How to Teach Vocal Percussion

One of the most common questions choral directors have when first starting a contemporary a cappella group is, “How do I teach vocal percussion (beatboxing)? I’ve never done it myself!”

The good news for you is that I am pretty *terrible* at VP. My students love when I do it because they find it so hilarious…However, I still have a pretty decent high school a cappella group. How is this possible?

The short answer is that vocal percussion is not that hard. Okay, it’s not that hard to do it decently. It’s very hard to do it well. But for most young groups, decent vocal percussion is more than enough, as long as it is CONSISTENT.

Consistency is the key for VP:

Consistent tempo. Over all else, this is by far the most important aspect of teaching vocal percussion. Find students who can keep a steady tempo and you’re better than half the groups out there already. If they’re having trouble, have them practice with a metronome.

How do you talk to your vocal percussionist? Robert Dietz (Vocal Coach, Arranger- “The Sing-Off”) advises, “Just speak rhythmically to get your point across, really. You don’t need to actually do the pattern. Just give them the basic rhythmic idea and encourage them not to overdo. They WILL overdo!” Charlie Arthur (Vocal Overdrive) adds, “It can be extraordinarily helpful to establish agreed-upon terminology to use when discussion options for groove or sound.”

Consistent sounds. Inexperienced vocal percussionists tend to try to do too much. They overcomplicate the pattern, adding way too many fills. I would rather have a steady tempo and clean, clear kick, snare, and hi hat sounds from my VP any day over a varying tempo and impressive and complex patterns.

How do you get consistent sounds? Practice makes perfect. There are a number of amazing online resources to help your students practice VP.

Here is an incredible resource of most of the normal vocal percussion sounds with video tutorials. In case that link ever gets removed, here it is in PDF format: Beatbox Sound Effects – Sheet1

ACappella.How has some great VP video tutorials, too.

Mouthdrumming is great for creating the perfect pattern. You can use this to show your VP exactly what you want for a given song.

Another source of news and videos is HumanBeatbox

The important thing is to just try it! Don’t let vocal percussion stand in the way of you starting a contemporary a cappella group! I’m here to help if you need it.

About the Author

J.D. Frizzell
Dr. J.D. Frizzell is an award-winning educator, director, composer, arranger, author, and entrepreneur. He is the Director of Fine Arts at Briarcrest Christian School in suburban Memphis, TN. Winner of the Integrales Composition Contest, Dr. Frizzell has best selling works with dozens of publishing companies. His vocal ensembles have performed at state, regional, and national conferences and have collaborated with numerous GRAMMY winning artists.

vocal percussion
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