Ask Wes: The Answers
Q. Zack from NE asks:
Hi Wes, Great site! I was about to purchase your instructional video on acatunes when I realized I don't even know what equipment to buy to get started with this. I have Reason software (5) and Acid. Is that enough? Q: What is the actual piece of looping equipment I need to get? i.e. is that info on the video?

All you need is a mouth.

Wes - Thursday, April 03, 2008 at 12:46:35 (PDT)

Q. Paul Francisco from Nashville asks:
Hey Wes, First off, Awesome awesome mouth drumming. Been following you for a few years now coming from an a cappella world myself. Always amazed and inspired.... Now..questions, When you record or mouth drum live, are there certain EQ's or compressors and settings that you use for your microphone? I'd love to know some of the audio techniques in helping "shape" and place the sounds within a mix. Thank Paul

Hey, Paul!

I don't like compression on myself, personally.

re: EQ: depends on the system and the room. Trying to pre-dial it in is like deciding the color palette of your painting before you've decided on your subject.

re: Shaping: That's an art and science unto itself. Best solution: work with the best sound guy you can find, and let him do his thing while you do yours.

Thanks for writing! W

Wes - Thursday, January 10, 2008 at 21:57:15 (PST)

Q. Isaac Cohen <> from Maryland asks:
Hi Wes, I’m having difficulty doing consecutive pf snares. I pull the lips up (in effect I smile) for each snare drum and as a result, there’s some recovery time needed for the lips to come down for the next sound. My goal is to do sixteenth note snare drum fills. Any suggestions? Is there a way to multiple-tongue the pf? Thanks, Isaac

Isaac, I really love this question. I've tried writing an answer, but it's so much easier to show how this is done rather than to try to explain it. So, instead, I've answered it on Episode 4 of the Wes On Drums vodcast, available at Stay in the groove, Isaac!

Wes - Tuesday, May 08, 2007 at 12:13:48 (PDT)

Q. Jake Smith <> from Farmington, Maine asks:
ive posted here once a while ago, and it was very helpful then. my question then was how to produce better volume without any sort of amplification. now i need to know how WITH amplification! the snare i use acoustically just blows too much air into the mike, making it sound a lot more like a kick. whats your starting idea?


I feel your pain, man. There are a few techniques for handling this, all of which are way easier to show than to explain.

So, check out the answer in the new "Wes Carroll On Drums" vodcast (video podcast) at:

Thanks for the great question!

Wes - Friday, March 30, 2007 at 11:11:31 (PDT)

Q. Jake Smith <> from Farmington, Maine asks:
ive posted here once a while ago, and it was very helpful then. my question then was how to produce better volume without any sort of amplification. now i need to know how WITH amplification! the snare i use acoustically just blows too much air into the mike, making it sound a lot more like a kick. whats your starting idea?

Jake, I feel your pain, man. There are a few techniques for handling this, all of which are way easier to show than to explain. So, check out the answer in the new "Wes Carroll On Drums" vodcast (video podcast) at: Thanks for the great question! W

Wes - Friday, March 30, 2007 at 11:10:57 (PDT)

Q. manny <> from new york asks:
is there a diff. bet. mouthdrumming and beatboxng or is that the same?

I'm glad you asked, Manny. That comes up a lot.

I just hopped over to Wikipedia, which told me that "Beatboxing is the vocal percussion of hip hop culture and music." I'd agree with that. Okay, so then what's vocal percussion?

"Vocal percussion is the art of creating sounds with one's mouth that approximate, imitate, or otherwise serve the same purpose as a percussion instrument."

That sounds good too. So, beatboxing is the kind of vocal percussion that goes with hip hop.

Wikipedia agrees: "The term 'beatboxing' is often used as a synonym for vocal percussion, but in fact is just one type of percussion, often used to accompany hip-hop music."

No problems so far. But then, what about 'mouthdrumming'? Well, let's be clear. When I started doing this in the mid-nineties, I needed a way to distinguish my style from beatboxers, so I started using the word mouthdrumming. As I see it, if beatbox is the kind of vocal percussion that goes with hip hop, then mouthdrumming is the kind of vocal percussion that goes with rock and jazz.

We're most of the way there, but there's just one teeny tiny other point I'd like to make about the whole thing, which is that in the definition of vocal percussion I cited above, vocal percussion is described as something different from a percussion instrument but which serves the same purpose. I object to this distinction; I regard mouthdrumming as an instrument in its own right. It's not an approximation of, an imitation of, or a tool similar to an instrument; it's an instrument, period. I'll try to illustrate the point: I don't sound exactly like any particular drum kit, but then again, no drum kit sounds like me. The only difference in my mind is that my load-in and breakdown takes a lot less effort.

So I guess I'll leave it at that: Beatboxing is the vocal percussion of hip hop culture and music. Mouthdrumming is the use of the mouth as a percussion instrument in rock or jazz music.

There. That oughta do 'er. But lemme know if that doesn't clear it up for you. After all, what good's a word on whose definition everyone doesn't agree?

Stay in the groove, lads and lasses.

Wes - Sunday, January 14, 2007 at 09:26:32 (PST)

Q. Ben <> from MN asks:
Hey Wes, I have been performing for a while, but my percussion experience has only been without a mic. My old group used gig with mics, but not separate solo and VP mics. I became good at really projecting so I could be heard clearly. Now I'm in a different group and will have a VP mic. It's really hard for me to adjust and tone things down, and I usually clip out the mic because I'm too loud. Any suggestions on the quickest way to adjust? Thanks!

Yikes, tough one, Ben.

But let me start by congratulating you on your new group, and for branching out into a challenging new situation, mic-wise. Way to go!

So, about your question. Here's the deal. On one hand, ya got power, and on the other, ya got finesse. It's basically true in most pursuits, and mouthdrumming's no exception. You can work on your strength and endurance, or you can work on your dexterity and control. Sure, you have some of both, and you'll only get better in both areas in time, but what I'm saying is that accepting this dichotomy is a great first step to fixing the problem you're describing.

So in order to get over this hump as quickly as possible, I suggest you concentrate your practice on finesse instead of power. Practice doing your thing nearly silently. In other words, subvocalize your drums: do them "under your breath" as though you were talking to yourself. It will of course feel weird. It will probably look and sound even weirder at first, but the point here is to unlearn the habits that make your body work too hard for the sounds you produce. So focus on it -- pay attention to how it feels as you do this.

Ever dribbled a basketball for a few minutes, and then tried to dribble a superball? Probably not, but I bet you can imagine what that's like, right? Once you're used to dribbling a basketball, a superball is all wrong. It bounces WAY too high, because the basketball that you're used to takes more force to dribble properly. You have to re-adjust when you pick up the superball, and you have to handle it very differently.

Same idea here. When you first practice your drumming silently, it feels sort of like trying to dribble a superball. Your tongue is too "bouncy" against the surfaces in your mouth, and all the parts keep trying too hard because they're used to having to work too hard for the sound you're used to. Relax, give in to the realization that you sound like a total amateur for the moment, and just play with the feeling of making quiet drums. Try things that would never work with an area mic, just to see how they feel. Don't give the sound a second thought. Just work the muscles in this new way for a little while. If you sound like a deeply schizophrenic madman talking to himself in a made-up language, you're on target.

After a short while, you should start to get a feel for things that only subvocalization makes possible. Certain patterns, fills, or techniques roll naturally off the tongue -- forgive the pun -- if you do them silently. There's far, far less pressure in the mouth, and no breath support to speak of, so it's a different animal entirely! But your high-projection drumming experience will translate, and quickly you'll find that you are far freer and nimbler when subvocalizing than when you're projecting.

Once you start to find that personal groove of "hey! check out what I can do (quietly)!" it's time to grab your microphone and start listening critically to your new techniques. Shaping them to sound right on the mic won't be as hard as you'd think it would be.

One other thing to do at this time (or soon after) is to start testing the mic itself. Thanks to your recent practice, you now have access to a much wider range of volumes than you had before. That is, you have added a bunch of much quieter sounds and techniques to your repertoire. So, try a wide range of volumes on mic and start to develop your intuitive feel for how loud is too loud. This will inform your sense of the volume range you should be holding to in your subsequent practice.

So, in short, I'm telling you that the sooner you go back to the drawing board and re-learn everything you do, the faster you'll get to where you want to be. It's a frustrating adjustment, but the good news is that your body will adjust far faster than you expect, because the really hard parts, such as your internal sense of groove and rhythm, are in your brain, not your mouth.

Good luck and stay in the pocket!


Wes - Thursday, December 29, 2005 at 21:06:53 (PST)

Q. Russ from Freeport. ME asks:
Our son Nick is a freshman at Syracuse U and is into acapella and beat boxing. He has asked for a speaker/amp/mic setup that he could use for beat-boxing. Can someone offer some guidance as to what we should look for and where we might find it for a fair price?


I get this question frequently, and there isn't a single best answer, because in addition to budget, beatboxing style plays a huge part in sound system component selection. However, here are some guidelines that should help make the problem significantly more manageable.

1. Get the microphone first, and use it to test sound systems. To find the right microphone, you'll need to try some microphones. This can be a problem; no store wants anyone testing microphones, for reasons of sanitation. A local music store is usually your best bet, but barring that, Guitar Center or the like can be a good place to start, particularly if you can find a time when they aren't so busy. Most stores have back rooms with some sound isolation, where you can hear what you're doing as you try various mikes. Start by buying a pop filter -- a foam cover placed over microphones -- as this will help them get over their fear of letting Nick spit into their mikes.

If Nick is a traditional hip-hop beatboxer, a simply Shure SM58 ($79) should do the trick reasonably well. It's not a good mic, but it is a standard, and it responds reasonably well to many of the usual hip hop beatboxing tricks. Also, any place where he performs will have one or more of them.

If Nick prefers a style more directly imitative of instrumental rock and jazz sounds (that is, if he's more like me), then he may find that a Rode NT3 ($180) works well for him, as it does for me. I have also had good luck with Beyer Dynamic M88's in the past, because though they lack the NT3's crispness, they are more durable than the NT3's, and also have a much better low-frequency response than the SM58s, which is quite important for all bass and kick drum sounds (which in turn is very important for most styles of beatbox).

2. Onto sound systems. Having selected the right microphone by testing several on a reasonably nice and presumably expensive sound system at the music store, it's now just a matter of trying the mic on a few more sound systems and seeing what you like on the price-vs-performance curve. One thing to keep in mind, though: carrying a mic is easy. Carrying a sound system, not so.

As a result, beginners tend not to own sound systems, as they are not only large but also expensive, but rather find small practice amps to be good. Practice amps that are designed for bass players tend to be better than those designed for guitarists, but let your ears be the arbiter.

Similarly, pros tend not to own them, as sound systems are provided by the venues at which we play.

I think that semi-pros own systems only when they feel that their control of the sound in sub-optimal settings (e.g. loud clubs), or the opportunity to learn about the technical aspect of creating sound, is more important than the impact on the audience of a good performance.

All in all, I'd say plan for the sound system to be used only for practice -- if you can't find a combo amp/cab practice setup, then surely a music store can guide you to a low-priced amp that is compatible with a bass practice amp/speaker cabinet -- and expect the microphone to also be used for performance.

Good luck! Wes

Wes - Tuesday, November 29, 2005 at 21:57:22 (PST)

Q. Jake Smith <> from Wilton, ME asks:
alright. i have a problem. i've been to one of your sessions, it was the vermont a cappella summit last year; i was in one of the competing high school groups, the mt. blue voices. my director, dennis hayes, has based a lot of his own work with us on the house jacks, and especially in talking with deke. MY problem is that in - so far - 2 of the songs in our repertoire, i provide vocal percussion. these are the only two songs that use any percussion. we are totally acoustic, which means i have no microphone to aid me. in the song fragile, the group is mellow, and i can produce enough volume acoustically. however, in our arrangement of 'telescope eyes,' the group is producing a lot more sound, and with my normal percussion i cannot provide enough sound. what are some different ways to provide a louder acoustical sound? particularly the snare. thank you.


Thanks for writing. This is a winner of a question.

First off, congratulations on your work so far. It sounds like you're all set for the song Fragile, and I'm glad to infer that it's going well. I imagine that your contributing vocal percussion to a group that doesn't usually use it is well-received by audiences.

