I have always been a big fan of pop a cappella music; I just think its fascinating to be able to recreate/simulate an entire band or ensemble with the voice alone. I also love how the pop music aspect of it is so accessible to such a wide variety of people, including many different backgrounds, genders, ages, etc. I have always said that when I become a teacher, I want to have a pop a cappella group. None of that process ever seemed out of reach for me—that is, aside from the vocal percussion part of it. This workshop provided a sort-of “crash course” in vocal percussion.
So what is vocal percussion? As Glodish joked, it’s basically just “glorified consonant placement.” It is essentially different combinations of voiced and unvoiced consonants to imitate different percussion instruments, usually of a drum set. There is also “human rhythm,” which is different than vocal percussion because it refers to the basic, natural, guttural sounds that humans produce. These sounds can be combined with different vocal percussive sounds to create interesting beats.
The workshop was incredibly interactive, with Glodish teaching us each of the different basic vocal percussion sounds. There are six basic sounds: the bass (kick) drum, the rim shot, the snare drum, the hi-hat, the tom-toms, and the cymbals. For each of these sounds, there are several variations—for example, a bass drum can be emulated with the sounds “uh,” “doo,” “poo,” and “boo.” Although only slightly different, each creates a different tone color and may be used to better-fit different genres of music.
I really liked that he not only gave us the “what” and the “how,” but he also gave us the “why.” Glodish pointed out that vocal percussion could serve several unique purposes in a choral ensemble. It can create a new opportunity for students to perform for students who are too embarrassed to or are struggling with singing (this is especially true for adolescents going through voice changes). It can build students’ rhythmic skills, just as learning to play a percussion instrument would build students’ rhythmic skills. It can build improvisational skills by allowing students to experiment in new ways with their voice. It can also be used as a recruitment tool because students are often just as fascinated by vocal percussion as adults are (this is especially true for males).
Glodish also provided us with several great resources to further our learning of vocal percussion that I am looking forward to further examining. Some in particular that he recommended were Wes Carroll’s Mouthdrumming (www.mouthdrumming.com) and the book A Cappella Pop by Alfred Publishing.