sound gestures without a specific instrumental model.

The individual sounds are arranged into rhythms . As successive in speech sounds often influence each other ( co-articulation ) is the beatboxing usually the staccatohafte , precise articulation significantly each sound, so that its specific sound remains clear. Controlled tensing and movement of the tongue, cheek, jaw and neck muscles, sophisticated voice and breath control and precise timing allow multiple instruments to be simulated synchronously or complex pieces of music to be produced by a single interpreter . In order to take full advantage of the limited possibilities of the vocal tract, the musicians sometimes make use of special psychoacoustic phenomena and thus create the illusion that the listener is hearing several sounds instead of one.


When speaking or singing, articulation is usually done while exhaling; overtone singing is a rare exception . Beatboxing, however, produces various sounds by inhaling . On the one hand, this has the advantage that the beatboxer does not have to interrupt his presentation with breathing pauses and can maintain a continuous rhythm. For example, some techniques - such as the articulation of a [t] to imitate a closed hi-hat - can be performed both inhaling and exhaling if necessary. On the other hand, certain sounds can only be generated by inhaled air currents, such as the so-called inward clap snare , a hand - clap- like sound in which a [k͡l] is articulated in the throat area while inhaling , or so-called inward click rolls , drum-roll-like sequences of clicks where the Tongue is set in motion by inhaled air currents.

Microphone techniques

When performing, beatboxers typically use microphones to record their presentations. In order to achieve different sound effects, special techniques have been established. For example, the microphone is partially covered with the hands or - instead of in front of the mouth, as is usual with traditional singing - also held up to the nose, throat or even the chest. Occasionally, several microphones are used at the same time.

When air currents hit the membrane of a microphone, interference - usually undesirable - can arise, which is why the membrane is often protected by a so-called pop or wind protection. However, some beatboxers deliberately include this kind of background noise in their presentation and thus influence the volume or timbre of their sounds.

Mixed forms


Occasionally, beatboxing techniques are combined with other vocal music in such a way that the same musician beatboxed and sings at the same time. The rhythmic accompaniment of one's own singing or rap is now relatively widespread. The technique became popular, among other things, through Rahzel's interpretation of Aaliyah's song If Your Girl Only Knew , which he rewrote to If Your Mother Only Knew and published it on Make The Music 2000 . The recording is a concert excerpt in which Rahzel first beatboxing and singing a few passages in alternation, but then brings both elements together and interweaves them in such a way that an effect of singing with simultaneous rhythmic accompaniment is created. Rahzel's virtuoso lecture sparked enthusiasm in the beatboxing scene and the piece is now considered a classic. Adaptations and variations can be found in the repertoire of many beatboxers.

Another mixed form of beatboxing and singing can be found, for example, in the music of Mike Patton, the singer Camille or the jazz musician Médéric Collignon . Beatbox techniques are combined with scat and avant-garde vocal experiments. The human beatbox is not used to generate a continuous, accompanying rhythm, but to accentuate and expand the sound of the (melody) voice itself. This expanded form of singing in the field of tension between tonality and atonality shows on the one hand references to vocal compositions of new music , on the other hand there are references to jazz singing , which - more and more since the emergence of free jazz in the 1960s - also includes the generation of percussive and noisy sounds.

See also the section: Beatboxing, Vocal Percussion, multivocalism

Body percussion

Physical activity: Biz Markie uses her fingers to help with beatboxing.

Body percussion , i.e. using the entire body as a percussion instrument , offers another possibility of combination . On the one hand here, the human beatbox simply finds among other sound gestures again, so is sometimes gebeatboxt simultaneously and clapped his hands , flicked his fingers and rammed with his feet. On the other hand, there can also be direct interactions between human beatbox and body percussion, i.e. they influence each other's sound. The voice can be manipulated by tapping the neck or chest or the hand can be used to expand the resonance space of the mouth, to vary the size and shape of the mouth opening or to influence lip tension by applying targeted pressure. Sounds can also be generated or changed by clapping on the tense cheek or lips or by plucking them.

Playing instruments

The human beatbox is sometimes combined with playing different instruments. In this way, musicians can accompany and supplement their instrumental performance with beatboxing when playing plucked, string, percussion or keyboard instruments. When playing wind instruments such as didgeridoo , harmonica , tuba or flute , however, the human beatbox itself becomes a playing technique and complements the repertoire of established extended techniques such as overblowing , fluttering tongue or multiphonics . The “beatbox flute” is used, for example, in the musicians Dirko Juchem , Greg Pattillo and Nathan “Flutebox” Lee.

Live looping, sampling and effects

Dub FX performing in Denver in June 2012. The live looping artist usually operates his devices using pedals.

Some beatboxers use loops during their performances in order to add individual passages to polyphony using real-time overdubbing . This technique is also known as "live looping" (from English: live 'direct' and loop 'loop'). Often only certain passages are beatboxed while others are rapped or sung, so that the impression of a vocal ensemble or a complete band can arise as a result. Live looped beatboxing is used, for example, for the performances of Shlomos or those of the beatboxers Kid Beyond , Dub FX or MC Xander . Performances can also be supplemented by other technical aids - such as samplers , effects devices or appropriate music software  - so sounds or passages are sometimes beatboxed live and cut, arranged or alienated in the meantime. Examples of the use of such techniques are the performances of the beatboxer Beardyman or the experimental hip-hop musician Prefuse 73 .

In music production , sounds generated by beatboxing techniques are sometimes isolated by means of sampling and then arranged into rhythms by means of sequencers . However, the lecture - which is mandatory for authentic beatboxing - is almost completely omitted, so that it is now primarily a recording studio technique , despite the results that are sometimes similar . In the finished piece, the samples can often be found alienated next to drum, synthesizer or scratching sounds. Examples of the use of such samples can be found in some Michael Jackson pieces or in various Timbaland productions. Collections of human beatbox samples are available in stores, so that such beats can now be created without your own recordings.


See also

Web links

Individual evidence

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This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on July 26, 2010 .