5 Basic Sounds in Jazz Vocal Percussion

Who am I? Just a little musician, who was part of a little group of musicians, representing the little island of Singapore, in the little competition held by Vocal Asia, in the little festival held in the little state of Shanghai, and by the time you read this, you’ll want to ban the word “little”. Done. Promise.

Little.

Okay, joking aside, today I’m going to talk about a bit of my experience in VAF ’15, more specifically, the 2-part series that Kitamura Kaichiro headed.

Now, if you don’t live in Japan, or have been in the a cappella scene for some time, or the jazz scene, or any combination of the above, you may not know about this guy. To put it simply, he’s a vocal percussionist. A jazz vocal percussionist. A really experienced jazz vocal percussionist. Don’t take my word for it; go YouTube him up. Go on; I’ll wait. (Editor’s note: Here you go. You’re welcomed.)

Or not. Doesn’t matter. To understand what I’m writing here, you’ll eventually need to check him up, so there.

So, a quick history of the man: he started learning vocal percussion (henceforth abbreviated as “VP”) on his own as a kid. He randomly did some sounds, found it fun, and ran with it ever since. Later, he got into jazz, and found that the VP that he was doing was close to the sounds that the jazz drums were producing. He then refined his style of VP, and is now the leading jazz VPist.

So what did he cover in his series? Well, let’s start at the very beginning (a very good place to start).

  1. Brushed cymbals – this one I personally took quite some time to get. The essential idea is that using the Japanese characters “shi” and “chi”, you can replicate the sound of a brush on the ride cymbals. The most important aspect that you need to take note is that the sound should be unbreaking; it should continue as long as you have breath, then breathe and continue another 30 second cycle. Repeat ad nauseum until the song tells you you can stop now, or just pass out. Passing out is easier.
  1. Hi-hats – go to any 5 year old kid. Ask them to imitate a snake hiss. They will get it. Now ask them to replicate Kaichiro’s hi-hats. Watch them get lost in the intricacies. Enjoy the experience. Right, so… The hi-hats that Kaichiro went through were different from what most VPers use. Most hi-hats end up being this sharp and clearly defined “tss” sound, but the one that we learnt was a softer and rounded “d”, with some air leaking. It’s similar to the dry “d” sound, with the tongue flicking off the back of the top teeth. That’s the closed hi-hats. For the open hi-hats, just let more air out than the closed. Have a listen, then see if you can mimic it.
  1. Bass drum – if you can do the hi-hats, you can likely do the kick drum. It’s called the dry kick in the beatbox world, and it’s done by adding a “b” to the end of the hi-hats. It may sound odd, but the long and short of it is, when using a mic, the weak sound you’re producing actually sounds pretty convincing over the system. As long as your sound is cut short suddenly by the closing of your lips, it should suffice.
  1. Snare drum – say the word “cup”. Now try to say “cup” while breathing in instead of out. Now grab water and cough out the choking. You have now experienced 1) how the snare drum is done by Kaichiro, and 2) what pretty much anyone starting out doing this version has to go through. Compared to the other common snares, this version again sounds weak, but again, with a mic, it would sound convincing.
  1. Crash cymbal – there are various kinds, again, and what Kaichiro seems to use is similar to the unholy matrimony of the words “curse” and “kiss”. Try it. Now be really careful not to look into mirrors. I hear there’s something funky happening like Charlie and Mary…

So there are the basic sounds. They are not the ones which most beatboxers use, but in the context of jazz, it makes sense. Promise. But explaining the rest will take too long, so I’m going to end this here for now, and hopefully you finally YouTube Kaichiro. Have a great VP experience!

Little.


Eloquent, beautiful, and all-round perfect. Until you meet him in person and find a stuttering, appalling, and all-round -unperfect- waddle of lackadaisic, with a touch of crazy and bipolar to add. Spends his time actively procrastinating on what “should” get done, and being difficult to work with. Sings with Acappuccino as the Tenor and Vocal Percussionist, one may track Gerald through the group’s FaceBook page. At VAF 2015, Gerald was performing as part of NANU.

TVB encourages the contributions of ad hoc writers who objectively can present themselves with the goal of promoting the Singapore and/or international A Cappella community at large. Do contact us at voicebox.sg@gmail.com to let your voice be heard!

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