Beatboxing Vs. Vocal Percussion – Whats the Difference?

I believe that there is an obvious line between Vocal Percussion (VP) and beatboxing which makes them different. but what exactly makes these different? even if it is a THIN line, what is it that defines one from the other?

There are only really 2 main terms you can call someone who makes drum and musical sounds with their mouth, them being a Human Beatbox’ or ‘Vocal Percussionist’. In terms of the sounds themselves, a vocal percussionist’s aim is to be able to replicate and mimic drum sounds as realistically as possible. A feat which beat boxers can’t usually compete with. Many beat boxers use a large soundbank of sounds which are often less accurate, but try to fit as many of these sounds into a beat as quickly as possible. They will also include other instrument sounds into a routine such as horns, synthesisers, strings, and bass.

Very often, vocal percussionists are part of an a’cappella group meaning that rarely need to use sounds other than drums. They often come from a musical background and already be familiar with music theory and several instruments (including drums), integrating their knowledge and techniques into their VP. They will simulate things like drum rolls and ‘para diddles’ and incorporate the visual aspect during a performance by literally air drumming whilst performing. Because they are a key member within a vocal group, the image they portray is a lot smarter and clean-cut.

People who class themselves as beat boxers tend to be the younger generation and probably wearing a hoody and Nike trainers (or any other brand!) showing off their ‘skillz’ on the bus. Now, I’m not saying that vocal percussionists don’t own hoodies. I just mean that when performing, a beatboxer would not fit in as well as a VP at a jazz festival. Likewise, with a VP performing at a DnB or hiphop event.

Many beatboxers would argue that they call it both things. Or that Beatboxing is a form of VP. Vocal Percussion can cover a vast area of vocal rhythms such as Indian Bols (Konnakol) which are syllables used to symbolise what stroke or combination of strokes a percussionist needs to use.

‘Beatboxing’ as a term is very specific and you know exactly what to expect and the image that comes with it. This image is certainly linked with its background being hip hop. Its led itself to be strongly linked with the mimicry of electronically produced music.

Here is a short description of the history of vocal percussion from

“When blues was brought about by black slaves telling the heart ache of life, there wasn’t usually instruments at hand. Musicians would improvise with what little they had, their body and their voices. Claps and clicks became the drums, and low hums became the double bass; the two back bones of blues and jazz music. One would hum, one would clap, click and hit things as the drums, and one would sing. This would eventually evolve into imitating many sounds, such as the ‘shhchh’ of a soft snare and the ‘tssa’ of the hi-hat being played with brushes. Blues groups found a way to make their music with nothing but their voices. As blues became more and more mainstream, scatting and bass humming became well known. Higher range singers would wail long, joined notes, taking the place of the trumpet in solos. Immediately, this form of vocal percussion became a staple of urban culture, that is, culture of the street. Poor artists would roam the streets, or gather on street corners, imitating trumpets and saxophones outside jazz halls.”

This would definately suggest that beatboxing is a form of vocal percussion and has developed into what we know today from the birth of electronic music.