How beatboxers produce sound: Using real-time MRI to understand

November 7, 2018, Acoustical Society of America
Beatboxing is a musical art form in which performers use their vocal tract to create percussive sounds, and a team of researchers is using real-time MRI to study the production of beatboxing sounds. Timothy Greer will describe their work showing how real-time MRI can characterize different beatboxing styles and how video signal processing can demystify the mechanics of artistic style. Greer will present the study at the Acoustical Society of America's 176th Meeting, Nov. 5-9. Three different snare drum effects were demonstrated by the subject, each produced with different articulatory and airstream mechanisms: a click, an ejective affricate, and a pulmonic egressive dorsal stop-fricative sequence. Credit: Greer

Beatboxing is a musical art form in which performers use their vocal tract to create percussive sounds. Sometimes individual beatboxers perform as a part of an ensemble, using their vocal tracts to provide beats for other musicians; other times, beatboxers perform alone, where they might sing and beatbox simultaneously or simply make sounds without singing.

A team of researchers is using real-time MRI to study the production of beatboxing sounds. Timothy Greer, a doctoral candidate at the University of Southern California, will describe their work showing how real-time MRI can characterize different beatboxing styles and how video signal processing can demystify the mechanics of artistic style. Greer will present the study at the Acoustical Society of America's 176th Meeting, held in conjunction with the Canadian Acoustical Association's 2018 Acoustics Week in Canada, Nov. 5-9 at the Victoria Conference Centre in Victoria, Canada.

The team is interested in using real-time MRI data to observe the vocal tracts of beatboxers just before they make a to see if those movements are different from speech. The real-time MRI data provides a dynamic view of the entire midsagittal and at a frame rate high enough to observe the movement and coordination of critical articulators.

"Beatboxers may learn something different in preparing to make a sound than they do when they're talking," said Greer. "Using real-time MRI allows us to investigate the difference in the production of music and language and to see how the mind parses these different modalities."

Credit: Timothy Greer

Previous research in this field usually consists of a case study of one beatboxer and suggests that beatboxers can only produce sounds that exist within the world's known languages. The new study looks at several beatboxers of different ages and genders, and with different native languages.

"We found that beatboxers can create sounds that are not seen in any . They have an acrobatic ability to put together all these different sounds," said Greer. "They can hear a sound like a snare drum and they can figure out what they need to do with their mouth to re-create it."

One of the main challenges for the researchers has been developing the algorithms they use to quantify the movement of the beatboxer's vocal tract. A linguist labels all the various parts of the body involved in sound production such as the tongue and the roof of the mouth, and the algorithm tracks the images of these various parts as they move during the production of sound.

"The vocal tract is amazing but it's also incredibly complex. We need to keep creating better computer algorithms to understand how it all works together," said Greer.

Explore further: Beatboxing poses little risk of injury to voice

Related Stories

Beatboxing poses little risk of injury to voice

December 23, 2013

You might think that beatboxing, with its harsh, high-energy percussive sounds, would be harder on the voice than the sweet song of a soprano. But according to new research by voice expert Dr. H. Steven Sims of the University ...

Why the human voice is so versatile

January 19, 2017

Macaques and baboons – two distantly related primates – are able to produce a similar range of voice-like sounds to humans.

Recommended for you

Scientists explain how wombats drop cubed poop

November 18, 2018

Wombats, the chubby and beloved, short-legged marsupials native to Australia, are central to a biological mystery in the animal kingdom: How do they produce cube-shaped poop? Patricia Yang, a postdoctoral fellow in mechanical ...

Helping Marvel superheroes to breathe

November 18, 2018

Marvel comics superheroes Ant-Man and the Wasp—nom de guerre stars of the eponymous 2018 film—possess the ability to temporarily shrink down to the size of insects, while retaining the mass and strength of their normal ...

Explaining a fastball's unexpected twist

November 18, 2018

An unexpected twist from a four-seam or a two-seam fastball can make the difference in a baseball team winning or losing the World Series. However, "some explanations regarding the different pitches are flat-out wrong," said ...

Scientists produce 3-D chemical maps of single bacteria

November 16, 2018

Scientists at the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II)—a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science User Facility at DOE's Brookhaven National Laboratory—have used ultrabright x-rays to image single bacteria ...

Quantum science turns social

November 15, 2018

Researchers in a lab at Aarhus University have developed a versatile remote gaming interface that allowed external experts as well as hundreds of citizen scientists all over the world to optimize a quantum gas experiment ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.