Regarding the other song, my answer is a bit complex, because it has to be.

To create more sound in a non-amplified situation, your choices are limited. There are three factors to consider: (1) everyone in the group has a volume limit, and yours is probably much lower than the combined limit of the other singers combined; (2) some frequencies are perceived by the ear as louder than others, even when they are at the same sound pressure level, and (3) some sounds and frequencies cut through the sound of singing better than others.

Because of (1), the sonic balance you have in mind between voices and percussion simply cannot be achieved reliably in the situation you describe. A decent compromise is to include foot stomps or (light!) hand claps for everyone, to provide most of the sound you envision. Because of (2) and (3), your most significant contribution is likely to be cymbal work, especially hi-hats. Though a snare can be heard through singers, it takes months or years of practice to get to that point, and it usually isn't that clean a sound at that volume level anyway. And as for kicks: just forget it.

Generally, I don't create percussion acoustically when performing with more than a handful of people, and even then, it's difficult and often disappointing.

So, unfortunately, my answer is that you've given me a near-impossible situation. Your best solutions are all difficult. In my order of preference, they are:

* Get microphones. This could be a great excuse to push the evolution of the group! But, of course, it's expensive, and mics can be a real pain, particularly when you have to handle all the technical issues yourselves.
* Lose the percussion on that song, and re-arrange if necessary to keep the vibe that the song is supposed to have when the percussion can be heard (i.e. in rehearsal, but never in performance).
* Incorporate foot stomps (for kicks) and LIGHT hand claps (for snares) into everyone's part, and concentrate only on hats and cymbal work, since that's all anyone would be able to hear anyway.

Wish I had a more satisfying answer for you, Jake. I'm afraid sometimes the best you can do is just to know when you're overmatched by the considerable power of traditional vocalists.

Best of luck!

Wes - Monday, September 26, 2005 at 15:44:40 (CDT)

Q. Krishna <> from Italy asks:
Hi Wes!! Any chance to see also your tutorial video vol. 2 in DVD? K Krishna Italia


Thanks for asking. It'll be out later this summer. Check for details around mid-July.

Wes - Tuesday, June 21, 2005 at 21:35:18 (CDT)

Q. mike <> from fort collins, CO asks:
hey wes, my a cappella group is going into the studio soon and i was wondering what kind of effects you use for your VP. my goal is to get it to sound as real as possible without taking away from the fact that it's done vocally. if you could help me out with any tips, that would be great. thanks. p.s. one of our VPs is a girl and i was wondering if you had any suggestions on how to FX her as well ... her kick drum is not as low as the rest of ours. thanks again.

Mike, let me respond to your postscript first. If her kick isn't as low as yours, there are two possible solutions: either get into the natural sound of her voice and let it be, or else have her learn to do it a different way. Trying to change her sound into something it isn't is likely to give you the tired octave-doubled synthy sound we've all been hearing for years. If her sound comes from her natural resonance, then keep it. It'll be an unusual and compelling addition to a song to have a low woman's voice providing the pulse. On the other hand, if she's trying for a sound that directly imitates a kick drum, she should be using the microphone's diaphragm, not her larynx. A properly-shaped puff of air directly into the capsule of some microphones will produce a very satisfying and believable thump. Note, however, that an SM58 won't do it. Try an inexpensive condenser or a dynamic with good low-end response (e.g. Beyer M88) with or without an extra muppet-nose type pop filter (but definitely *not* with a standard studio pop filter). As far as specific effects go, that's a matter of personal taste and skill for your engineer and producer. The best advice I know to give you is to get a really clear idea of what you mean by wanting it to be "as real as possible without taking away from the fact that it's done vocally." If you want it to sound real, then leave it as it is and don't change a thing. What could be more real than that? If you want it to sound like a drum kit, then aim for that instead, in which case forget the vocal production aspect. Maybe what you mean is that you want it to sound like a vocally-produced track, but you want it to play the same role in the final mix that a drum kit and/or drum loop would. In that case, I'm afraid the solution really does depend on your performer's sound and your engineer's skill and gear. For me, I find that a little EQ shaping goes a long way; that compression can be okay after the fact, but I really don't like recording into a compressor; and that Bill Hare knows a lot more about this stuff than I do... which sort of reinforces that you have to just trust your producer. One trick you might try, possibly for keeps, but possibly just for the learning experience, is to take a single measure or two of recorded drums, split out the various drums into different tracks in Pro Tools or the equivalent, loop them, and effect each drum track separately. This can help to avoid some of the problems engineers seem to have at least when beginning to work with vocal percussion: insufficient separation of sounds. Until this problem is addressed, it's often impossible to get a satisfying kick sound without also giving the snare too much bottom end as well, for example. Hope this helps. Best of luck with the CD!

Wes - Monday, October 25, 2004 at 23:18:33 (CDT)

Q. Hannah <> from NYC asks:
Hey Wes,

back in the day, my family were huuuuge FOCS fans. My dad was this random guy with young kids who would show up at lots of your concerts, and I was a little kid who thought you were the greatest. (we still remember the time I asked you guys to sing happy bday to my dad, and you did...!!!) anyways, these days i'm in a Jewish acapella group at school, and really interested in learning to percuss. I'm learning middle eastern beats for an Israeli song we're doing, and i'm wondering what you can tell me about exercizes I should do for the stomach muscles/breathing needed. also any wisdom about not-so-western-music beats.

Monday, March 01, 2004 at 02:00:06 (CST)


Great to hear from you! Thanks for writing. Glad to hear about your new group. Your dad must be very proud!

That's a toughie. My only wisdom re: not-so-Western beats would be to just listen a lot, internalize the beats, and get really really comfortable performing them "under your breath" -- that is, in a whispering-to-speaking-level voice.

This ties in a bit with the stomach muscles issue: if you need a stomach of steel, you're probably pushing way too hard.

That said, there's nothing like a plain old health-inducing regular aerobic activity to get your vocal percussion breath support chops improving in record time.

Hope this helps. Please let me know!


Wes - Tuesday, May 25, 2004 at 17:46:07 (CDT)

Q. Kevin Child <> from University of Maine in Orono asks:
Hey Wes been a fan for a while now. Seen you a couple of times last time at the summit in Boston. Have been doing VP for about 7 years and just decided to start my own group Bear Vocals at the University of Maine. Have watched and completed both of your videos which I htought were very good. Anyway this is more of a statement than a question but I have been working on my snare for quite sometime and have found something that works for me just thought you being the VP superstar you are may want to pass it on to future VP's. I found that the hardest part to produce is the pitch of the actual drum. The part inbetween the P and the ff (Pff) I was also a trumpet player for a coupel of years and found that the lip buzz that you would use the create pitch in a trumpet mouth piece was the answer for me to give the snare that full sound in the middle. and gives me the ability to put a different pitch on in (not that I really ever do). I have taught Vp to some people in groups in the area and I have found giving htem a trumpet mouthpiece and having htem get the sound helps them make the snare sound. Well as a fan of the art of VP and yours. KEEP ON SPITTIN!

Sunday, February 22, 2004 at 15:38:23 (CST)


Thanks for writing. That sounds like a great idea! I find that "pitching" a snare is something that one can overdo... but once someone learns how to pitch in the first place, then he or she can use good taste to determine what's too much.

I hope your post comes in handy for others, and I appreciate your writing in!


Wes - Tuesday, May 25, 2004 at 17:41:45 (CDT)

Q. Mariana <> from Bs.As, Argentina asks:
I`d like to know a few things: - I`ll be in Spain and Paris next year and I`d like to know who can I contact to take classes of vocal percussion. - Is possible to use this particular vocal technique in any music style? Or just for hip hop?? Can I listen something? Is there any CD I can get here in Argentina? I wait you answers, thank you very much!!! (And sorry for my really bad english!!) Mariana


I know of no mouthdrumming teachers in Spain or Paris, but you might want to check out -- the Contemporary A Cappella Society can direct you to the "a cappella ambassadors" for those regions, who can in turn connect you with whomever is teaching there.

Regarding musical style: I don't perform hip-hop at all! I focus on rock (from classic to pop), and some jazz. Mouthdrumming can be applied to any musical style in which rhythm is welcome, which I think is pretty much all of them.

Regarding CD's: check out The House Jacks albums available at and of course all the groups represented at

Best of luck, safe travels, and thanks for writing!

Wes - Wednesday, November 05, 2003 at 16:17:40 (CST)

Q. Dan Schroeder <> from St. Louis, MO asks:
I recently came in contact with a person who could perform vocal percussion really well and was so interested that I want to learn the art. So if you could please tell me where I can find your videos or any other material that could be found in my area I would greatly appreciate it. Thanks, Dan


You bet. Just check out for details. may also be of help, as may And of course, you can also get them from me directly, at a House Jacks concert.


Wes - Wednesday, November 05, 2003 at 16:11:33 (CST)

Q. nick <> from Texas asks:
Do you use a throat mic when you perform or record? nick Texas, - Tuesday, August 19, 2003 at 01:07:59 (CDT)


I used to use a throat mic when I was a member of Five O'Clock Shadow. However, now I only use one microphone at a time in performance.

For my last recording (The House Jacks' Unbroken), we tried all the usual tricks, including up to three mics at a time, but in the end, I wound up using my performance microphone on the recordings.

It took me a long time to find a microphone that sounds good for my style of vocal percussion without requiring a lot of tweaking at the sound board, but it was worth it.

However, if you are going to look into throat mics, you might want to check out the TH60 throat microphone, which was specially designed for the purpose. The TH60 didn't turn out to be quite the right solution for me personally, but I know a number of people who wouldn't part with their TH60 for love or money. And the designer and manufacturer is a really good guy.

Best of luck!

Wes - Monday, September 01, 2003 at 00:02:34 (CDT)

Q. Daniel <> from Cologne, Germany asks:
Dear Wes, i'm part of an a-capella-band performing nearly seven years and we're from cologne, germany. Actually we'd like to learn doing the vocal percussion. Everone advises us to buy your video. ;-) Which video can be used in german VDR's without problems?? What are the terms pf payment? We'd also like to know, when you visit germany the next time or what's the price for booking you to teach us the mouth drumming when you visit europe. We hope to hear/read from you soon. Brats Daniel ( Daniel Cologne, Germany


To purchase the video in Germany, contact Oliver Walter at the email address "kulturbeutel (at) t-online (punkt) de". You may also buy it from Mainely A Cappella.

I will next be visiting Germany with The House Jacks in June and/or July 2004 -- the dates have not yet been decided exactly. I would love to work with Die Kellner during that time. Please drop me a line directly at wes (at) mouthdrumming (punkt) com.

Bis dann!

Wes - Sunday, August 31, 2003 at 23:54:40 (CDT)

Q. Mark Cavolowsky <> from Hayward, CA asks:
Hello Wes. I absolutely love your tapes and they have really helped my skills as a Vocal Percussionist. I have found both of your first two tapes extremely helpful, but I seem to be running into a road block. I am currently the vocal percussionist for my local high school a capella group (and the best one that they have ever had courtesy of your tapes) and am hoping to move on and do this collegiately. The one thing that worries me is that there are so many a capella groups out there and therefore so many vocal percussionists that I think that i need something to set myself apart from just the casual percussionist. I was wondering if you had some more advanced excercises for those who have finished both of your first two videos and are pretty confident with their skills or even plans for a third video. Any excercises would be appreciated, but ones that work on speed for both the toms and the snare in fills would be greatly appreciated.


Thanks much for writing and for the compliment. I'm glad you've found the tapes helpful! Please remember me when you've taken over the world. ;-)

Right now, plans for a third video are (ironically) being stalled by private lessons and seminars. So the best thing to do to improve would be to get in touch directly and sign up for one of those options.

However, let me also give you some tips that may help right away, and also be helpful to others reading this site.

One of the most important things separating the really great VPs from the rest of the crowd is simply time, by which I mean rock-solid rhythm. If you have really good time, you will be more valuable than people with better and flashier sounds. Practice with a metronome, and get truly solid. No matter how good you are, you have something to learn from a metronome. (I remember this every time I get cocky and think I don't need the metronome anymore. I'm always wrong about that.)

