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KRNFX beatboxing

Drum Vocabulary

by Embolus
(Original Post Date: September 18, 2014)

The Basics of Acoustic & Electronic Drum Vocabulary for Beatboxers

Beatboxing involves the use of your mouth and airway to mimic the many sounds of the western drum kit and/or electronic drums. I quickly realized that many new beatboxers are not aware of the basic vocabulary of drums and drumming. This web article is meant to be a quick primer to introduce the most basic concepts of drums to the newbie beatboxer.

A drum as defined by is “A percussion instrument consisting of a hollow cylinder or hemisphere with a membrane stretched tightly over one or both ends, played by beating with the hands or sticks.” With regards to western music today, drum sounds are produced either acoustically or electronically.

1. Acoustic Drums

An acoustic drum’s sound is transmitted to the ear as it propagates through the air; simply put, it is a drum that can be heard without any amplification.

No two drums sound alike. This is an important concept for Beatboxing since we are in the business of mimicking drum sounds. There are numerous characteristics which contribute to the sound of a drum:

  • Materials: types of frames (e.g. wood, plastic, metal), membranes (plastic, rawhide, metal), age of the materials.
  • Components/construction: size of the body, number of heads, handmade vs manufactured.
  • Environment: room size, degree of insulation, humidity
  • Amplification: what kind of microphone & PA system is used to amplify it

A drum kit (a.k.a. drum set, trap set, drums) is any collection of these drums plus cymbals and percussion. In this context, percussion refers to any other instruments used in the drum kit (see PERCUSSION section for a more rigorous definition).

In a drum kit, there are three basic types of drums with standard attributes: Bass (or kick), Snare and tom.

The Kick Drum

This is a large drum which makes a booming thud. When you "turn up the bass" on your stereo, the bass drum is one of the sounds that you are making more prominent. It is also usually played on the first beat of a measure or bar.

kick drum

Drummers play the bass drum by stepping on a pedal. The pedal is attached to a hammer/beater which strikes the drum membrane. It is often called a "kick drum" because the foot is used to trigger it in this way. In his tutorials, TyTe uses 'kick' rather than bass so users don't get confused between bass drum and bass guitar.

The Tom

A tom is a small version of the bass drum but the drummer uses drum sticks to hit it. Toms are pitched (that means they are tuned to a particular note - like on a piano).

Tom Tom

They are usually lined up in front of the drummer. A "floor tom" is large enough to need its own stand. Toms are not typically used within the context of beatboxing except when mimicking drum fills.

The Snare Drum

Snare drums are similar to toms except for one feature; the bottom of the drum has a band of metal chains which touches the bottom membrane (the snare). When the drum is hit, the chains rattle against the surface of the membrane and produce the distinctive sound of a snare drum. When one hits the snare drum, the attack is very loud while there is almost no sustain. The tighter the metal chains, the "tighter" the sound of the snare drum.

snare drum

The drums are usually arranged in such a way that a drummer can easily reach each of them. The location gives you an idea of how often a certain drum is used; that is, a drum located right in front of the drummer is probably used more often than one that is far away. Below is a picture of my own drum kit.


A cymbal (pronounced like the word “symbol”) is any concave brass plate which will usually make a crashing sound when hit with a stick. There are a dizzying number of different cymbals based on size and type. Some types include: crash, splash, hi-hat, ride, gong, trash, swish and china.


Most of them are used for emphasis while the hi hat and ride cymbal are generally used to maintain a constant pulse within the frame of the beat. The cymbal most significant for beatboxers is the hi-hat. It consists of two cymbals touching each other. It's sound then depends on whether the cymbals are touching or not (i.e. open or closed).

2. Electronic Drums

Now that you understand the basics of an acoustic set, electronic drums will be easier to understand.

Electronic drum sounds are sounds made by any electronic device with the purpose of mimicking acoustic drums. An acoustic drum will always theoretically sound ever-so slightly different, whereas an electronic drum will theoretically be identical every single time it is triggered. A good analogy is handwriting versus printed font. No matter how hard you try, you will never be able to exactly reproduce a hand-written letter, whereas it can should be identical every time by a typewriter or printer.

electronic drum pads

From a studio engineer’s perspective, an electronic drum is exceptionally easier to record than an acoustic drum. Acoustic drums require microphones which are supremely sensitive to placement (angle, direction, distance, brand, circuitry, and application. Electronic drums are recorded by simply plugging the electronic device into a recording device. Thus, it’s easy to see why many popular recording artists opt for the predictability and ease of electronic drums. Also, as popular music has progressed, the synthetic sounds of an electronic drum device have become far more mainstream and acceptable than in the past. With regard to Beatboxing, some of these synthetic sounds are far easier to mimic than their acoustic counterparts.


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