Overtone Music Network

a common space & database for harmonic overtones

Overtone Singing Techniques


Overtone Singing Techniques

There are many ways to produce vocal overtones. It depends by the structure of our vocal tract - tongue, cavities, ... - and our sensitiveness. We could explain our technique here.

Members: 102
Latest Activity: Feb 18, 2020


Essential requirements to sing without fear to damage vocal folds are:
1 - technique control
2 - consciousness and sensitiveness about personal limits

I think that we must remove some doubts:

- vocal range = all frequencies and noise between our extreme vocal limits (shrieks, yells, several noises, hissing sounds)

- vocal extension = all frequencies emitted with cleaning, with well controlled formants, without excessive effort

"Range" interval is larger than "extension" interval, that is more comfortable and safe.

Now we must distinguish between EFFICIENCY and EFFICACY.

An efficient voice involves a complete physiologic control of our vocal system, to obtain properly our vocal objective.

A voice is effective, not efficient, when our vocal system wants to obtain a good result in any case, at any cost.

When we can't obtain an efficient voice we move toward an effective voice with consequent incorrect behaviours of, and damages to, our vocal system.

Discussion Forum

How to teach overtone singing to a choir ... 1 Reply

Started by Jens Mügge. Last reply by Iannis Psallidakos Apr 6, 2018.

Invisible Instruments #1 Overtonesinging 2 Replies

Started by Jens Mügge. Last reply by Steven Sells Sep 4, 2014.

'lips, tongue, nose and throat singing' 8 Replies

Started by Dean Frenkel. Last reply by 1x2nbseym7ijt May 9, 2011.

Freeing the Voice by Igor Ezendam 5 Replies

Started by Jens Mügge. Last reply by 1x2nbseym7ijt Dec 3, 2010.

Comment Wall


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Comment by Jens Mügge on November 29, 2009 at 8:05pm
Nice offer Steve!
Comment by Steve Sklar on November 28, 2009 at 8:23pm
Would you like to learn Tuvan Throat-singing techniques?

All three of my online lessons are on sale for $20/each (regularly $30) through December 31, 2009.


Go get 'em!
Comment by Jens Mügge on August 28, 2009 at 12:17pm
Comment by Bodhi Amol on May 12, 2009 at 5:54pm
Hello ,i don' think a 10000 year old tradition is of more or less worth then a 1000,100 or even 10 year old tradition.According to a scientific work from Tuva there is yet no written account found of something like overtonesinging (or throatsinging) in Tuva and around that is older than 1000-1200 years.,whereas there ARE accounts of the jew's harp that are older. What counts is what it's worth for the people persuing it,what place and function it has in there respective culture.It's pure speculation to think overtone/throat singing should be the oldest form of singing there is,because i can't conceive that such sophisticated ways of singing should have been there BEFORE simpler ways of using the voice. As far as i know the research the Ainu "rekukkara" didn't involve the pointed and intended use of partials/harmonics,but more the use of rough ,throaty sounds like in the throatsinging of the Chukchis and more (far away) the Inuits of Canada.
Comment by Raffaele Schiavo on April 11, 2009 at 12:28pm
Hello There! A beautiful and peaceful Easter to all of you! Ciao :-)
Comment by Dean Frenkel on March 11, 2009 at 2:04pm
Here is my attempt at articulating one perspective on technique.

It is a given that there are many harmonic vocal techniques in the broad area of throat singing. While some like sygyt, kargyraa, dumchuktaar, rekukkara, nipaquhiit, have been named by certain cultures, perhaps there are yet more techniques than there are names for. There are musical techniques, healing techniques and spiritual techniques. I think most have the following components in common.

Positioning of the lips, tongue, the glottal muscles, the nasal muscles. Frequently they need to be very precisely positioned.

I consider that with overtones there is a choice of in excess of 100 levels of projection, perhaps more than ten times the levels of normal singing. Accessing the most resonant levels, which I call the signature zone, is key to the skill.

Coordinating all the elements, the positioning of the the lips, tongue, glottal muscles, nasal muscles, with projection of breath and sound. All helped by relaxing the muscles.

Technique is important if the singer is to achieve what can be called harmonic consciousness. It is perhaps a form of enlightenment, an altered consciousness, a slowing of perception of time and a broadening of the sense of space. It is a great connector to the environment, the cosmos and to the self. Only excellent singers can be sufficiently throat-muscle strong and relaxed enough to generate the energy of resonance.