Another great secret is simple: record yourself, and listen later, trying hard just to listen to yourself as you would listen to any drummer. Don't hear vocal percussion. Hear drums. You'll hear many little things that need correction or clean-up. Work at fixing them.

The third thing you can do that will make a big difference is remembering that Less Is More. Add more spaces to your lines, and be more willing to be abackground texture when that is called for by the music. That way, when you do take center stage, it will be all the more dramatic.

Hope this helps. Looking forward to working with you in the future, or at least to hearing your work.

Good luck also with the taking over the world thing. ;-)


Wes - Sunday, August 31, 2003 at 23:44:09 (CDT)

Q. ben <> from london, uk asks:
hey wes, great site. i consider my self a 'mouth drummer' rather than a human beat box, cause i try to recreate the sound of a kit rather than a processed sound. i want to incorporate my mouth drumming live whilst street performing with an acoustic guitar, but i cant seem to mic it up properly, the kick drum sound distorts too much, the snare doesnt bite etc...ive got a basic vocal mic and an amp, how can i mic myself up without spending too much on new mics ec...? id appreciate any tips, thanks very much, ben


Glad to hear about your work. I'd lvoe to hear a sample!

Well, here are your best bets:

1. Play with your 31-band EQ, and tweak, tweak, tweak. If you don't have one, get one. Pound for pound, it's the most valuable piece of performance gear you'll ever invest in.

2. I use a Rode NT3, for what it's worth, because I find that it has most of the EQ characteristics I like for VP. Plus I sound good singing into it ... with the very same EQ settings. I got lucky on that one.

3. If you're performing outdoors, you probably need to get closer to the mic that you're used to for VP, and you probably also have a sloppy-sounding snare. EQ helps a lot, and so might a "muppet nose" -- the foam doodads you stick on a mic to keep spit from getting into it (which, incidentally, is a good idea in the first place).

4. If your kick distorts too much, you probably need to perform much more quietly, which in turn means you probably need a bigger PA. I know that isn't what you were hoping to hear, but it takes a pretty big PA to register the fundamental of a kick drum, which is well below the 80 or 90 Hz most small systems reach down to.

Hope this helps. Email me a link to an MP3 of yours when you can, and best of luck!

Wes - Wednesday, July 02, 2003 at 23:39:15 (CDT)

Q. Shodekeh <> from Baltimore, MD asks:
This is in reference to the question, "Who invented the Human Beatbox?"
Doug E. Fresh claims that he is the creator of the human beatbox. Vocal percussion has been around for quite some time, whether through Tabla lessons(Tabla players must first learn to reproduce the sounds a tabla makes with thier vocals) and through scatting in Jazz. Beatboxing in my opinion is the only artform in the world that has the capacity to capture and incoporate all of the vocal artforms, and then filter them through conventional and non conventional vocal drumming. Doug E. Fresh's alias is "The Original Human Beatbox", but "Buffy-The Human Beatbox" from "The Fat Boys", who died in 1995, claims that Doug E. Fresh was not the sole creator of the artform. Things that make you go, hmmmmmmmmm, damn... What do you think Wes? Shodekeh - Beatboxer Entertainment Inc.

As far as I know, the use of the voice for making rhythm goes back as far as its use for making music, and that in turn pre-dates all our histories. The Indian tabla tradition, along with the African "talking drum," are probably the most important traditions to consider when exploring the origins of beatbox and vocal percussion, in that they explicitly link vocalization with drumming. But that's the whole of the story until the invention of the microphone, so far as I know. Then, once the relatively small sounds made by a vocalist could be made loud enough to contribute to (or even replace) any rhythm section, it was just a matter of time before vocal percussion sprang to life. Specifically, the amazingly creative musical minds that birthed improvisational jazz experimented with a plethora of vocal techniques, among them precursors of modern vocal percussion. The advent of modern production techniques and the turntable gave rise to characteristic sounds and techniques like sampling and scratching that in turn led to the "human beatbox" in rap and hiphop. And, of course, the intersection of a cappella and popular music beginning in the 70's and 80's was the genesis of what has come to be called "vocal percussion," or simply "mouthdrumming," which according to some is a term describing any rhythmic sound generated with the voice, but to others (me among them) specifically connotes the imitation of trap kits as in popular music. For me, vocal percussion and beatbox are distinct art forms, each capturing the sound and energy of a particular set of musical styles. In addition, each has its own culture: beatbox has a long history of "battles" and secrecy, in which individuals develop a palette of characteristic sounds which are carefully guarded and identified with specific performers. (Though this may be changing, as well you know!) The community of vocal percussion has a history of more openness, with teachers like me working to pass along what techniques we can to all those who are interested, in the hope of helping the art to evolve and grow. These two traditions are experiencing more and more crossover lately (as well as much more mainstream media coverage) so we may all be in for a big jump forward very soon. From my perspective, the important question is not where vocal percussion comes from, but rather where it's going. And I think that that question is best answered by those of us reading this forum, since it's today's teachers -- and even more so, today's students -- who are writing the modern history of this art. Wes

Wes - Wednesday, July 02, 2003 at 23:31:19 (CDT)

Q. Indra T. <> from Germany asks:
I'm looking for some easy exercises for vocal percussion beginners to practice. I want to help them 'discover' vocal percussion step by step, learn to get the basic feeling for rhythm, breathing etc... and get used to it. I'm just looking for a few exercises for the very first steps in vocal percussion. Can you help?


Absolutely! It can seem a little intimidating to get started in vocal percussion at first, but the hardest part about vocal percussion is stopping once you get started!

Here are a few exercises that anyone can try. Give it a fair try by setting aside 15 minutes to play with it:

First, out loud, say: Ticka-ticka-ticka-ticka-ticka-ticka-ticka-ticka. (That's eight of 'em.) Great. Now whisper it, quietly. Your voice is not involved in this exercise. If your throat feels dry, you're pushing too hard. Nice and quiet. You're the only person who needs to hear it!

Then, replace one or two of the "tickas" (doesn't matter which) with a breath. This will allow you to do this over and over without running out of air. The important thing is that when you take a breath, you mentally "hear" the rhythm continuing while you're breathing, so that when you resume, the pattern is unbroken, still continuing in time. For example: "Ticka-ticka-ticka-ticka-(breath)-ticka-ticka-ticka." It should stay nice and even.

Once you have done that a few times, you're ready to "loop the pattern," or in other words, not stop after each set of eight. Do 16 in a row, or even 24 or more! Since you now have a place to breathe, you no longer need to stop. At this point, it can be helpful to make the first "ticka" of every set of eight a little louder. Why eight? Because most music has eight eighth-notes per measure. Each "ticka" corresponds to an eighth note. That means that this pattern can accompany most songs on the radio! It's just a matter of getting the tempo right. Some songs, of course, are faster than others. Try it out!

By now you've been at this for a while. Take a break. When you're ready, come back for the next step, musical accents:

Make the first four T's a little louder than the K's. Then make the last four K's louder than the T's. Your pattern should sound a little like this: Ticka-Ticka-Ticka-Ticka-ticKa-ticKa-ticKa-ticKa-Ticka-Ticka-Ticka-Ticka-ticKa-ticKa-ticKa-ticKa. (Remember to breathe occasionally!)

This is tricky at first, like anything new, but with some practice, it can come to feel very natural and musical. Just be patient and give your mouth time to adjust.

The shifting accents provide musical interest and tension without overwhelming the listener's ears. Again, practicing with music can be helpful once you've got the hang of it. When you get to this stage, you'll find that the accents aren't right for all styles of music, but that they really make a big positive difference for certain songs!

I hope that anyone who gives this a try will drop me a line at I'd love to hear how it went.

Good luck and good rhythm!

Wes - Monday, March 24, 2003 at 15:33:18 (CST)

Q. Noah <> from Montreal asks:
Wes, Often I've overdone it while beatboxing, and I've found that my throat gets sore. How do I prevent this from happening. Should I warm up, take it slower? I don't want to ruin my instrument. Should I drink warm water, because cold water would cool off my warmed up vocal cords. I think I get sore because of my woodblock sounding kieh! from releasing the air past the back of my tongue and my soft palate, so would that hurt my vocal cords. Please give me some tips on how to take care of my throat especially, and my vocal instruments in general. Thanks a ton. Chau, Noah


Great question. I can't answer all of the questions that come in, but yours is sure to be of interest to most people!

For starters, water doesn't travel through your vocal cords. As long as it isn't very cold or very hot water, the temperature is unlikely to make a big difference. Plus, vocal cords that are "warmed up" aren't actually any warmer; they're just better prepared for use. So don't lose sleep over that issue.

From what you've said, it sounds like your woodblock is probably the culprit. Many people experience soreness in the throat either because they are squeezing their throat too tightly, or because they are forcing so much air past their throat that it becomes very dry, even for just a moment.

Here are the solutions to both problems. Try both, and if the problem doesn't go away, let me know:

  1. To solve the dry-throat problem, begin drinking extra water 30 minutes before practice, and continue to drink water throughout your practice (at least every few minutes) and finish off your practice with another glass. You should go through several pints or more. Once you determine how much water you actually need, you may be able to reduce it to a single glass shortly before practice, plus another glass on hand throughout your practice, but at the beginning, better to err on the side of drinking more than you need than too little.
  2. If the problem is overexertion of the throat muscles, then the solution is more difficult to implement: instead of pushing your throat as hard as you can, you have to find out exactly how much force is required to make the sound, and learn to use exactly that amount -- no more.

    Here's how: Make the sound once. Then begin to relax your whole vocal mechanism bit by bit, making the sound again and again, until it no longer sounds right. You may find at first that the harder you push it, the better it will sound, but your goal is to find the best sound you can make *without* hurting yourself.

    Once you have found the sound you can make without damaging your mechanism, you can then begin working on taking apart exactly where the tension is in your throat (and probably tongue). Try different things until you can isolate the single muscle or muscles responsible for giving you a tight sound, and work on using them and only them, as gently as you can. You will find that you can make a similar sound with much less force. It's just a matter of careful exploration of the vocal mechanism.

Best of luck, and thanks again for the great question, Noah!

Wes - Friday, January 03, 2003 at 17:58:19 (CST)

Q. Hyounil Choi <> from South Korea asks:
Hello, I'm a mouth drummer of Korean A cappella group, SJTone. We're amateur group. I watched your mouth drumming video 1, and I learned many things, thank you. But, I'm curious about using mic. I use SHURE 57 or SHURE 58 in concert, I can't make snare sound with mic, but it's impossible. I wanna learn about mic technic. I think it's problem of position of mic. But it doesn't solved. Please tell me about microphone technic.


Well, i have good news and I have bad news. The bad news is that there's a lot more to say about microphone technique than I can write here.

The good news is that my second video tape (Mouthdrumming, Vol. 2) covers mic technique in detail.

I can give you a few pointers here that may help a little:

  • Try positioning the mic out of the way of your air stream. For example: off to the side, touching the corner of your mouth, facing across your lips.
  • Try a different mic. SM57's and SM58's have many qualities to recommend them, but a good snare sound isn't one of them.

Please write back and give me some more information on exactly what the snare sounds like on your microphone (in other words, what's wrong with it) and I may be able to help some more.

Good luck! Wes

Wes - Tuesday, October 22, 2002 at 12:58:35 (CDT)

Q. Wolfgang <> from Germany asks:
Hello Wes, I am a conductor of a new small pop-choir in germany. I have the idea to take moth drumming in our performance. Unfortunately nobody has an idea how to do. I get your homepage by searching throu the net. Do you think, it's possible to learn mouth drumming from the beginning with the help of your video?? (you register perhaps :o) that my english is not very good!?) Thanks,


Thanks for writing!

Yes, I think that you will find my video series is very helpful for adding vocal percussion to a pop choir.

Please contact Oliver Walter of Hannover at to buy a PAL copy of the video (which can be played on European videotape players).

I look forward to hearing about how it helps your choir!

