Holy Sheet: Meet the Vicar Revolutionising Beatboxing Notation

By James O Malley on at

For centuries now, musicians have had a common language through which they can communicate. Thanks to just 7 notes and a bunch of squiggles on a page, whether you’re playing the piano or the tuba, in New York or New Delhi, the script can be transmitted in detail. And this is great if you like your Bach, Beethoven or Brahms. But what if what you want to do is beatbox - where there is no system of notation?

Enter Gavin Tyte, who is perhaps the only person in the world who can claim to be both a beatboxer and a vicar. He goes by the pseudonym TyTe - though we assume that’s for beatboxing rather than liturgical matters. Last year he judged the UK, European and World Beatboxing Championships - so he’s definitely got the street credentials (or “cred”, as the kids say on the streets).

He says he first started beatboxing in 1979 - before it had officially been invented, after making drum noises into his dad’s reel-to-reel tape recorder. And it was in 2002 when working as a music teaching, teaching acoustics and psychoacoustics that he first discovered a need for notation.

This led to him creating what he calls “Standard Beatbox Notation” for describing the different drum sounds. It used the standard QWERTY alphabet - so one such sound could be written down as “{B t K t}”, for example. But the big problem with this is that unlike with musical notation, this only works if you’re familiar with English pronunciations. What he needed was something more universal.
Fast forward to 2016 and he’s invented a new system, that work independently of any individual language - called “Beatboxology”.

“Beatboxology means that when teaching beatboxing, whether in a formal classroom environment or informal setting, there’s a proper resource to back up what is being taught”, Gavin explains. “It gives substance and a solidity to teaching beatboxing. It helps the beatboxer understand how sounds are built up and how new sounds could be invented. It also helps distinguish between how sounds are made. For example, take an inward ‘K’ snare. Well, it can be made in about six different ways that all sound similar. Beatboxology now allows the difference to be be quantified and explained.”

How It Works

It’s a rather clever system. Beatboxology uses icons which when combined can notate even the most complex beatboxing sound. And the genius is that the icons represent the mouth anatomy making them both easy to understand and to use. Gavin calls these phonetic icons “iconophonics” - and there are three types of icon:

  • Generators - the way in which the sound is made
  • Stops - parts of the mouth that remain in contact
  • Effectors - the way in which the sound is shaped


There are 15 places in the human mouth that sounds can be generated. In this diagram you can see how each icon is a simplified representation of a particular part of the anatomy:

For example, this icon represents two lips (bilabial).

There are different types of the same Generator but they all use the same basic icon shape to make them easy to identify. For example, here are three variations of the bilabial (two-lipped) generator. The first icon is a plosive - the lips are in the position such as when you say ‘p’. The second is a fricative - the lips are in the position such as when you whistle. The third is a percussive - the lips bang together making a popping sound.

Sometimes beatboxers need to be able to show exactly where on the parts of the anatomy a sound is made and this is where dots come in. For example, bilabial sounds can be made with one lip overhanging the other. Dots can be used to show which parts of the lip are in contact:


Stops use the use the same style of icons as the Generators but to show that the parts of the anatomy stay in contact for the duration of the sound there is a line between them. For example, here is an icon that shows that the two lips stay pressed together for the duration of the sound.


And finally there are five different effectors that can shape a sound. A sound can be made breathing (aspirated), inwards (injected), forced, oscillated and/or tightened.

For example, this effector shows that the sound is made whilst breathing.

Putting it all together

Icons can be combined to describe more complex sounds. Here’s a snare drum sound that uses two Generators and one Effector.

Easy as that! So when combined you end up with something not a million miles away from sheet music, but designed for when the percussion section is entirely inside someone's mouth. A clever solution to an intriguing problem.

Gavin is currently working on an app to help teach beatboxing with the help of Beatboxology. Called BzzKtt, you can join the crowdfunder to make it happen here.