Breaking Down The Science Of Beatboxing

Beatboxers can create the sound of snare drums, basslines, high hats and other beats all at once. And while it’s entertaining to listen to, what’s the science behind those beats?

Scientists scanned beatboxers in a MRI machine to figure out how these musicians manipulate their vocal tracts to keep the beat. They found that beatboxers may use parts of their vocal tract in a way different way than is used when speaking. In fact, some of the sounds were unlike any found in human language. Linguist Reed Blaylock and beatboxer Devon Guinn break down how beatboxers coordinate their lips, tongue and throat to create a beat and how this compares to human speech.

How do different beats look in an MRI? Check them out below, and see all of the beats at the Beatboxing Project.

These videos are from research project being conducted at the Signal Analysis and Interpretation Laboratory at the University of Southern California by Professor Shri Narayanan and his team with support from the NIH and NSF.

A classic “tch.”

A “closed hi hat.”

A “low liproll.”

An “inward clickroll and liproll.”

Further Reading

  • Learn about the University of Southern California Beatboxing Project
  • Read the study on how beatboxers use sounds not used in human language
  • Read more at the New York Times