Bis dann,


Wes - Monday, October 07, 2002 at 16:32:08 (CDT)

Q. Anonymous <> from East Coast asks:
Hi Everyone: Apologies in advance for being cryptic. There's a reason for it, ultimately (insert evil laugh here!). I'm trying to get the word out that my east coast-based group is seeking a vp. This is a professional group poised to go full-time, so clearly we're looking for someone with some experience and chops. Writing and singing a plus. We're a pop group though our arrangements are not simple by any means. All arrangements are original, and we do both cover and original tunes. We cannot offer a full-time salary at this point, though we should be able to in the near future. Therefore, we seek someone who is either on the (upper) east coast or willing to relocate. This is a great opportunity for the right person to step into an already established group and gig part-into-full-time. Interested parties can contact me here and we'll talk! Thanks for your attention.


Thanks for writing. I know that it's not that uncommon that groups would not want to advertise the fact that they're looking for a new member.

Whatever the reason is, I hope you find someone soon, and I wish you all the best of luck as you try to make the transition to full-time work.

To all vocal percussionists who have written to me, asking how to turn this talent into a career: I would advise you to start by getting some more information from this anonymous poster at "". I have already confirmed that this is for real.


Wes - Monday, October 07, 2002 at 16:15:20 (CDT)

Q. matthew lareau <> from quebec, canada asks:
hmmm im just wondering about something if u chat online sometimes if yes i would like to chat with u and ask question because close to were i live theres no beat boxers... plz contact me back

Sorry, Matthew,

I use all the time I can to answer questions here, where everyone can get together and talk about these issues whenever they have free time to check out the page.

But if you decide to set up on real-time chat community of vocal percussionists, please let me know. I would love to visit sometime.


Wes - Monday, September 23, 2002 at 13:55:19 (CDT)

Q. Brant Stock <> from Texas asks:
Hey Wes, I was brousing the web, and decided to check out beat boxing, mouth drumming and vocal percussion. how long does is take to get really good and mouth drumming?


It's like anything. The more you practice, the more focused your practice, and the more you listen to your practice, the better you get.

My first memory of really doing vocal percussion was about 13 years ago, but I just did it "on instinct." Then, about six years later, I had an opportunity to do it professionally, so I took a few weeks of really focused study, and began my professional career. Along with performing, I began teaching immediately, because no one would agree to teach me when I was first learning.

From that point, I just have been learning little tricks and habits along the way.

So I guess it just depends on how good you want to get, what you want to do, and how much you're willing to work at it.

Good luck -- I hope you decide to go for it!

Wes - Monday, September 23, 2002 at 13:52:36 (CDT)

Q. Sherrida Mackay <> from Queensland asks:
Hey, Wes! When I first got into beatboxing 2 weeks ago, i thought Rahzel was the best there was.....until you came along that is! I am a 15 year old kid and need help. My problem is I have noooooo job whatsoever; in other words I have nooooo money to buy your tapes and need some help desperately. Could you give me some quick pointers just to get me started? thanks sooooooooo much I appreciate it heaps!!! Hi again, Wes! I just have 1 question. How in the hell am i supposed to do rahzels, "if your mother only knew"? I hope you can help me. All I need are the beats he uses. Thanks for helping, Your pal sherri. (This letter was edited before reposting.)


Thanks for writing. Let me tackle each of your questions in turn:

First of all, my students mostly tell me that for what they contain, both tapes are mind-numbingly cheap. If you find that you get into beatboxing more seriously, I recommend you consider adding a few bucks to your Microphone Fund in order to get a copy. There's so much more I can tell you when I can show you what I mean and demo it for you instead of just writing about it.

But let me answer your other question as best I can. Regarding Rahzel's beat there, I think the best advice I can give you in text is to point out that his beats probably don't use any air from his lungs, and that they also don't use the same parts of his mouth that form the particular consonants that compose the words he's saying.

So, for example, if I wanted to make an accented beat under the "m" of the word "mother," I'd do it with a tongue-suction handclap to keep my lips free for the "m" and my lungs free for a natural sound on the rest of the word.

I leave the rest of the beat up to you to experiment with ;-)

Wes - Monday, September 23, 2002 at 13:44:31 (CDT)

Q. Steve Newport <> from Canton, Ohio asks:
I'm going to be a junior at my highschool, GlenOak. I'll be the bass/vocal percussionist for a select vocal jazz group I'm in and I'll have to arrange the percussion for the songs we do. My question to you is how exactly do you go about doing this. When your group comes up with all the music, do you wait for the group to learn it and listen to the semi-final result and see what you can come up with, or do you look at the music and work it in at the beginning? If you could explain your process it would be a great help before I get started! Thanks a lot!


Great question. Thanks for writing.

As you might imagine, there are many ways to tackle this problem. Some of it just comes down to the question "how would you most like to do it?" Either of the ways you've suggested will work just fine.

In general, I believe that the question of how to arrange vocal percussion in the context of a larger piece of music is best answered after examining these factors:

  • Does the group have a director who is responsible for the sound of the overall performance? If so, then writing the percussion line once the group has already begun rehearsals can limit the director’s ability to shape the overall piece of music. Better to write the line out beforehand in this case.
  • Also, how comfortable are they other members of the group with an ever-evolving percussion line? Some people consider changing percussion lines distracting, while others consider it an effective way to keep a piece of music feeling new and exciting.
  • Is the group an ensemble of which the percussionist is a member, or is the percussionist a “sideman” to the ensemble? The more you are a part of the group, the more appropriate it can be to make sure that the percussion line is worked out when the rest of the parts are worked out.
  • Do you have a style (or are you trying to develop a style) in which the your percussion lines are primarily melodic, changing and shifting from measure to measure? Or are you more interested in providing a solid, reliable beat on which others will paint melodies? If the former, then your melodies must be consonant with the other melodies, counter-melodies, and harmonies in the music. Pre-composing the line is therefore more important in this case. Of course, the answer to this point may very well change from song to song.
Now, having said all this, there’s a reality factor to consider: most people who arrange primarily for voice are not very facile with writing percussion lines. Also, most singers and directors are not familiar with the capabilities of vocal percussion in general, nor with their particular percussionist’s skills. As a result, most percussionists become adjuncts to their main ensembles, each expected to come up with the percussion line on his own and to perform it without much interaction from the rest of the ensemble. This requires tremendous discipline and patience on the part of the percussionist, and often results in the percussionist’s not listening to the ensemble as much as he should – and vice versa.

In these cases, I encourage the percussionist to solve the problem, not the symptoms. Become an ambassador to the world of VP for your group. Teach the arrangers what you can and can’t do so that they can become skilled at writing new parts for you. Teach the other members of the ensemble a little about how you do what you do, so that they can better understand what they’re hearing – and therefore will listen more. At the same time, stay plugged in to the sounds everyone else is making. (That’s just basic musicianship.)

At first, arrangers may come to you with pieces that are finished except for the percussion. Work with them so that they can become more confident in writing drum parts for you, even if they just sketch out a measure or two at the beginning to show the feel and leave the rest to you (as is quite common in instrumental jazz arrangements).

Sometimes, this will result in everyone’s increasing their savvy about your craft, and that can only lead to your improving, as arrangers begin to challenge you with new percussion lines, and other performers begin to critique your performances. In the case of songs that only require a simple beat, work on your time, making sure that you are rock-solid, while practicing your listening skills, developing the ability to subtly alter your dynamics in response to cues from other lines.

All in all, I would advise you to write the percussion line at the earliest point in the process that your group can support, and to help your group to push that point earlier and earlier.

And, of course, if you should run out of patience, well, there’s always a drum solo. ;-)

Wes - Tuesday, September 10, 2002 at 12:21:18 (CDT)

Q. Laurie Toole <> from new york, ny asks:
Hi- I'm a Music Therapist working with a hospitalized 8-year old boy. I've just introduced him to the concept of vocal percussion, although it's something he already does on his own. Is your video appropriate for children? He is actually unable to read, so I need some sort of visual materials for him. Thanks so much-


Thanks for writing. I'm sorry to hear about the boy you are working with, and hope he recovers very soon.

To answer your question: the video series is geared towards teenage and adult musicians who are interested either in exploring vocal percussion for the first time, or in acquiring a practice habit that will lead them to professional-quality performance.

In the case of an eight-year-old, I think that unless he is unusually patient, the video would be appropriate only if there were an adult (e.g. you) willing to watch parts of the tape with him and work with him. The video is intended more as a work-partner and tool than as a whiz-bang demonstration.

However, there's a lot of material in there. I think that working with him, you could find hours and hours of interesting exercises and concepts there, ranging from how music is generated to how the sounds of language are interpreted, and including some fun and challenging beats along the way.

One last thing: the practice of vocal percussion does require full use of not only the lips, tongue, teeth, and jaw, but only the entire breathing mechanism. An injured leg or arm wouldn't present a problem, but I would not recommend this tape for anyone suffering from any injury in the torso.

I hope this helps!

Wes - Friday, September 06, 2002 at 13:58:00 (CDT)

Q. Eson <> from (Germany?) asks:
Wer hat Beatboxing erfunden?
("Who invented Beatboxing?")

Ich habe keine Ahnung!
("I have no idea!")

Truth to tell, I don't think anyone knows where beatboxing originally started, except to point researchers in the direction of early hiphop. It wasn't until the 1990's the "vocal percussion" split off from beatbox (or, some would say, came about without any hiphop influence at all).

if anyone feels they know the answer to this question, please write in. I'm eager to know, myself!

Wes - Friday, September 06, 2002 at 13:47:53 (CDT)

Q. Walter Gali <> from Orem, UT asks:
I have been a big fan of Jeff Thacher since I first heard him "percussionize" as I call it. Lately, I've heard comments from VPers who say that by using the soundspot pickups on his throat, he isn't really considered a real vocal percussionist because he is "cheating." What is your opinion on the use of "throat mics" such as the Seymoure Duncan Sounspots or the TH60 Thumper as far as vocal percussion is concerned. I asked Mr. Thacher about this, and he said he looks at his throat mics as more of a luxury and not a necessity, and also they help with his style of "organic" vocal percussion. Any insight you have on this matter would be appreciated. By the way, gotta say I love your videos. Thank you for your time.

Thanks for writing. Thank you also for your compliment. I appreciate it.

I have not used the Soundspots, but I was one of the early testers of Freddie's Thumper. Also, back in my Five O'Clock Shadow days, I used to use two mics: one at the side of my mouth, and one at my throat. It was a very different sound, but I liked it a lot. Now that I use only one mic, I have grown used to it, and I think that the sound is more drumlike and less like a microphone... and more importantly, I get a lot less feedback from the monitors :-)

But with respect to throat micing, all I can say is that it takes a lot more than a microphone to make a good drummer. For me, VP is more about being a solid drummer than it is about being able to do beatbox freestyle soloing. So it doesn't really matter to me what kind of mic someone uses, if they have a good sound, a good feel, and a good ear.

Jeff has always been a proponent of making sounds that sound more human, more organic, than mine do, in addition to his own purely drum-imitative sounds, and I think that he has succeeded very well at developing an interesting and unique "kit". (I'm sure he'd be happy to "throw-down" anytime with any disparaging UT vocal percussionists in a microphone-less environment. ;-) )

Also, since his background is in music production and engineering, it seems natural to me that he would develop a sound system that best showcases his style. That's what the Soundspots (and his other gear) represent to me: the culmination of years of experimentation by a great musician with solid engineering and production training and experience. Whatever you call it, it sounds good to me, and that's all that matters as far as I'm concerned.

Incidentally, I should point out that I've heard plenty of musicians --vocal percussionists and others-- who use a lot of gear in order to "get a good sound," who wind up sounding like mediocre musicians with a lot of fancy gear. That's not what Jeff's rig is about, in my opinion. And even if you aren't familiar with the "sound of fancy gear", you can hear the difference if you ever have a chance to hear Jeff live without amplification of any kind: it's very obvious that his mics are designed to project his great sound into a room. That's very different from from what many people (misguidedly) try to do: to get the gear to make a great sound for them.

