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Throat singing

Throat singing, also known in the western world as overtone singing, harmonic singing, or harmonic chant and in Mongolia and Outer Mongolia as khöömei, is a type of singing that manipulates the harmonic resonances created as air travels through the human vocal folds and out the lips.

The harmonic frequencies created by the human vocal apparatus are harnessed in throat singing to select overtones by tuning the resonance in the mouth. The result of tuning allows the singer to create more than one pitch at the same time, with the capability of creating six pitches at once. Generally the sounds created by throat singing are low droning hums and high pitched flutelike melodies. Some styles of throat singing may be likened to a Theremin.

Demographics of Throat Singing

Tuva, Mongolia, Outer Mongolia - The history of throat singing, or khöömei as they call it, reaches too far back for anyone alive to accurately discern. Ethnomusicologists studying throat singing in these areas mark khöömei as an integral part in the ancient pastoral animism that is still practised today.

The animistic world view of this region identifies the spirituality of objects in nature not just in their shape or location but in their sound as well. Thus, human mimicry of nature's sounds is seen as the root of throat singing. Indeed, the cultures in this part of Asia have developed many instruments, drums, devices, and calls to mimic animals, wind, water, etc. While the cultures of this region share throat singing, their styles vary in breadth of development.

The people of Tuva have by far the widest range of throat singing vocalizations, and were the pioneers of the six pitch harmonic. There are several styles called kargyraa, sygyt, dumchuktar, etc.

While khöömei is used as a generic term to designate all throat singing techniques in this region, it is also more specifically a technique where the drone is in the middle-range of the voice, with harmonics between one and two octavias above. Other tuvan/mongolian techniques include kargyraa (low drone, and harmonics sounding one ocatavia below, quite close to tibetan technique) and sygyt(it means whistling, and actually the high-pitched drone is highly attenuated, and high harmonics sound very clear and bright).

Tibet - Tibetan Buddhist chanting is a sub-genre of throat singing. Most often the chants hold to the lower pitches capable in throat singing. Various ceremonies and prayers call for throat singing in Tibetan Buddhism, often with more than one monk chanting at a time. Studies measuring the frequencies of the throat singing and the brain waves of the monks have shown synchronicity in the brain, causing it to emit similar waves to those found in studies of silent meditation.

Uzbekistan, Karkalpakstan, Kazakhstan – The oration of these people's poetry sometimes enters the realm of throat singing.

Canada – The resurgence of a once-dying Inuit throat singing tradition is underway in Canada.

South AfricaXhosa women of South Africa have a style of chanting that falls in the category of throat singing.

Italy – sheep herders on the island of Sardinia use a style of polyphonic throat singing that dates back more than a thousand years. Tenores di Bitti, a contemporary Sardinian group.

America & the West – The 1920s Texan singer of cowboy songs, Arthur Miles, independently created a style of throat singing as a substitute for the normal yodeling of country western music. Starting in the 1980s, some musicians in the West either have collaborated with or ventured into the realm of throat singing. Musicians of note in this genre include Ry Cooder, Paul Pena, David Hykes, and Steve Sklar. Lester Bowie and Ornette Coleman both worked with the Tenores di Bitti, and Eleanor Hovda has written a piece using the Xhosa style of singing. DJss and performers of electronic music have also merged their music either with throat singing itself or with the theory of harmonics behind it.

See Also

The Saami (Sámi) people of Scandanavia, who sing yoicks