By Guest Blogger: Michael Filip '20
A very essential part in contemporary a cappella today is vocal percussion, specifically the groove or beat of a song. Vocal percussion, along with the bass, create the rhythm section of a group, and are the battery that keeps tempo in our music. I’ve been one of the vocal percussionists for Falconize for almost a year. I started teaching myself vocal percussion for the past three or four years, and that’s what I’ve found to be the best way to learn vocal percussion: experimenting with your own sounds to find stuff that works. Of course, this process takes time, as it took months to create a strong bass drum, and almost a year to figure out to perform an inward snare. It also takes time to create a good mix of all of your sounds, and that comes with more experimentation. You can take from your own ideas, as well as ideas from a groove in another song and create something original to you. That’s how I typically form a groove myself. I listen to the song we are singing, both the original cover and the arrangement, and I think about what works, and how I can personalize it. As I said before, this all comes from experimentation and testing out new ideas, as that’s how many vocal percussionists start their careers.
Vocal percussion for competition sets has the same method to it, but adds more musicality and complexity to the battery. First off, the group performs three straight songs in twelve minutes, and a vocal percussionist has to beatbox for almost the entirety of it. The best way to build stamina and keep performing is by doing a little more each day, and soon, twelve straight minutes of vocal percussion seems like almost nothing.
Another important part of performing throughout these three songs is being able to breathe, both for air, as well as to keep calm. First off, all vocal percussionists need to breathe in order to make sound, so they need to find ways to sneak in air without disrupting the beat. I’ve found that the best ways for me to breathe are by sneaking in small breaths by sort-of stagger breathing, using the inward snare to bring in air and still make sound, as well as find moments where I can drop out and highlight the voices more. However, breathing is also just as important for keeping calm. When performing in front of a group of judges, it’s exciting and nerve-racking, and it can start to energize you. This feeling often leads to vocal percussionists speeding up and losing the tempo of the song. Allowing yourself to keep your cool can in turn keep the beat of the song steady.
The last major part of performing in competitions, as well as beatboxing anywhere, is personalization and experimentation. This is where you get to stand out and be more than just the drum kit. Fills are a great way to give yourself a unique sound by giving yourself a small drum solo between phrases in a song, and these fills can also help your group transition into another section or phrase. Another form of personalization is trying to think outside-the -box. If you have an idea that you are unsure of, but want to see how it sounds, try it. There’s nothing to lose, and if you take a risk and you pull it off, then you can take it and add it to your personalized sound. As for me, I’ve been working around incorporating better dynamics in my beatboxing by changing up the strength of my breath, shape of my mouth, or placement of sound. This way, I can really follow along with the musicality of the voices by being able to grow and decay in sound with them.
Anyone can be a vocal percussionist. It just takes time to figure out what works for you. Practicing on your skills makes you better, even if you don’t notice it at first, and only by experimentation can you add your own personal flare to it. No two percussionists are the same, and everyone has their own unique style to beatboxing. It’s like saying there’s no right or wrong in determining a beat. If you create a groove for one song, someone might have a completely different idea, but it depends on how you want to perform the music. Overall, vocal percussion is all about putting your own style into a groove, and using it to enhance your group’s sound.