I'm confident of the following: that one the most important factors behind harmonic consciousness is not the sounds but the impact of a special breathing exercise involved in making them.

It is little known that the breathing technique which drives the harmonic sounds is a powerful prana yama exercise of long steady gradual projection. It can achieve a state of no wasted energy, enhanced awareness and invigoration. A liberating feature of this is that you don't need religion to achieve its many levels.
Comment by Dean Frenkel on March 10, 2009 at 11:51pm
G'day OMNers, How lucky we are to have such a network - thanks to Jens and to all contributors. I'd firstly like to endorse Steve Sklar's sentiments about those musicians who present overtones/throat singing as a 'token' on top of their musical specialties. One day I'd love to demonstrate the folly to an audience by playing some very average violin after singing. I'd also like to thank Steve for outlining his perspectives and for having the courage to be openly honest about his feelings. I also agree with him about the value of a range of diverse techniques and approaches and the analogy of coloured sound. On the other side I think his explanation of 'technique' needs some elaborating on. In answer to his Christianisation comment, I agree that there are exceptions and that indeed missionaries have done some good work but I hold firm to my contention that Christianisation of native peoples continues to decimate traditional practices on a ubiquitous scale. Re Tibet, the Dalai Lama today announced that China is turning Tibet into a hell on earth. It's clear that China's repression of Tibet includes assaults on traditional practices including throat singing. Are we distinguishable from other musicians and singers? I think so - as harmonic singers and throat singers we are all vocal instrumentalists.
Comment by Steve Sklar on February 20, 2009 at 7:19am
Hi David et al,

It’s nice to see you participating here and to read your thoughtful and considered response. As this is a topic toward which I’ve also enjoyed a great deal of pondering and investigation, I’d like to offer the following responses. And I do hope you’ll share more thoughts regarding Harmonic Awareness and more. It’s unfortunate, I think, that so often these online forums feature the opinions and advice of beginners and not the truly accomplished veterans.

Of course, at least when speaking of the voice as we do here, it is as you say all harmonics. And while I share, at least at times, your having some issues with the word “technique,” I also recognize that such issues are a choice, not necessarily inherent to the meaning of the word.

Similarly, while I agree that there are techniques of listening, of attention, of intention, etc., and without good listening it is impossible to create good music, or healing, but to dwell on them when discussing vocal technique seems to me to muddy the waters a bit.

Technique, as we generally use it here, is really fairly simple to define: It refers to the action(s) we take to achieve a goal or intention. I think this applies whether we are “vocalizing harmonics” for any purpose: musically, meditatively, in a healing context, or whatever. And I suspect that the audience member that enjoyed the loud harmonics simply enjoyed what he percieved as a developed technique. And surely, the same goes for guitar playing (in which I have also indulged for many years). That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy your Nigel Tufnel-inspired humor ;-)

Now, I don’t feel that louder is necessarily better. But, if it is what is called for artistically or otherwise it is appropriate. It is then the correct quality. The same applies to other issues of technique, such as softness, range, tonal quality, speed/agility, etc.

On my own path, my attitudes have changed and evolved over the years. Currently, I see value in a diverse range of techniques and approaches, with different contexts. Those I choose to use musically often differ greatly from those I may use in a healing context, for example. Because my interests and intentions are diverse, I have invested much time in techniques, as without it I would be unable to explore and express those interests. Without technique I would be like a would-be guitarist, unable to tune, to get a good sound, or to play melodies or chords well. What good is that?

To me (this may seem strange as I am not a visual artist), I see what we often refer to as (western) overtone singing as somewhat akin to water-color pastels; a softer, often gentle approach that fits well certain types of musical contexts. Throat-singing, to me, involves stronger, bolder, sometimes more aggressive (but not always) sounding techniques that if developed may go in more directions, with greater intensity. Or as flavors, overtone singing is more akin to say, vanilla or strawberry, and throat-singing to spices and hot peppers. I love a strong, hard sygyt, but wouldn’t want habeñeros in every dish!

So, when I hear a need for softer tones, I use them, and when I feel the need for a high, hard, xovu kargyraa or sygyt that cuts like a knife, I use them. Without working to develop diverse and sophisticated technique, they would be impossible. That’s why I like having an ezengileer technique that goes to 11!

Personally, I don’t really care for overtone singing or overtone-based music more or less than I do other types. My tastes are diverse, as I’ve indicated. But, I can say that quantitatively, I don’t really enjoy as much of the overtone-based stuff as I’d like to, and it sure isn’t because of an overemphasis on technique.

