Science Now

Good news or bad? Beatboxers won't lose their voices anytime soon

Go ahead, pick up the mic' and drop that beat. Because beatboxing may annoy your neighbors, but it won’t kill your vocal cords.

Using your throat to create percussion does less damage to the vocal cords than singing does, according to University of Illinois researchers who published a study in the Journal of Voice.

That’s good news for artists such as Rahzel, Doug E. Fresh and Biz Markie, among the many who practice the hip-hop-derived craft pioneered in the 1980s and going as strong as ever -- particularly on reality television contests.

Four beatbox artists volunteered to have a fiber optic endoscope shoved up their nose and positioned above their vocal apparatus for the study. Then they got on the microphone and laid down beats.

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Turns out that beatboxers are using the entire range of the human vocal system pretty evenly, and not focusing stress on the vocal cords, according to Dr. H. Steven Sims of the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System. Beatboxers tend to keep the space between the vocal cords open, and to elongate the vocal tract by using the muscles controlling their throat, the study found.

“Keeping the glottis open means that beatboxing may actually be protective of the vocal folds,” Sims said in a written statement. “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.”

Among the authors of the paper were Paul Yi, a medical student at Boston University who is a beat-box artist.

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