Just one man's two cents. :-)


Wes - Thursday, August 22, 2002 at 11:18:09 (CDT)

Q. Hugh Gee <> from Richmond, VA asks:
Hey Wes- My name is Hugh Gee, and I was hoping maybe you could help me. I recently auditioned for a five man group in Ithaca, NY, for bass. Then they actually became more interested in me for VP more than bass. I know you have lamented a few times about how being a tenor and mouth drumming can affect each other (like making kick sounds, etc). You'd think being a bass/vp combo would be ideal, but here's what I ran into. They didn't think it was feasable to go to six people, having a dedicated vp, because they would still have to find a capable bass. I guess I haven't found an application where my combination works to my advantage, and was looking for an experienced, fresh set of ears to maybe shed some light on making what I can do work for me. I really dig what you've done for our field, Wes, in a special, small musical avenue that is tightknit. I hope I've explained the situation well enough, and if you have any questions, please let me know. Regards, Hugh Wes, here's the addendum to my first email. My question is how do you think I could best apply my particular talent combination of bass/vp? Any ideas would be greatly appreciated- Regards, Hugh


Seems to me that the first stop would be focs is the group I was in before the House Jacks, and these days their rhythm section is powered by one man: Dave Stackhouse. Stack does what he calls "beatbass" for the four tenors of focs, and the results are impressive. Check 'em out, and maybe get in touch with him too.

I have some other thoughts too, but it seems to me that you should probably start with the guy who does it professionally before I try to give you any advice. :-)

Wes - Thursday, August 22, 2002 at 11:09:52 (CDT)

Q. Daniel Bates <> from Cambridge, MA asks:
Hey Wes! First of all, I'm asking this as a member of and one of the percussionists for the Chorallaries. :o) Anyway -- I've got two problems: 1) I've got basic sounds down, but I'm having trouble getting them up to speed enough to string together lines with the smoothness I'd like. In particular, my snare is a bit leaky and slow. Is this just a matter of practice? 2) I'm having some trouble coming up with interesting lines (i.e. not a standard rock beat) and fills. What're your suggestions on this? Thanks a bunch. Danny

Danny! It's great to hear from a member of my college a cappella group, the MIT Chorallaries. Thanks for writing.
Regarding speed and leaky, slow snares: you most likely have a combination problem: your lips are the wrong amount of wet, and as a result, you are applying the wrong amount of pressure to make each sound. Without seeing or hearing it, I can't tell whether you are pushing too hard, or have insufficient tightness in your lips, but it is probably obvious to you. Try changing these parameters around, and let us know how it goes.
Regarding fills, you have two choices: a combination of on-paper exercises, or going to the masters. To do the on-paper stuff, just take a bunch of fills and patterns you know, write them out, then cut-and-paste parts of one onto the other, time-shift them one or more (or less!) beats forward or backward relative the the measure boundary, etc etc. The idea is just to get some symbols on paper that are different from anything you've performed before... then play them and listen for interesting stuff.
Regarding the masters, listen to drummers you like. Bob Stoloff (professor at the Berklee College of Music) is the undisputed master of fills in my world, but he would point you at the drummers he most likes. Ed Thigpen is one of his faves, if I remember correctly, for example.
Get out there and listen and experiment! :-)

Wes - Tuesday, July 09, 2002 at 10:26:12 (CDT)

Q. David Brower <> from Mesa, AZ asks:
Hey Wes! I absolutely LOVE your tapes! You have NO IDEA how much they have helped me! But I'm still having trouble with the 'pf' snare. I can get it down pretty well but the problem is with the sound. I am having trouble making the snare sound like the same snare time after time (if you know what I'm trying to say). I can't really get any kind of consistency. Any suggestions? -David p.s.- Did I hear you are coming out with yet another VP video?!

Well, first, yes, I am planning a new video, thanks for asking. We haven't decided everything that's going to be on it yet, but it's starting to take form. One thing is clear, though: We need a bigger chapter on snares! Your question comes up a lot, and it's really hard to answer without being right there with you to demonstrate and to shape the sound you are making.
Here's a few things you can try, though:

  • make each half of the sound without the other. In other words, try just the "p" sound and just the "f" sound. Find out which is causing inconsistencies, and fix each individually. Then, when you put them together, they will interact and cause more inconsistencies... but probably less severe ones.
  • Make sure you aren't trying for consistency when you're tired -- that's asking for frustration. Start fresh each time, and when your lips/tongue are tired, stop. When you're learning a new sound, stay fresh. Once you have the sound down, work on making it with less effort.
  • Pay attention to whether your moisture is changing. If you use lip balm, keep a consistent amount applied. If not, keep your lips the same amount of dry or wet throughout your practice session. Keep water handy, and drink liberally (and consistently).
I hope this helps, David. I'm trying to set up more in-person teaching opportunities over the next twelve months, so maybe we can work on this live sometime soon.

Wes - Tuesday, July 09, 2002 at 10:12:45 (CDT)

Q. Magali <> from Brasil asks:
Hello, I'm a brazilian singer and composer. I teach popular singing in an University, here in São Paulo. I'm interested in the video series Mouth Drumming.But I'm not a percussionist that sings,I'm a singer that works with the rythm ,of course,but in different ways.Will these videos help professionals like me? Thank you for the attention. Magali.


Thanks for a great question.

This video series is intended to make it possible for anyone who is interested in vocal percussion to go from the very beginning straight through to some advanced techniques.

Like you, I do not consider myself a percussionist first. I consider myself a musician and a teacher first.

I believe that rhythm is fundamental to all music, and I approach this topic from this perspective. I think that you will find plenty in this instructional series that will help you in your career as a professional singer; for you, these tapes will probably be about helpful you to express some of the rhythms in your head in an entirely new and exciting way.

Wes - Saturday, March 23, 2002 at 20:20:46 (CST)

Q. Miracle Mouth from Australia asks:
My friend and i have just started to beatbox and we don't know where to start. Everyone says to just copy someone else but it is too hard. Do you have any recomendations or starting points?

I've developed a pair of video tapes intended to be exactly the starting point you're talking about. Check it out at The first one's available in both NTSC and PAL format, so you should be all set.

Welcome to beatbox. ;-)

Wes - Sunday, March 17, 2002 at 12:47:00 (CST)

Q. Doug Larsen <> from Akron, OH asks:
Hi. I am a beinner/intermediate vocal percussionist. Right now the thing holding me back is intricate fast patterns. Now I know speed isn't the important thing, but I am talking about being able to move my lips fast and move quickly to be able to enhance my grooves. Do you know any good drills or tips to help me? Thank you for your time. -Doug


If you haven't already bought the "Mouthdrumming, Vol. 2" video, that's the place to start. A primary focus of that volume is drills intended to not only get the tempo up, but (more importantly) to get you the kind of control that lets you groove.

Here's an easy example that should get you some good mileage:

1. Alternate 'T' and 'K' (ticka-ticka-ticka).
2. Put the stress on the 'K' (kitta-kitta-kitta).
3. Now alter the stress in triplet feel (TI-ki-ti-KI-ti-ki-TI-ki-ti-KI-ti-ki).
4. No cheating! Go back and really do step 3. It's supposed to be hard. Start slow. ;-)
5. Once you've got that, practice stressing one for a measure or so, then the other... and switch between them by way of a triplet. (T k T k T k tkt K t K t K t ktk ...)

Let us know how it goes.

Good practice to you!

Wes - Sunday, March 17, 2002 at 12:43:17 (CST)

Q. Keegan McVeigh <> from Stevens Point, WI asks:
I've been doing vocal percussion for about 18 months. I've sort of hit a rut with coming up with new sounds. What advice do you have for coming up with new sounds and using them in song. Also, what brand of sound system equipment would you recomend purchasing?


Two great questions for the price of one!

First, regarding new sounds. Now that I have a solid "kit" I find that it's hard to come up with new sounds. I used to listen to recordings and try to mimic the sounds exactly, but now, I listen to a song I want to perform, and I find myself "translating" the drums on the recording to my own sound.

I think the way to get around this is to find a sound (or beat, or song, or whatever) that you really like. If you can't get it out of your head, then you will be practicing it all the time. That's the kind of dedication you need on your side, 'cause in the end, getting a new sound is all about training your mouth to do something completely unlike anything it's ever done before, in your life.

By way of comparison, toddlers and young children learning to speak take a long time to learn to make the right sounds: months and even years. (I had a lisp well past kindergarten, for example; I couldn't make an "s" sound.) And yet the brains of these young people are developing very quickly; they are focusing enormous mental energy at solving this problem. Small wonder it's hard for grown-ups.

Incidentally, regarding using new sounds in a song: when I develop a new sound, I first practice using it in all the patterns I can think of, so it can find a natural place in my "toolbox" of sounds. All the while, I pay attention to places it fits especially badly or well. These are the two cases that help you to find new patterns, because if it fits well, it is suggesting to you what sounds it likes to follow and precede; when it fits poorly, you are forced to change the pattern to something better... maybe to something you've never done before. That cool pattern is something you might not have thought of without the help of the new sound.

Regarding sound systems: I honestly don't think equipment makes a big difference. I will certainly admit that playing on huge systems with amps you can't soak and woofers you can't distort and mics that pick up every nuance is a fantastic experience. I have learned a lot about my own sound from playing on systems like that and listening very carefully. However, owning a great system has always seemed to me to be more trouble than it's worth. In a gig setting, the venue or promoter will rent a system that's appropriate to the crowd (and if he or she doesn't, well, that's a different issue, one we can cover in a different forum), and your job is not to be the tech expert. Your job is only to perform.

In rehearsal, your goal is to become as good as you can, and that means paying attention to your own sound, and paying attention to the feeling of the muscles making the music. At the same time, you have to be listening to your own musicality.

There's no attention left for devoting to sound systems! If anything, I would instead recommend that you get a recording device. (I, for instance, have a minidisc recorder with a very fine consumer-quality tabletop hundred-dollar microphone.) Once you start recording yourself, you can pay full attention to producing the sounds, then when you play back, you can pay full attention to the sound quality and the musicality.

One last note about practicing without a mic: you have different rooms in your house. Use them; they each modify your sound in a different way, enabling you to hear different aspects of your sounds.

If you practice without a sound system, you will get used to the sound of your instrument. If you practice with a sound system, you will get used to the sound of your sound system. And when you're on a big stage with a professional sound system, I guarantee that the only sound you'll want to be thinking about and trying to produce is your own personal sound.

Wes - Sunday, March 17, 2002 at 12:29:26 (CST)

Q. James Murphy <> from Maryland asks:
Dear Mr. Carroll, Hello. My name is James Murphy and I'm a student at River Hill High School in Clarksville, Maryland. I am currently enrolled in the G/T Independent Research course. The topic for my research is based on a cappella music. It started out as just barbershop, but now has branched out to 'A Cappella Bands.' A big part of this is Vocal Percussionists, which you are said to be one of the finest. I am trying to find any information I can on this topic of vocal percussion, and being that this form of music is new and up coming, it is hard to find information on it. If you could possibly help me find some resources that could give me information on vocal percussion or other people that I could learn from, I would be very appreciative. Thank you for your time.

James Murphy Junior at River Hill James Murphy Maryland, - Thursday, January 03, 2002 at 11:02:01 (CST)


Good to hear from you. Glad you have found my name -- I'm curious to know where you heard of me. I am flattered to hear that you have heard I am one of the best, and hope one day to be considered Number One by more. :-)

I recommend a few places for research: First, there was a New York Times article entitled "Doo-Wop-A-Doo Will No Longer Do" which ran in June of 1997, I believe. The article covers the rise in contenporary a cappella music as of that time.

You may also consider looking into some of the web sites dedicated to a cappella music.,, and are just a few.

The USENET group is also quite helpful.

Other than that, your best bet is probably directly from me. Drop me line at wes at mouthdrumming dot com with further questions, and I'll be happy to do what I can.

Wes - Sunday, January 13, 2002 at 16:13:58 (CST)

Q. Dean Hosenie <> from London, England asks:
I am 15 and have been beatboxing for about 1 year and I can do most of Rahzels beats. I am having trouble with the wind technique that he does. Have u got any advice how to do this. Also, where can I get our videos from as I live in England. Thanx


I'd love to help you with Rahzel's "wind technique" but I don't know what you mean. Could you give me an example of what you mean? Maybe there's a track of an album of his that you hear this technique on?

Regarding my videos: PAL versions can be obtained from a few different sources. They are available on, and, as well as directly from, my Germany distributor.

Looking forward to hearing back from you!


Wes - Sunday, January 13, 2002 at 16:05:57 (CST)

Q. Wes Carroll <> from SF CA asks:
Why the heck has Wes taken so long to answer new questions?

Hey, everyone,

Please accept my apologies for having been out of touch for so long! Between international House Jacks tours, the formation of two new acoustic trios (including Nine Day Fall), recording demos, preparing for a third VP video, and a number of other projects, I have been swamped.

