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Beatboxing Is Good For the Throat (If Gross To Watch)

SPOILER: Kind of gross.

Did your mom ever tell you "Stop beatboxing, it'll ruin your voice!" No? Well, neither did mine. But if someone ever tries to get you to quit beatboxing for health reasons, tell them to shove it. As Nate Ball, an MIT-trained mechanical engineer, entrepreneur, former All-American pole vaulter, and accomplished beatboxer, told CNN, "Beatboxing is one of the most natural things I can imagine a person doing."

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What's more, Dr. H. Steven Sims, an associate professor of otolaryngology at University of Illinois at Chicago, looked closely at beatboxing and found that it not only didn't strain the vocal cords. Due to the diverse array of sounds that a decent b-box musician displays, beatboxing might be gentler on the vocal cords than singing.

The researchers slid a flexible, fiber optic endoscope down the beatboxer's nose to watch the what happens in the vocal apparatus while one beatboxes. To the layperson, watching the throat open and close to the beat is both funny and a little gross—there's lots of tissues and fluids bouncing around uncannily it seems. But to the expert eyes of Sims, the videos show how beatboxing is actually fairly protective of the vocal cords. The whole vocal tract is employed when beatboxers make beats, which spreads the energy around and keeps beatboxers from developing scar tissue that develops from singers who strain their vocal cords. Beatboxers also tended to keep the glottis—the space between the vocal cords—open.

"Singers rely almost exclusively on the vocal cords themselves to produce their sounds," Sims said. "So all the energy involved with singing is concentrated on these structures, which can develop scar tissue with overuse." Sims even suggested that beatboxing could be used to help vocalists warm up—all I want for Christmas is for a video of the Met Opera trying this.

The results of his study were published in the Journal of Voice today.

As I recall, the only reasons I was told to stop beatboxing—it's worth noting that my peak of interest in doing so was probably when I was in 2nd grade—was that I was spitting everywhere while I did it, and it was annoying everyone. This research doesn't change either of those things, but at least I would've had a scientifically corroborated reason to keep going. Though I kind of think I would've gotten in a lot more trouble if I went around saying, "I was just working out my epiglottis."