Many of us will have been intrigued by the sound of beatboxing at some point – a highly skilled vocal percussion in which the performer imitates a drum sound with their voice. You may think that compared with standard singing, beatboxing is harsher on the voice. But new research suggests this is not the case.

Beatboxing became extremely popular in the 1980s, with the sound often being accompanied with rapping or singing. The likes of Jam Master Jay, Michael Jackson and even Justin Timberlake have been known to put their beatboxing talents on their records.

And now, the popularity of national and international beatboxing competitions is increasing, with many amateur performers looking to get their skills noticed.

With this in mind, researchers from the University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System, led by Dr. H. Steven Sims, wanted to see exactly what effect beatboxing has on a person’s vocal cords.

Their findings were published in the Journal of Voice.

Using a flexible fiber optic endoscope, the researchers were able to see images of the vocal tracts of four male beatbox artists as they performed a variety of beatbox sounds. The endosope was threaded through the participants’ noses and positioned above their vocal cords.

The researchers also used a camera to record the performances, meaning they were able to see which sounds were linked to certain vocal structures.

A video of one of the experiments can be viewed below:

From this, the researchers discovered that the performers used all of their vocal tract to create a variety of sounds instead of using specific areas, meaning they were reducing their risk of injury to any certain area.

During performances, the participants also kept spaces between the vocal cords – known as the glottis – open. Dr. Sims says this suggests that beatboxing could be protective of the vocal cords.

Furthermore, the performers used their pharyngeal muscles to lengthen their vocal tract in order to create higher pitch sounds. Dr. Sims says this eliminates some of the stress the vocal cords endure.

Dr. Sims says many of the techniques that beatboxers use to produce their sounds could help singers reduce some of the stress that is put on their vocal cords.

He adds:

Singers rely almost exclusively on the vocal cords themselves to produce their sounds, so all the energy involved with singing is concentrated on these structures, which can develop scar tissue with overuse.”

He notes that if singers used their pharyngeal muscles to lengthen their vocal tract, this may help them reach the high notes before they need to involve the use of vocal cords, therefore reducing the risk of injury.

Dr. Sims says that future research may involve the analysis of female beatboxers.

He explains that women use their voices differently as they have smaller larynxes compared with men, and they are also a different shape. “The results could be very interesting,” he adds.

Earlier this year, Medical News Today reported on a study suggesting that singers in a group synch their heart rates.