But recently I have made solemn oaths to several insistent friends and fans to be more available. It's a pleasure to be back in the swing of reading these great questions and answering as best I can.

Looking forward to seeing more of you!


Wes - Tuesday, December 11, 2001 at 18:55:01 (CST)

Q. Scott <> from New York asks:
It's funny, I've been doing VP now for 3 years I see a strange trend. People who do a capella VP look down on "beatboxers". VPers froget that it was Doug E. Fresh that created the modern idea of VP. Guys like Rahzel, Kenny Muhammed, Killa Kella, DJ Scratch, Bizmarkie, Doug E. Fresh have been doing VP better than most a capella VPers. Yet most VPers will quickly just call it crude and overly complicated. Strangely, when I want to better any aspect of my own vocal drumming I gain more from "beatboxers" than I do for heavily limited VPers. Why do you think this one way animosoty exists? And what are your personal feelings concerning "beatboxing"?


What a great question! Thanks for writing in.

Well, I'll tell you. First of all, I agree with you: vocal percussion owes a huge debt to beatbox. In fact, I don't think of beatbox and VP as distinct arts; to me, beatbox is a style of vocal percussion.

I have never known any VP's to look down on beatboxes. In fact, most of them (including me!) love a number of the artists you mention. I am curious to know where you have seen this animosity.

Fact is, I agree with you again when you imply that listening to beatbox is a great way to improve one's vocal percussion. There are very few vocal drummers I listen to these days, and they are mostly beatboxes, because I find the production style fascinating, and the final result very musical.

Thanks for bringing up this important point and giving me a chance to set this record straight, at least for myself.


Wes - Tuesday, December 11, 2001 at 18:49:16 (CST)

Q. Ariel <> from San Anselmo,CA asks:
HEllo, I am a student at Drake High School and I am doing a project about beat-boxing. I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions for my paper. Thanks a mucho, Ariel * How did you first learn about beatboxing? * How did you get so good at it? * Do you have an tips for people interested in learning more? * How long have you been doing this for? Thanks again and hope to hear from you. Ariel


Thanks for writing.

Happy to help:
I first began doing vocal percussion when I was very young, but at the time I just thought of it as "singing along with the drums." In 1995, I auditioned for Five O'Clock Shadow and landed the gig as their first "vocal percussionist". Suddenly I had to figure out how to do it "for real!"
Thanks for the compliment. The way I got good was to practice a lot and listen a lot, both to drummers I liked, and to recordings of myself.
People who want to get better should do a few things: they should practice, they should record themselves and listen to the recordings critically, and of course they should buy my instructional videos. If they have the opportunity to work with a coach, that can also be very helpful.
Finally, I have been doing vocal percussion for most of my life, but I have only been doing it professionally since 1995.

Good luck with your paper, Ariel!


Wes - Tuesday, December 11, 2001 at 18:42:44 (CST)

Q. Chris <> from Rexburg, ID asks:
I was wondering how to get a password for the mouth drumming site? I need more help with my vocal percussion. Thanks a ton! Very respectfully, Chris

Chris, Sorry about our outages recently. I think we have them all taken care of, and now you should be able to go to without a password. Thanks for writing! Wes

Wes - Tuesday, December 11, 2001 at 18:36:17 (CST)

Q. Matt Dorfman <> from Rhode Island/St. Louis asks:
hey wes, i got mouthdrumming a week ago and i love problem is i am still struggling with the snare! i don't know how to get the right sound and i don't know what sound i'm looking for so i might even get it sometimes and not know it...can you help me? thanx Matt Dorfman Rhode Island/St. Louis, - Saturday, July 22, 2000 at 21:20:32 (PDT)


This is a job for in-person instruction. We can probably fix you up in about five minutes, plus some practice on your part. Any chance you can make the East Coast A Cappella Summit on Oct 21/22?


Wes - Wednesday, August 16, 2000 at 11:12:34 (PDT)

Q. Jon Bristow <> from Washington asks:
Hey Wes,

My friend and I purchased your second tape and I could handle most of your stuff. I can't say my sounds are exactly as accurate as yours, but I'm doing farely well. I guess I'm more of a beat-boxer, I'm into all the nasty little noises, like rahzel n stuff. Anyways, I didn't see the first tape, so I'm still really lost on your snare sound. I've read about the "pf's" and keeping the lips tight, but for some reason, I just can't get it right, or to my satisfaction I should say. I've been going without it for a while, but we're putting a group together at my church (Just Forgiven) and I thougt it'd be nice to throw it in. Thanks alot!

Friday, August 04, 2000 at 17:33:08 (PDT)


The snare's tricky, it's true. Unfortunately, it isn't something I think I can describe satisfactorily without either showing you (e.g. in person or on video) or at least seeing what you're doing.

The first mouthdrumming tape goes into more detail on how it's done -- that's probably your best bet. (

Or, if you're going to be in Boston for the East Coast A Cappella Summit (Oct 21 2000), I'll be holding two workshops there, and can teach you in person. That'd be cool -- any chance you'll be there?

Thanks, Wes

Wes - Wednesday, August 16, 2000 at 11:10:46 (PDT)

Q. Brice Koning <> from Lafayette, IN asks:
Wes, This weekend, I was in Decatur, IL for a Festival. I met the vocal percussionist for Blind Man's Bluff and he told me about your video, Mouthdrumming. I was wondering how I could get ahold of that. I tried months ago, and the number I called said that they had never heard of it. Is there a way that you could give me a direct way to recieve that video? Being a vocal percussionist myself, I am always looking for new things to do! I appreciate it! -Brice Koning Monday, August 07, 2000 at 16:52:21 (PDT)


Hello to a fellow Hoosier! ;-)

Go to -- recently updated by the extraordinary -- for full instructions on getting the vid. (I used to sell them directly via mail, but it got to be too much work, so now you gotta either attend a workshop, or mail order from a real distribution company.)

Please let me know if you have any problems!



Wes - Wednesday, August 16, 2000 at 10:54:05 (PDT)

Q. Brent Albrecht <> from Vancouver,WA asks:
Hey Wes~ I LOVE you second video and can only think of one thing to add, a turntable sound. I know that Rahzel does it really well, but not being able to see his mouth doesn't help me much. If you could in clude this in Vol 3 I would apprieate it greatly! Oh yea do you know how Rahzel does "the beat and the chorus at the same time." ? thanks, brent

Hey, Brent,

Re: turntable sounds: There are lots of ways to make the sound -- check my response to Eric Jenson's May 8 question.

Re: "the beat and the chorus at the same time": "Bif your mPother BonBlPy knew B .. P .. B BB P .." It's really just the same old 'use the illusion' trick, done really well. If you listen REALLY closely, you'll note that little pieces of consonants are missing from the words where the drum sounds happen. Your brain fills in the sounds it expects. Cool, eh?

Wes - Wednesday, June 28, 2000 at 23:41:02 (PDT)

Q. Jiggy Dillrore <> from Kansas asks:
You always seem to disappear without a trace all the time. Where are you? Hello?

Oh, sigh. What's a guy to do? Between touring with the House Jacks, planning the next video, doing solo gigs, and (yes!) holding down a day job, I'm just plain swamped. Doin' the best I can! Sorry to leave you hanging.


Wes - Wednesday, June 28, 2000 at 23:26:54 (PDT)

Q. Steve Hogan <> from Berkeley, CA asks:
I'm interested in purchasing one of your tapes, but i can't really afford both. Would it be worth it to purchase the second tape without having seen the first one first? thanks for the info. Steve Hogan Berkeley, CA, - Thursday, April 13, 2000 at 18:07:12 (PDT)


If someone had worked with me before, I might say that they could skip the first tape without missing too much, but even then, I think it could be a mistake.

I would recommend you get only the first tape for now. I think you'll find plenty of good material there.

I'm concerned that your having only the second tape would lead to frustration. They really do build on each other.

And for those who didn't know, the easiest way to get a tape is to check out

Thanks for writing!


Wes - Saturday, May 20, 2000 at 10:54:44 (PDT)

Q. Erik Jenson <> from Chippewa Falls, WI, USA asks:
I would like to say that I appreciate your video. I never would have gotten started without your help. I was just wondering, do you know any tips for doing a turntable? I would love to learn how to make that sound, but I don't know where to start. Thanks. Erik Jenson Chippewa Falls, WI, USA, - Monday, May 08, 2000 at 09:05:42 (PDT)

Hey, Erik!

You mean scratching? Sure, lots of ways to do it. Here are some good ones I've heard: a hard "dv-vee" like Andrew Chaikin does on Completely (House Jacks -- Funkwich); the word "kiwi" off to the side of your mouth (Former FOCS -- Samrat Chakrabarti); or variations on a Donald Duck impersonation (Rahzel -- Rahzel Make The Music 2000, or George Baldi of the Disneyworld group American Vybe).

Rahzel's the only one I've heard who actually imitates not only the scratch sound, but also the source material on the vinyl as it gets scratched. It is monstrously cool.


Wes - Saturday, May 20, 2000 at 10:50:39 (PDT)

Q. Dan Gawlik <> from Cocoa Beach, Florida asks:
Hello Wes, I am a beatboxer. I wanted to get into the profession of vocal percussion. Where do I start? Please Reply Thank you Dan Dan Gawlik Cocoa Beach, Florida, - Monday, May 15, 2000 at 20:13:26 (PDT)

Hey, Dan,

If you're asking how you make the switch from being a beatboxer to being a vocal percussionist, my answer would be that beatbox is to hiphop what vocal percussion is to rock and jazz. There are different techniques and so forth, but it's mostly the same basic stuff.

If you're asking how to "go pro"... well, I've been getting a lot of questions like this via email lately, and it's hard to answer. After all, it's not like you just hang out a vocal percussion shingle and bands start lining up to take you on.

I guess the way to become a professional is to be an entrepreneur, the same way any musician would seek to become a professional. Gig, network, play, call, record, ...and so on. Just get out there and do it.

I wonder if I've really answered your question. Please let me know, and maybe you can help me get to the core of what you're trying to learn.



Wes - Saturday, May 20, 2000 at 10:45:16 (PDT)

Q. Murray <> from WA asks:
I heard this thing about undertones. I guess its this thing where you hum and buzz your lips at the same time in order to achieve this really low bass note. Do you know anything about this? Thanx Murray WA, - Wednesday, February 02, 2000 at 15:13:17 (PST)


That's right, the idea is that you make a note with your lips, and you make a different note with your voice. If the interval between the two notes is correct (e.g. a perfect fifth), then a third, lower note (e.g. an octave below the lower note) will appear.

I'm no expert on this one, though. Paul Donnelly of Blind Man's Bluff and Matt Selby, formerly of M-Pact, have a better handle on this one.

Good luck, and let me know if you figure this one out :-)


Wes - Saturday, May 20, 2000 at 10:38:07 (PDT)

Q. Dave Baumgartner <> from Williamsville, NY asks:
You referred to something you called a "lip buzz". What is that exactly? Where can I learn how to do it? Thanks, Dave Dave Baumgartner Williamsville, NY, - Wednesday, March 01, 2000 at 10:46:11 (PST)

Hey, Dave,

Sure. Easiest answer is this: go to your buddy who plays trumpet or trombone and ask him or her to demonstrate a lip buzz for you.

Barring that, try this: blow a small stream of air as though you were trying to make a candle in front of you flicker. Now increase the air flow (i.e. aim for a candle that's farther away) and s-l-o-w-l-y close your lips. As you bring your lips together, there's a good chance they will buzz for a moment before you close them all they way.

Let me know if you have success with either of these methods, and thanks for writing!


Wes - Saturday, May 20, 2000 at 10:30:38 (PDT)

Q. Jiggy Dillrore <> from Kansas asks:
Where are you wes?????? I miss reading all of your advice!!! come back soon. Jiggy Dillrore Kansas, - Saturday, January 29, 2000 at 23:19:57 (PST)

Sorry, Jiggy!

I've been swamped with a million projects, not least of which was revamping the site. I'm back, though!