While I do hear a lot of instrumental music that features too much “wheedily-deedily,” to quote Frank Zappa, for my ears (although I’m a HUGE fan of some virtuosic music) a lot of overtone-singing music bores me. There, I’ve said it! Now, it’s tough to say that the reason is as simple as undeveloped technique, because without sufficient technique it’s impossible to know what creativity might have been expressed.

When I hear a great harmonic melodic talent ala Sundui, or his musical descendents such as our member Hosoo, or my friend Kaigal-ool singing a breathtaking khoomei that evokes the feeling one encounters watching shimmering northern lights, or recall first hearing David Hykes moving fundamental and overtones independently in service of musical ideas, those have inspired me. But all too often, I hear the same limited stepwise movement of so many harmonic singers, and it does not. If they are beginners, that’s fine as we have to begin at the beginning. But so many fail to develop far past that, and it’s disappointing. Is it because of lack of creativity, or inspiration? Or lack of technique, or both? It can be difficult to tell, but I guarantee that without cultivating some decent level of technique, it really doesn’t matter, because without it, any real creativity or ideas are unexpressable.

A similar trend that amazes me is that of overtone singers who for whatever reason seem to be under the impression that these little elements of sound are so intrinsically precious and wonderful that there is no reason to develop real skill. On several occasions, I have witnessed performances by musicians (and sound healers, who for some reason often regard themselves as quite separate from and above “musicians”, even in performance) that have spent many years mastering their instruments but are quite comfortable throwing in some awfully executed “overtone singing.” The seeming explanation, sometimes explained, is that these harmonics are so fabulous in their own right that it’s simply a blessing bestowed on any audience lucky enough to hear them. WTF is up with that?!?!

Technique is important. Developed, it’s the key to unlocking expression, undeveloped it’s an impediment.

Best to all,

Steve Sklar

PS: thanks for the hug, Raffaele! ;-)
Comment by Raffaele Schiavo on January 18, 2009 at 9:24am
A hug to all the members of this brilliant group. Greetings from SIcily.
Comment by Steve Sklar on December 30, 2008 at 4:16am
Dean, clearly we share a difference of opinion ;-)

I just don’t think I’d use the phrase “so many cultures.” Several, perhaps. And that’s using the “big umbrella” as the similarities between what we call types of throat-singing include a number of rather disparate vocalizations.

Yes, in Tuva throat-singing is thriving. It has spread in Mongolia, and while nearly lost in the Altai, Khakassia, etc. it is bouncing back.

While Tibetan culture in Tibet has undergone varying degrees of assault under Chinese domination, the monk’s tantric chanting seems to have endured and even spread, and has also spread around the world. To the best of my knowledge, the “alarm bells” rung by the Dalai Lama are more to do with political and religious repression, torture, environmental damage, Chinese immigration and such, rather than “throat-singing” as such.

Again, I’m not sure exactly what you consider throat-singing. But I am sure that the number of people worldwide that are now practicing or trying to learn some form of singing (overtone, etc.) inspired by the native singers and chanters likely exceeds the number of said natives, or perhaps the population of Tuva. Many more are appreciative listeners (and, well, unappreciative listeners, too).

While Christianisation has so often gone hand-in-hand with cultural destruction of native peoples, there are many exceptions. For example, there are people such as Djalu’ Guruwiwi, renowned custodion of the Yirdaki and Christian elder of the Yolngu people of NE Arnhemland, and Vladimir Oidupaa, a well-known Christian Tuvan throat-singer.

I get the impression that among Arctic peoples, their very different but similarly-described art has also been increasing, including among men. Is that incorrect?

As for ancient-ness, from a standard timeline perspective I suppose that simpler forms of singing, humming, and whistling preceded more complex vocalizations such as generally meant by “throat-singing.” Of course, those vocal forms are global and pre-ice age. Are you including other things as throat-singing?

Similarly, I’d expect that simple reeds, stems, seeds, etc. and hands preceded the didgeridoo as the earliest wind instruments, as is often claimed. And hollow logs before skin frame drums, and so on.

I would not be surprised however if throat-singing was practiced by some individuals (think Paleolithic Arthur Miles) or cultures of which we have no record. Then again, we are a species that took millions of years to invent the Frisbee…

“Do you really think that overtone singing is as new as rap?”
Not sure what you mean. Have I ever said such a thing?

Anyone have a recording of Ainu throat-singers? I may have heard such a recording but am not sure.



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