Hey, what’s that sound: Throat singing

Hey, what’s that sound: Throat singing

A droning, pulverising sound of shamanic origin, this is ancient soul music from the east
Huun Huur Tu
Deep throat … Tuvan singers Huun Huur Tu featuring Sainkho

What is it? A catch-all term covering different disciplines of extreme vocal technique from around the world, often recognised as a low, pulverising, drone-growl that western ears sometimes interpret as “scary”. But the history behind the throat singing traditions of Inuit tribes and the people of Siberia has strong cultural significance, and the overlapping, oscillating vocal tones (several different notes are produced in the mouth of one singer simultaneously) can be transcendent and beautiful.

Who uses it? The Canadian Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq has fashioned a powerful, abstract music all of her own, catching the ears of Mike Patton, Kronos Quartet and Björk. Tuvan exile Sainkho Namtchylak uses elements of throat singing in her challenging Yoko Ono-type music, which melds pop, jazz and avant garde. Huun Huur Tu are perhaps the Ladysmith Black Mambazo of Tuvan throat singing, with a prodigious back catalogue and collaboration credits with everyone from Frank Zappa to Nina Nastasia. Yat-Kha are edgier, covering Motörhead and working with Asian Dub Foundation. Check out our Spotify playlist.

How does it work? The Tuvan overtone technique involves producing a droning note that is raised and lowered by opening and closing the vocal cords until harmonic resonances appear. It is the abrupt open-and-shut of the vocal cords that (through a process known as biofeedback) apparently charges the higher harmonics with increasing energy, resulting in separation between up to six simultaneous tones. Inuit katajjaq (and the now-extinct Japanese rekukkara) throat singing is less dependant on overtones, instead two women will stand holding and facing each other and alternately sing either words, or half-words, or just abstract tones, faster and faster into each others mouths, with the “receiving” woman modulating the incoming stream of sound by adjusting the shape of her open mouth.

Where does it come from? Tuvan throat singing, like the (not dissimilar-sounding) Aboriginal didgeridoo is said to physically connect the singers to the spirituality of the Tuvan mountainside. The singing styles were supposedly modelled on the harmonic resonances herders would find naturally occurring around valleys or waterfalls, with some vocal styles configured to mimic the sounds of animals, wind or water. Inuit tradition doesn’t actually posit throat singing as music in itself, it evolved and continues as a game or competition that Inuit women would play to pass the time, the first woman to lose pace, run out of breath or start laughing is the loser.

Why is it classic? Throat singers sound as though they have a whole orchestra of instruments, that could never be invented by human hands, caged inside their bodies. It is ancient soul music.

What’s the best ever throat singing song? It’s not really a “song” medium, so don’t expect it to click with you instantly, but start with Tagaq and Huun Huur Tu.

Five facts and things

Tanya Tagaq admits she was not good at traditional competitive Inuit singing. It was by removing the technique from its role as a game, and imbuing her singing with deep emotion, that she found a new musical language.

There are some examples of overtone singing in European classical music. Stockhausen’s awesome Stimmung, for instance, or Tan Dun’s Water Passion after St Matthew.

The most famous non-traditional throat singer was the American blues musician Paul Pena, who brought self-taught throat singing into his bottleneck blues, and who in the 1999 documentary Genghis Blues travelled to Tuva to compete in throat singing contests.

What is it in the European musical psyche that links overtone singing to the demonic? Tenores is the profane counterpoint to cuncordu, Sardinia’s sacred polyphonic choir music. The styles are differentiated by the use of overtone singing in tenores, which also allocates roles in a four man-choir to each emulate the sounds of wind, sheep and cows.

There are four main disciplines of Tuvan overtone singing: khorekteer (“chest voice”), khomeii (a swirling, wind-like sound), sygyt (piercing, whistling bird noises), and kargyraa (the deep growling sound, said to be a figurative depiction of winter in Tuvan folklore).

