Beatboxing can help young people overcome speech problems, and some neuroscientists think it could help to unlock the brain’s potential.
In an interview with Canadian CBC radio, New York-based world champion beatboxer, Kaila Mullady, tells the story of how she helped her 13-year-old cousin who suffers from Apraxia. Brendan was non-verbal until he reached the third grade (year 4 in UK schools).
Kaila used to babysit her cousin, and noticed that after a long day at school, he would come home and have to have a session with his speech therapist – as a result, he “would kind of shut down, or hide under the table, or run away.”
She realised that beatboxing was a way to make it fun and worked with the therapist, adding beatboxing sounds to the letters Brendan was being asked to articulate. After Kaila started helping him with beatboxing, he was able to pronounce letters and words more easily.
“He went from a non-verbal kid to complete sentences, complete talking,” said Brendan’s Mum, Karen Mullady. “He can talk to his friends, he can go out and have a full life.”
When Kaila realised how effective beatboxing was, she and her collaborator Mark Martin started helping other young people who suffer from speech issues. “We can take what these kids were told they’re not good at, and then we give them superpowers,” Kaila said. “You can see the excitement on their faces.”
Views about beatboxing from neuroscientists
Dr Daniel Levitin, professor of Psychology, Behavioural Neuroscience, and Music at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, pointed out that as well as being fun, Kaila’s work is also teaching young people the syllables they need to communicate.
He said that cultures around the world have been practising their own version of percussive singing for years, eg South Indian music has Konnakol, the art of performing percussion syllables orally. Early examples of the origins of beatboxing also come from jazz musicians, such as Ella Fitzgerald’s experimenting with scatting.
Sophie Scott, a professor of cognitive neuroscience who studies beatboxing at University College London, says understanding how the brain learns this and similar skills could be applied to other speech-related problems.
It could be used, for example to help adults that may have slurred speech or are unable to talk as a result of a stroke or brain damage.
“I suspect it’s going to be very, very important for work with adults,” she said. “If we can understand expertise and learning, that might help us promote expertise and learning in the brain.”