Thanks :-)


Wes - Saturday, May 20, 2000 at 10:12:13 (PDT)

Q. * She * <> from Westminster, Colorado asks:
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- I am part of a 6 person a capella group at my high school called Raging Harmonies. There are two people in our group that can do percussion well, and I'd like to learn - I'm getting tips from them and everything but I just can't get the snare sound no matter what I try. I've watched your video several times and I'm still not getting it - it's too "spitty" I guess, But my lips are as tight as I can get them! Any suggestions? * She * Westminster, Colorado, - Monday, December 27, 1999 at 20:23:04 (PST)

Try this: concentrate on getting the *F* sound instead of the *P* sound. Instead of "pf", make a "tf" or "kf" sound. Really focus on getting the "f" sounding right. Then switch back to "pf", but aim to make the "p" as short and insignificant as the "t" and "k" are.

Please let me knoe how that goes.

Also, remember that there are alternate snares available; my favorite is the sidestick formed with a forceful "k" sound.

Good luck, and write back if that doesn't fix you up. :-)


Wes - Saturday, May 20, 2000 at 10:08:04 (PDT)

Q. Brian Michaels <> from Fargo, ND asks:
Wes, just wondering how I can get the SPIT sound out of my percussion? Could it be the mic I am using? Thanks Brian Michaels Fargo, ND, - Saturday, December 18, 1999 at 21:14:59 (PST)

Hey, Brian!

There are a couple of things that could be going on. If you're aiming directly into a mic, there is probably some EQ tweaking you can do to help fix it. Try this: get on a board with a parametric sweep. Turn the sweep's gain to +6 or so. Sweep slowly through the frewuencies until the spit sound sounds worst. Then turn the gain back to -3 or -6 and see if that doesn't help. I'm betting that the problem will be somewhere in the low hundreds.

Also, you might try aiming past the mic instead of into it.

Let me know if either of those help, and if not, what you experienced instead, okay?

Thanks for writing!


Wes - Saturday, May 20, 2000 at 10:03:07 (PDT)

Q. heath darveau <> from Chadron, NE asks:
Wes, I purchased your first video, and I love it. I was wondering if you were still going to be putting together a second video. Secondly, I have been trying to use my vocal percussion with different styles of music. Is there something that could maybe help me with what are the most important sounds of that certain groove and if their any media now out that would help me. Thanks again heath Heath Darveau Chadron, NE, - Saturday, December 18, 1999 at 02:23:34 (PST)


Thanks for the praise on the first vid! As you know by now, the second's out, and available from a couple of different places -- see for details.

As to the question of what's the most important part of a groove: That's a really good question. Just listen to the groove in your head (or if you have an example of the groove you are reproducing, play it on your stereo), and try to figure out what about it really works for *you*. Examples: I am always drawn to the claves in Latin music; African music for me, by contrast, is all about the interplay between the 4-beat and 3-beat divisions of the 12, so I listen to whichever instruments straddle the line between the two metric interpretations.

I don't really know if this answers your question. Maybe if you gave me a specific example or two of what you're listening to?

Good luck!

Wes - Sunday, March 26, 2000 at 12:19:36 (PST)

Q. Lisa M. Dawson, Esq. <> from New York City asks:
Hey Wes, Is it true that the oral acrobatics used in perfecting vocal percussion sounds can also provide a female partner with hours of intense pleasure? (Feeling very giddy today!!) :) Lisa M. Dawson, Esq. New York City, - Friday, December 17, 1999 at 13:02:51 (PST)

Wow, Li -- You are over the top! Okay, I'm gonna get flamed for this, but you asked the question, so here's my answer:

Vocal percussion, like so many things in life, is all about discovering a talent within yourself, and cultivating it and respecting it as an art. (And, yes, part of that means training your body to handle the demands it places on you.)

I think that's all I can say in this (public) forum. Back to the regular questions now? :-)

Wes - Sunday, March 26, 2000 at 12:11:21 (PST)

Q. Lars <> from Ellensburg, WA asks:
I don't have your video yet but plan on getting it. I was wondering if you could tell me how you distinguish your crash cymbal sound from your ride cymbal sound to your hi-hat sound. Thanks, Lars Grevstad Lars Grevstad Ellensburg, WA, - Saturday, December 18, 1999 at 18:15:48 (PST)

Good to hear from you. Well, as I'm sure you can imagine, it's a lot easier to show you than to tell you (hence the videos), but let me give it a try:
The hi-hat sound is based in consonants centered around T, TH, and TS. also, it's extremely short in duration and even -- like a slow-motion machine-gun report or a fast-motion watch ticking.
The ride is a looser sound with a perceivable (though short) decay, made with a sound like TSH. In addition, there's a particular whistling tone that goes into the ride to add more realism (which is explained in video #2 as "the hardware whistle").
Finally, the crash... this one's quite different from the other two. (Maybe that's because its use in drumming is so different? I never really thought about that before, but I think that it does make sense.) For a crash, I usually aim for a sound between PSH and PS. It's extremely loud and forceful, and it's decay is long, and involves a consonant shift from SH to S. Incidentally, I find that K can be more effective than P as the initial consonant. It depends on the pattern and the condition I'm in.
That was a toughie! Hope this helps. Good luck and good practice!

Wes Carroll - Tuesday, February 01, 2000 at 12:31:23 (PST)

Q. Heath <> from Chadron NE asks:
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Wes, I purchased your first video, and I love it. I was wondering if you were still going to be putting together a second video. Secondly, I have been trying to use my vocal percussion with different styles of music. Is there something that could maybe help me with what are the most important sounds of that certain groove and if their any media now out that would help me. Thanks again heath Heath Darveau Chadron, NE, - Saturday, December 18, 1999 at 02:23:34 (PST)

The second video is out! You can order it directly from Mainely A Cappella or from my website. Thanks for asking. Hope you enjoy it!
As for the second part of your question, I'm not sure whether I really understand what you're looking for. When I hear a groove for the first time, there are two separate things I do. First, I try to identify each of the sounds in the groove. For example, what kind of snare is it? What kind of electronic effects have been applied to it? That sort of thing. Then, I try to identify ways to reproduce the sound. In the case of a standard snare, I already have a repertoire of sounds that allow me to reproduce a variety of them. But if it's a sound I've never head before... well, I just play around until I come up with something that works. :-)
Is there a particular sound you'd like help imitating, or is your question more about learning how to do this yourself?
Thanks for writing -- hope this helps!

Wes Carroll - Tuesday, February 01, 2000 at 12:24:03 (PST)

Q. Adam <> from Elizabethtown PA asks:
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Hi i have seen your video and have taken a strong liking to vocal percussion. Your video is awesome. Easy to understand and easy to learn from. I am a freshman at Elizabethtown College. Its funny because i have picked up the snare drum easily. But i have problems going from different drums sounds to the snare. I have trouble getting my mouth into position quickly. i was wondering is their any advice you could give me to make my transistions from drum to drum quicker and smoother? Thanks Adam Brophy Adam Brophy Elizabethtown PA, - Sunday, December 05, 1999 at 15:51:35 (PST)

Great question. That's a tricky one, all right. I think your best bet is to work on making all your drum sounds from nearly the same mouth position. Of course, different sounds require a different mouth position, but I find that most people over-exaggerate their mouth positions, particularly when they're first learning. So start by practicing making a snare sound, then some other sound, then back to the snare sound. Continue to practice, working on making the two different sounds while moving your mouth as little as possible.
Another good drill is to practice quickly alternating two consonants. For example, D B D B D B or D G D G D G. I find that I can't do any of these drills quickly unless I can make both sounds without moving my mouth much at all.
One last point: most pairs of consonants are produced in slightly different areas of the mouth. That's really handy to remenber, because it means that you can (for example) set your tongue to make a G sound, then (hold that tongue in place!) set your lips to make a B sound. Now alternating between the two sound doesn't require any re-positioning of the mouth at all! Just stay relaxed and keep the sound even. Speed will come most quickly if you don't tense up.
Good luck, and thanks for writing!

Wes Carroll - Tuesday, February 01, 2000 at 12:16:55 (PST)

Q. Jiggy <> from Kansas asks:
Where are you wes?????? I miss reading all of your advice!!! come back soon. Jiggy Dillrore Kansas, - Saturday, January 29, 2000 at 23:19:57 (PST)

Sorry to keep you waiting! I'm back, I'm back, I'm back. I was completely caught up in getting my new video out the door. Excitin'! It's done! Everybody go get one. Anyhow, onto the questions. Thanks for writing!

Wes Carroll - Tuesday, February 01, 2000 at 12:02:37 (PST)

Q. Fred <> from fredville,QU asks:
How do i do it

You try your best. Thanks for writing.

Wes Carroll - Friday, December 31, 1999 at 23:29:13 (PST)

Q. Derick <> from Rochester, NY asks:
Hi Wes! Thanks for taking the time out to answer our questions! I was wondering how to start using more organic sounds instead of the usual snare-hi-hat-kick drum combination. I like to think I have a farly solid kit drumming sound, and sometimes I toss in a funky grunt or something into my fills, but if I try to practice by listening to Jeff Thacher's recordings I can't really keep up... Any suggestions? Derick Rochester NY, - Monday, November 22, 1999 at 07:26:35 (PST)


Sounds like you're on the right track! Doing what comes naturally is a great way to start, and listening to Jeff is also an excellent way to go, as he's really fantastic at organic percussion sounds.

You might also try listening carefully to the sounds you make inadvertently in the middle of your patterns. Though we usually practice to keep those sounds quiet, it can be very instructive to purposely make them louder instead. That has been my source of several interesting sounds I now consider staples.

Good luck and good practice!

Wes Carroll - Friday, December 10, 1999 at 21:20:06 (PST)

Q. Clare-Louise <> from Liverpool, England asks:
Hi I'm a student at the Liverpool institute for performing arts (LIPA) and I'm currently writing an essay on the possibilities of vocal samba. I would be extremely grateful for your viewpoints. Plus is it possible to quote your points? I've realised I'm tackling a subject that lacks recorded data so any info or opinions would be fantastic Thankyou Clare-Louise xx Clare-Louise Edwards England, - Monday, November 22, 1999 at 03:31:48 (PST)


Thanks for writing. Always great to hear from another country, and you're the second this week.

I imagine I'm too late to help, but just in case, let me recommend that you check out the recordings of Vocal Sampling, as they will demonstrate that there is indeed a wealth of recorded data available on your subject.

Good luck on your essay!

Wes Carroll - Friday, December 10, 1999 at 21:14:30 (PST)

Q. Mike <> from Jakarta, Indonesia asks:
Hi, I was listening to the new Spiralmouth cd a couple of days ago, and when I was listening to the percussion, I was hearing something that sounded like a snare role triplet. Then when i was listening to The HouseJacks on the Urban Harmony cd, I heard the same thing. So, I was wondering if you could tell me how it's done? Everytime I try to do it, it just ends up sounding like a bass drum then snare type sound. Thanks a lot... Mike Jakarta, Indonesia, - Sunday, November 21, 1999 at 02:25:02 (PST)


Hmm. There are a couple of different tricks you might be referring to.

Could you please clarify by giving me an example? For instance, if you told me that the sound you are interested in happens in the House Jacks song "Saturnalia Smile" on Funkwich at 1:38 and again at 2:01, then I could listen carefully and tell you what's happening.

Sorry to bounce it back at you -- looking forward to hearing back from you!

Wes Carroll - Friday, December 10, 1999 at 21:11:10 (PST)

Q. Pasquale Palazzolo <> from Orlando, FL asks:
Wes, Any suggestions or techniques on creating a heavy bass the kind of bass you hear booming in cars as they pass you buy with the stereo cranking. I need a good technique for an a cappella arrangement of "Groove is in the Heart". I started to work with one effects box with an octave dropper and tried using a trumpet/tuba lip buzz combined with my lowest bass notes available(keep in mind it's not real low since I'm a tenor...this is where the octave dropper comes into play). Hope to hear from you soon. Pasquale

My fellow tenor,

I feel your pain. Truly I do. I've got two solutions for you:

  1. Use the illusion -- your audience knows what they expect to hear in a heavy-bass pattern, and you can use that to your advantage.
  2. Actually deliver the sound.

The first is easy: just do any drum pattern that ought to have a bass buzz in it, and sound your lowest note (gently!), and the audience will hear a very low note indeed. I promise.

