What is overtone singing?

Whenever a tone is sung, overtones (harmonics) naturally occur at fixed intervals above the fundamental tone. The combination of harmonics is what gives a particular voice or instrument its distinctive timbre. Through careful listening and subtle adjustments of the lips, tongue, jaw, soft palate, throat, and the rest of the vocal apparatus, harmonic singers isolate and amplify chosen harmonics while suppressing others. This enables a single person to produce two (sometimes three or four) distinct tones at once. With practice and control, it becomes possible to harmonize with oneself. Another kind of harmonic overtone singing involves subfundamentals, which do not occur under normal conditions, but can be produced at fixed intervals below the "normal mode" vocal fold fundamental tone.

Vocal overtone techniques often seem mysterious partly because their effects are so extraordinary. Researchers have found that harmonic overtone singers use their mouth/throat anatomy to create interconnected but distinct resonating chambers of varying sizes and shapes that alter the loudness and distribution of harmonics. Thus, much of Spectral Voices' music involves sculpting internal spaces to interact with external spaces.

To learn more about specific harmonic singing techniques and get a mini-lesson, click here.



September 3, 2007 at 10:08 AM

Hi Lionel!

I am Michael from New Mexico in the USA and I have been throat singing for three years. Gotten purty darn good at khoomei and kargyraa. And I am just back from Tyva, where I learned a bunch more about Tyvan throat singing. I like what you have writen in your blog about these subjects.

And I see that you like Gospel Music. Well, I sing in my church's choir, basso profundo, at Las Placitas Presbyterian Church. And I do the Special Worship Music in some of our Worship Services in the throat singing way.

I wonder if you are familiar with the old time Southern USA Christian singing music tradition called Sacred Harp, which see http://fasola.org/. Related to this is what is called shape note singing, which see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shape_note

I have in mind, when we host the First North American Conference on Throat Singing and Overtone Singing in a couple of years, most likely in the San Francisco Bay area, that we could get a bunch of good throat singers and have them sit in a big square facing each other, in the Sacred Harp way, and then ask them all to try to sing the same, exact multi-toned notes and then the conductor, who is in the middle of this big square group of throat singers, why he could drop his hand sharply, as in the Sacred Harp singing way and everybody would abruptly and smoothly stop singing. One time about 10 years ago we did this in a clay root cellar I built in the far north of Denmark with us four good singers singing with our natural voices and when we all stopped singing the same note at the same time-- why we got to listen for a good while to the hanging note, Lionel!

What I want to know is, and maybe you can already answer this question because you do seem to be a smart fellow-- in the above hypothetical situation of the big square of well conducted good throat singers-- when they all stopped singing at one and the same time-- would there be many hanging notes???

Please do keep on with your excellent blog, Lionel. I am soon going to start a blog on Tyva, for your information.

All the best,
Michael in New Mexico


April 23, 2010 at 7:19 PM

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April 24, 2010 at 4:33 AM

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