a new meaning for the term 'drum head'
October 26, 2011 10:06 PM   Subscribe

Can the human head itself function as a percussion instrument? Why, yes! Yes it can!
posted by flapjax at midnite (21 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
His poor teeth...
posted by dogwelder at 10:07 PM on October 26, 2011

Thanks to Mefi's own nickyskye for pointing me to the clip of this amazing little guy!

Oh, and, just for fun... see also.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:09 PM on October 26, 2011

Wow. Loved it!
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 10:14 PM on October 26, 2011

Fuck, I just read the YouTube comments. Why do I do this to myself...
posted by spiderskull at 10:20 PM on October 26, 2011

I was hoping this was going to be a post about the drummer for Peaches.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:48 PM on October 26, 2011

So sorry to disappoint you, BP!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:52 PM on October 26, 2011

I wish there were a way to share something from YouTube without all the egregious comments!
The kid is pretty talented. But I cringe thinking of his teeth!
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 11:01 PM on October 26, 2011

Also see also.
posted by KChasm at 11:02 PM on October 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

I should be resisting this, but I'm paralyzed with rage... and island rhythms.
posted by condor at 11:34 PM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

And the percussive heads just keep rolling!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:42 PM on October 26, 2011

Just to note, there is almost certainly no use of teeth involved. Besides the fact that that would be really painful, I recognize most of the clicks used in the performance, and they can all be done with a combination of tongue and throat. You have to hit your teeth together really hard to get them to sound that loud.
posted by cthuljew at 12:00 AM on October 27, 2011

The human head can indeed function as a percussive instrument, but there are limits to long it can function when being used this way. Based on my own studies, a mild rhythmic strumming with fingers, such as you might find during a delicate play of the tabla, is sustainable for quite a while. A full on paradiddle with drumsticks is less so. Any attempt at prolonged usage of the head as timpani or gong should be avoided.
posted by twoleftfeet at 12:26 AM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've been a drummer/percussionist for thirty-five years and one of my peculiar habits is that I play rhythms in my mouth with my teeth. Several movements have evolved to produce different kinds of rhythms—I can manage about 120bpm sixteenth notes with a straightforward lower-incisors against upper-incisors almost indefinitely. Side-to-side with my farthest back lower-incisors against the upper ones, outside edge of the lower tooth against the inside edge of the upper, I can manage 160bpm sixteenths and related triplets and sextuplets...although at high speeds I'll end up rubbing the very front lower-incisors against the uppers as kind of smeared notes.

For accented beats, slow or fast (fast within those above), I'll just slam my molars together—really, all my teeth together. Playing around just now, I find that, for example, I'll play accented triplets by playing the accented first beat with my molars, the second with the lower left incisor against the corresponding upper, then the third with the lower right incisor against the corresponding upper. This makes a nice circular motion that's easy to sustain and has a nice sound in my head.

I've always been both fidgety and a little OCD and long before I began to learn the drums I was always tapping on things. After I began learning to play, it got worse, but more regularized (naturally). My three closest high-school buddies, with whom I'm still friends, are also drummers. They can't see or hear what I do with my mouth, so they've largely been unaware of that, although we've talked about it. What they're much more aware of is my tapping with my fingers. I can manage very fast, complicated rhythms using all my fingers, and my thumbs for strong beats, using various sequences. Besides just unconsciously playing fast rhythms with the fingers of one or two hands, mostly snare-drum type stuff, I also will just play around with patterns—probably like pianist does. Like going back-and-forth across all the fingers of both hands, simultaneously, like you would playing the same scale with both hands on a piano—that's different fingers on each hand. Or doing the same except with the same fingers. I find it interesting that this becomes more or less easy depending upon how I visualize it—if I'm thinking about my hands palm down, away from me as on a piano, then going left-to-right-to-left is easy because the motion on both hands is in the same direction. But if I place my hands palm-to-palm (or one hand palm down and one hand palm up), then the motion is opposed and it's more difficult to maintain. So I experiment with playing the same rhythm on both hands but choosing different ways to match the fingers—such as the same fingers, or opposing fingers, and then while physically orienting my hands differently or, more interestingly, just where I can't see my hands but visualizing, or conceptualizing, the motions differently.

Anyway, I'll pick one of those two orientations and then work through complicated iterations, like an accented beat displaced one note at a time (accented every two beats, then every three, then every four, etc.) while also altering how I play the beats across the fingers of my hands—such as starting out with 4-3-2-1-4-3-2-1 then switching to 4-3-2-1-2-3-4-3-2-1 then 4-3-2-1-2-1-2-3-4-3-4 and such, without breaking the rhythm and continuing the change in the accented beats.

But mostly I just play snare-like stuff with my fingers, mostly all the time. (Oh, I also use the first knuckle for accented beats, often, too.) On hard surfaces. On the crown of my head, which is really good because I can hear it so well. On my knees, on my breastbone.

After doing this for well over thirty years, it's interesting to consider how I've progressed. I'm very, very, very fast. Any drum roll is easy for me with my fingers. But I've not gotten that much faster over the years. Thirty-second notes at fairly high BPMs came pretty quickly. What has taken a very long time to develop, and only because it's always been an annoyance of mine that it's so difficult, is regularizing each strike with whatever finger so that they are not audibly differentiated unless I want them to be. In the last few years I've found myself just playing sixteenth notes across my fingers at a steady rhythm, with the only purpose to make them sound as if they were almost mechanical in their sameness. That's been difficult, but I've been very gratified with the improvement here.

Yeah, I'm weird. My friends, one of whom has been a career professional drummer, have always found my finger tapping to be sort of amazing and extraordinary.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:19 AM on October 27, 2011 [5 favorites]

I just came here to say.
posted by mykescipark at 1:36 AM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

and I just came here to say what mykescipark just said.
posted by hippybear at 3:44 AM on October 27, 2011

Wonderful. Is this an established thing in Ghana, or did the kid come up with it himself?

I wish there were a way to share something from YouTube without all the egregious comments!

There is! Quietube strips away all extraneous gubbins from a few video sites. Here's the video from the post, for example.
posted by jack_mo at 5:42 AM on October 27, 2011

Is this an established thing in Ghana, or did the kid come up with it himself?

I'm gonna ask my Ghanaian friend that question. If I get an answer anytime soon, I'll post it here. But my hunch is that this is something this kid came up with on his own.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:10 AM on October 27, 2011

Got an answer from him (good ol' FB, eh?), and he says:

"Hey man, you really remember about this thing. We used to do it long time ago, but not all ghanaians can do it! ha ha ha ha is funny you recalled me about this i use to do it myself!"

BTW, he's a drummer.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:38 AM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

In a small but significant number of cases, some of which I have observed personally, making percussive noises is the only possible productive use for it.
posted by Wolfdog at 6:52 AM on October 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Thanks flapjax and friend! I'm going to have to dig through all my traditional African music to see if I can spot any mouth percussion that I'd previously assumed was proper drums.
posted by jack_mo at 8:37 AM on October 27, 2011

Can the human head itself function as a percussion instrument?

I actually do this from the opposite end. I rap on the top of my head with my knuckles and open/close my mouth to raise/lower the pitch. The range is pretty limited, but I can get a third or so. It seems a bit more sustainable re dental work. If I get inspired, I'll post something to Music... :D
posted by mrgrimm at 8:44 AM on October 27, 2011

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