The second is tougher, because there are only two ways to make a note that low for tenors like you and me, and neither is easy.

  • lip buzz
  • flapping the vocal cords

By lip buzz, of course, I mean the trick Matthew Selby made famous in our circles. Great stuff. This is my recommended solution. Practice, practice, practice. I've gotten to the point where I can sound solid notes below even Bert O's range. (!) No voice required

By flapping the cords, I mean the trick used by movie mutant bad guys, e.g. Dr. Claw from the Inspector Gadget cartoon, or most demon/devils in horror B-movies. It gets you a nice low sound, but it's murder on the voice. Use only with extreme caution. In fact, come to think of it, don't do it at all. It's just plain harsh on your voice.

In summary: don't worry about not making a low enough sound; it won't matter much to the listener. If that answer doesn't feel satisfactory to you, then congratulations! you're a perfectionist like me -- in which case get those lips buzzing!

Thanks for the great question.

Wes Carroll - Friday, December 10, 1999 at 21:06:56 (PST)

Q. Eugene <> from Stockton, CA asks:
Wes, Just wondering what a person can do if their rhythm is bad? I know to work with a metronome, but what to do with it exactly is what I'm wondering? Do I just turn it on and do percussion to it? What should I do? Also, I'm a high tenor trying to make bass drum sounds and needless to say, I have trouble making those sounds. What kind of sound things can I do to help me with my sound? Thanks a bunch! Take care! Eugene Sunday, November 07, 1999 at 19:46:17 (PST)


Great metronome question!!!

Try these exercises to get started:

  • Turn on the metronome, set it for 100bpm, and try to "sing with it" -- in other words, make some percussive sound (any sound) at the exact moment the metronome clicks.
  • Same exercise, but set the metronome for 200bpm but you stay at 100bpm (i.e. you make a sound every other click) -- this exercise is easier.
  • the reverse: you go double-speed relative to the metronome.

Once you can do stuff like this, try some trickier exercises:

  • Make a sound exactly between the clicks of the metronome.
  • If the metronome clicks on the "downbeat", you click on beats 2 and 4. (Should sound like a polka if done correcly.)
  • Do some pattern -- any pattern -- withthe metronome clicking on every beat. This is especially difficult when you do fills!
  • Cut the time of the metronome in half, but you stay at the same tempo.
  • Do it again -- now the metronome only clicks on the downbeats. This is hard!

Throughout the exercises, if the metronome "gets off the beat," practice until it doesn't.

Finally, regarding kick drums: I'm a tenor too. Here are some tips:

  • Don't force. Keep the voice relaxed and make the lowest sound you can comfortably make. People will think it's lower than it is.
  • Also, don't underestimate the power of the lip buzz to create low tones.
  • Remember also that getting something that sounds like a kick is more important than getting something very low-pitched.
  • Finally, if you're using a mic, note that puffs of air can generate low tones (which I cover in my next video, due out in about a month).
Maybe this will make you feel better: without a mic, there's only one person who can even hear my kick drum: me. Even if you were a foot in front of me, you wouldn't hear it, I'll bet.

Good luck! And please write back to let us know how it's going.

Wes Carroll - Tuesday, November 16, 1999 at 12:47:26 (PST)

Q. Vincent Wong <> from Exeter, NH asks:
Hey Wes, I have one of your CDs. The percussions on it just sound so real! Nice job! I singing in an cappella group at school, and I want to do vocal percussion this year. I can do basic stuff, but when it comes down to imitating the snare drum I have no clue how to do so. Also, we go around and serenade girls (that's mainly what we do) and I heard that it's harder to do vocal percussion without a mic. Is that true? I am also thinking about your "Mouth Drumming" tape. Can you give me a brief outline on what I might be able to learn from it? Also, pelase let me know if the housejack's are ever going to come on tour around this area. Take care. Keep up the singing! Vince Sunday, November 07, 1999 at 13:04:59 (PST)


Thanks! Glad you enjoy the CD. Which one do you have?

A mic is very important for vocal percussion when you're doing a full drum kit from more than about three feet from the listener(s). However, if you're serenading a girl, the rules are all different. Here's what you have to do:

  1. Use a snare that sounds like a finger snap if you can. The consonant "K" is your friend here; the Mouth Drumming video can help you to find good ways to perfect this.
  2. Don't overdo it. For an unmiked ballad, a little percussion goes a long way, and more than a little will make it seem you're trying too hard. The most I do for a 6/8 unmiked ballad is usually "t..t..t.tK..t..t.." where "t" is hi-hat, "K" is finger snap, and "." is a rest.
  3. Think the words as you perform. Be a serenader, not a drummer.
  4. Whatever you do, don't spit on her or her friends. It's not charming. ;-)

Regarding the video: If you go to you will find a blurb that tells you what's there.

Finally, regarding the House Jacks: we'll be there as soon as we can! Keep an eye on for information as we get it.


Wes Carroll - Tuesday, November 16, 1999 at 12:33:57 (PST)

Q. Matt Anthoney <> from Ames, Iowa asks:
Wes-- Any tips on how to do repeated rapid-fire snares (more than two)? My style is to do snares with my lips using a forceful 'pf' sound. Thanks, Matt Anthoney Tuesday, November 02, 1999 at 15:17:24 (PST)

Matt, That's a toughie. Try some of these things:

  1. After sounding the initial 'pf', keep your lips in the taut position and sound additional consonants behind them. This is especially effective when imitating brushes.
  2. Try changing the snare sound you use. Alternating snares can lend speed, and breaking the patterns up into random groups of 2's and 3's can keep it interesting (e.g. p-k-k-p-k-p-k-k-p-k-p-k-k-p)
  3. Raw practice will get things faster, too, of course. Eighth-notes around 120bpm work well for me so far, though I seem to have hit a physical limit there for the time being.
  4. Sometimes just not doing a rapid snare is the easiest way out. For example, I often do super-fast hi-hat work with snares littering the pattern. That can give the same musical effect as rapid-fire snares.

Wes Carroll - Tuesday, November 16, 1999 at 12:16:16 (PST)

Q. Benjamin J. Eckstein <> from Hamilton College asks:
Hi there, I am in a coed a cappella group at Hamitlon College, and have gotten highly involved in studio recording for a cappella groups. My one question is about studio mics used for recording vocal percussion. I have a slew of high end dynamic and condenser microphones in my home studio, but want to know what you personally recommend for recording vocal percussion. Any insight on this as well as the procession of vp tracks would be very helpful. Thanks so much. Sincerely, Benjamin J. Eckstein - Wednesday, October 27, 1999 at 07:53:42 (PDT)


Great question!

Let me tackle the tracking question first; it's easier.

After a click is in place, I lay down a nearly-full kit track in one pass first. Usually everything but crashes/splashes and incidental percussion like shakers, that is. (Usually I have three mics for this, but I'll get into that in a sec) I find that doing everything at once help me keep time and makes everything fit together better.

(I just saw an interview of Billy Joel in which he says that he records piano and vocal at the same time because his voice and hands follow each other. Same principle here.)

Once I have a solid track, I layer a crashes track, and sometimes an additional kick track, not necessarily in that order.

Then I might do a shaker for instance, though sometimes I start by laying the shaker down first. In that case, I think of the shaker as a click track.

Okay, onto the mics question. This is a toughie. I used to think I knew all kinds of stuff about this, being an MIT guy with studio experience and all. Hah -- was I wrong.

The only useful things I feel I can say are 1) what *I* do, and 2) Use your ears.

Number 2 is most important, of course: do what sounds best.

When I record, I usually use three mics, each with its own track. There's an overhead mics to capture hardware and brilliance (usually a large-diaphagm condenser, often "The Expensive One" in the studio. AKG to Neumann to Mics-I've-Never-Even-Heard-Of.)

I put a good solid mic at my mouth for snare and general (usually mid-range) ambience. Even an SM58 could do this job in a pinch, though any good mic with a solid pop filter and tolerance for high volume is a candidate. I can't say I have a favorite here either.

Finally, I need a mic to capture the low-end stuff. Here are some examples of things I have successfully used in the past:

  1. My Beyer Dynamic M88 (performance) mic at my throat. The M88 has a GREAT low-end for an inexpensive mic. In addition to being a good front-of-mouth mics, it's great at the throat in the studio.
  2. I once used a standard kick-drum mic (I forget the make/model) and moved it around until I got the right sound. (Which happened when I pressed it to the middle of my forehead. Scout's honor. (Bone conduction.))
  3. Another weird trick that worked: a PZM flat-panel mic like the kind they fix to walls and floors for theater productions, held to my chest or back with a pillow to muffle other sounds. We got lucky: the heartbeat didn't come through.

So, all in all, I'm fond of my M88, and everything else is just a function of the room, the selection of mics available, and the engineer's mood.

Wish I had a more definitive answer for you! I'd love to hear what you've come up with, also!

Wes Carroll - Tuesday, November 16, 1999 at 12:09:24 (PST)

Q. charlie <>I am having trouble with my timing.Is there anything you can tell me to help? Wednesday, October 27, 1999 at 07:52:31 (PDT)

Metronome, metronome, metronome. It's not always fun, but it's the best way.

Drumming along with CDs is also good, but beware: different instruments may be at different points of the pulse at different times.

Good luck and good practice!

Wes Carroll - Tuesday, November 16, 1999 at 11:49:58 (PST)

Q. Eleanor McSneed <> from Everywhere asks:
Do you realize how much your new haircut looks like Jeff Thacher's :) Monday, October 25, 1999 at 13:21:09 (PDT)

I do now. I'll take that as a compliment; thank you!

Wes Carroll - Tuesday, November 16, 1999 at 11:46:04 (PST)

Q. Sam Orleans <> from Boston, MA asks:
Hi, I'm 15 and I've been working on my vocal percussion for a couple years. I found I can do it naturally. Everyone who hears it is impressed, and some of my friends want me to "beatbox" for some hip hop tracks However, I'm wondering how good am I really. What can I do to find out what level I'm at? Are their any competetions I can enter? I am in an organized a capella group, but I am a strong singer and most of the time, they need me to sing and not do the VP. What can I do to further improve my VP? Should I take lessons, just practice? How can I develop some better techniques to perfect it? Thanks so much Monday, October 25, 1999 at 09:08:13 (PDT)

Hi, Sam! Glad to hear you're doing so well.

There are a couple of different answers to your question, depending on how you look at it.

Regarding competitions: there was a competition for semi-professionals at the latest East Coast Summit (won by Samrat Chakrabarti), and there may be similar events in the future, but nothing formal has been organized yet, as far as I know.

You can always listen to other percussionists for a better idea of where you fall. It's all relative, though: when I want to feel good about how far I've come, I listen to old recordings of mine. When I want to be motivated to get better, I listen to any one of a number of well-known kit drummers, concentrating on some aspect of their performance which I could use improvement on myself.

But then again, many people would argue that there really isn't any competition or level to reach. It's all music -- it's about what feels good to you and the people around you. What's important is that you keep making music. As long as you are having a good time, there's a good chance you're improving.

If you want to really get a good idea of where you are -- and to improve even faster at the same time -- do a performance for tape and listen closely to the results. It'll tell you a lot about your strengths and weaknesses.

n fact, if you then listen to other people's recordings, it will not only help you to better figure out how you "stack up," but will also help you to learn from those other performers' strengths.

Wes Carroll - Tuesday, November 16, 1999 at 11:40:56 (PST)

Q. Elaine Chao <> from ? asks:
Hi, Wes. How come you don't drool?

Dear Elaine,

There is an old joke that goes "What did the drummer get on his math test?" Answer: "Drool!"

In other words, we vocal percussionists drool exactly as much as other drummers, which as any drummer will tell you, is not at all.

Wes Carroll - Tuesday, November 16, 1999 at 11:29:29 (PST)

This page was started on 24 October 1999. It is updated as Wes answers questions. Please continue to submit your questions!
Wes Carroll is the vocal percussionist of the professional a cappella band, the House Jacks. He is also the author of the instructional video, Mouth Drumming.

Feel free to ask him your questions on the Ask Wes page.

Return to got spit? percussion home.

(c) 1999 Wes Carroll, Elaine Chao, and got spit? productions