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Polyphonic overtone singing explained visually (2014) [video] (youtube.com)
66 points by peter_d_sherman 89 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 23 comments

Interestingly, this technique is often called throat singing, because it typically occurs with a style of singing that does begin in the throat. But the overtones themselves are "singled out" by the shape of your tongue, which is why it sounds so much like a varietal RearrrearrrRRRRearrrr effect. The "throat" part of throat singing is the rough "frog" and grinding sounds you hear in Tuva (for example), which is done to provide richer overtones for singling out with the tongue.

I saw an illustrated guide of how to do it, but it was so long ago I probably won't find it again. It's basically a lot like how you pronounce the R sound, except that your tongue takes on a bit of an S wave shape. If you look at a referee's whistle, you can get a fairly good idea what shape it is that you are forming inside your mouth. The shape of the whistle is to emphasize a specific frequency in the hiss noise made by blowing into it. Polyphonic overtone singing is pretty much exactly the same thing, but using voice instead of hiss to generate the complex tones.

And just like learning to whistle, at first you'll sound like a raving lunatic and maybe even come close to passing out from hyperventilating. But once you begin finding the ideal tongue placements for a pitch, you'll very rapidly learn more, and it'll be exactly as automatic as after you learn to whistle. They're very very similar things to do, and the difficulty is identical.

If you are tongue tied (as I am) you probably won't ever be able to do it right. But you should be able to coax out at least a bit of overtone.

Now go out and try it, and enjoy knowing your neighbours will be forever terrified of you.

For the overtones put your tongue somewhere between an L and an R sound. Then move around your lips to create different o shapes while humming. Move around your tongue slightly in different ways as well. At some point you'll accidently create an overtone for a brief moment. Then see if you can recreate that. Slowly you'll be able to consistently hit the overtones and from there it's smooth sailing.

For the throat singing it's the exact same technique beat boxers use to create the deep bass. Just try to make a exagurated sigh. Do so until you accidently do throat singing for a brief second, then see if you can recreate that for a longer duration.

It's all about trial and error! It's really not as hard to learn as it might seem :)

You can use instruments to create a tone instead of your own voice, which should at least get around the hyperventilation problem. For example, if you have an electric toothbrush, you can modulate the sound it makes as it buzzes against your teeth by changing the shape of your oral cavity. (It seems to work better when the brush is held to your teeth, I guess the resonations carry better).

For an actual musical instrument (OK, many will debate that point!), The Jew's harp uses the same principle as well. I recall hearing a legend of a Japanese player who'd lost all their teeth holding an ax to their chin and using that to get a resonation going. I'm not entirely sure how that was meant to work.

>> And just like learning to whistle, at first you'll sound like a raving lunatic and maybe even come close to passing out from hyperventilating.

Is it possible to learn to wolf-whistle as an adult? All the people I know who can told me they learned as children. I didn't and I wouldn't know where to start.

Edit: I'm not sure if I'm using the term "wolf whistle" right (not a native English speaker). I mean the kind of whistle one makes by putting the fingers in the mouth and sort of pressing the tongue down, and that sounds really loud.

I have yet to see a real performance where this technique is used artistically and in a way that sounds pleasant.

Created an account just to link you a few: 1. The HU - Yuve Yuve Yu (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v4xZUr0BEfE) 2. Sowulo - Wolfwiga (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tSITHrvAyTw) 3. Jim Cole & Spectral Voices - Noctilucent Clouds (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X1WHDiJuIx8)

Obviously "pleasant" is pretty subjective, but here's Huun-Huur-Tu performing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-bDntRWfL70

Pleasantness is in the ear of the beholder, but I've always enjoyed listening to On Ensemble, where Shoji uses this technique in pieces like After Rain [1] and Yamasong [2]. Or if you're feeling funky, the remix [3].

[1]: https://onensemble.bandcamp.com/track/after-rain

[2]: https://onensemble.bandcamp.com/track/yamasong

[3]: https://onensemble.bandcamp.com/track/yamasong-campagna-remi...

Have you watched Ghengis Blues? That's actually the very first place I ever heard of Tuvan throat singing, which has a lot of polyphonic overtones going on.

The story is great, and the mix with blues is really interesting. The dude has the most thunderous voice I've ever heard. Subwoofer gold.


Definitely an interesting sound, but not my definition of singing. The term "polyphonic singing" makes me want to hear a single person sing in a way such that it sounds like two or more people singing in harmony.

it's very brief, but she gets quite a reaction from the band at around 6:10: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0SJIgTLe0hc

I noticed David Lee Roth (Van Halen and solo) does exactly that polyphonic vocal riff in a number of songs.

His vocal track separated. Try around 3:25 or so: https://youtu.be/IArxakPsPE0

It's only 3:28 long. I think you meant 2:25 since he does a really good overtone at about 2:30. Thanks for this perfect example. Usually I'm the only one who knows wtf I'm talking about when I mention such obscure things.

Oops, yes...2:25.

There is at least one person who does Amazing Grace with a moving "bass" line underneath. Most people just stick to the key note though, which in my mind is cheating since the whole song is basic pentatonic to begin with.

So I definitely agree that the level one might consider a solo song, with melody and changing chord progression and/or oblique harmony, sung by a single person in solo, is rather rare.

I think some of Bobby McFerrin's work might be as close as you're going to get.

His live song Drive has 2 distinct types of overtone singing in there. Some people think he's a tad weird, but his skill is unmistakable once you get used to "do" being the primary lyric.

qmmmur 89 days ago [flagged]

You know this music isn't FOR you to consume and enjoy. It is a part of another culture.

Did you just assume OP’s culture?

Stating that overtone singing is not artistic is all you the information you need to infer where they come from. It shows a complete misunderstanding of where the technique comes from and the culture it belongs to. It's asinine to be annoyed that it isn't enjoyable.

Why is she dressed like that?

Because she can dress however she wants

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