モングンオール・オンダール スグット – Monguniol · Ondal Sugut

モングンオール・オンダール スグット

Monguniol · Ondal Sugut

Published on Jul 29, 2013

2013年6月9日(日) ヴァレリー・モングーシュさんの60歳記念コンサート会場で歌う モングンオール・オンダール。 照明の色が変わりすぎなので、あえて白黒にしました。 是非2013年9月の来日をチェック!!
June 9, 2013 (Sunday) Magnoliol-Ondahl singing at the 60-year-old concert venue of Valery Mongoos. Since the color of lighting changes too much, I dare made it black and white. Please check the arrival in September 2013!

Dmitriev LB, Chernov BP, Maslov VT. : Functioning of the voice mechanism in double-voice Touvinian singing.


Functioning of the voice mechanism in double-voice Touvinian singing.



Alexander V. Kharuto

Tuva Throat Singing: Acoustical Analysis and Model of Sound Production

Moscow P.I.Thaikovsky Conservatory

Bolshaya Nikitskaya str., 13, Moscow, Russian Federation

Tel: +7(495)2906092 (of.)

E-mail: kharuto@yandex.ru


The phenomenon of Tuva throat singing (khoomei) is well-known  worldwide. During this singing, the voice of one man will be percept as two or more voices. The mechanism of sound production in this singing is not quite clear. In khoomei, one can hear at least two ‘voices’: a lower (bass) and a higher, which sounds like flute. The sonogram includes an equidistant overtone system which step is equal to the pitch of lower ‘voice’.  

According to so-named ‘overtone theory’, the melody of higher khoomei voice will be formed with help of movement of high-frequency formant, and all the overtones which ‘needs’ the performer for sounding will be produced by his Ferrein’s cords. Another theory, based on experimental materials, proves that in ‘two-voice’ sounding the false (vestibular) vocal cords form a kind of whistle, which generates independent a high sound. The mechanism of building an equidistant overtone system in this case has been not explained in the theory.

In this paper, a new explanation of khoomei-sounding will be given, which is based on signal theory and accords to facts fixed in previous investigations. Our model includes a low-frequency oscillator, which controls (manipulates with) the second one, high-frequency oscillator. The resulting spectrum contains only spectral components on frequencies, which are multiple of frequency of low-frequency oscillator. A high-frequency formant with changing position will be formed through this mechanism, also.


In khoomei investigations, there are crossing interests of humanities and natural sciences — physicists, acoustics, physiologists, physicians. One of the most intriguing questions now is the mechanism of sound production in throat singing. The singing of Tibet lamas, which is alike the Tuva’s one, has been analyzed for the first time by English acoustics Smith, Stevenson and Tomlinson in 1967. Similar investigation results have been published by A. Banin and V. Lozhkin in 1973 [1]. They described the process of khoomei ‘melody’ forming as a persistent sounding of a low-frequency component (burdon sound) and  the presence of high-frequency formant which changes its position and ‘highlights’ the spectrum overtones needed by performer. The overtones are produced by Ferrein’s cords in performer’s throat. Later, this theory has been named ‘overtone theory’.

The possibility of producing a very great number of overtones itself  on the basis of a low-frequency tone was doubted by other specialists. Comparative to academic singing, for example in Shaliapin’s voice, the number of overtones may be as high as in khoomei, but the effect of two-voicing does not exist.

For further investigations in this problem, a group of phoniatrists and vocal specialists has been formed (1975) and experimental acoustical and physiological studying of khoomei singers have been fulfilled. Photographic pictures and X-ray pictures (1976) of singing throat have been made [2]. The study showed that during ‘two-voice’ sounding vestibular cords, which are positioned before the Ferrein’s cords, build a ‘whistle’. At this moment, the singer amplifies the expiration and generates a 2-4 kHz tone, which is ‘some octaves higher then the main lower tone’ [2]. The lower tone sounds also at this time. Relying on these facts, the authors of [2] denied the ‘overtone theory’ [1].

On fig.1, the characteristic spectrum of khoomei sonogram is shown (style ‘sygyt’). Horizontal axis is time, and vertical axis is frequency. On the right part of sonogram, a graph of momentary spectrum is superimposed for the time moment t = 5 s. (The spectrum power increases from right to left.) At the time moment t = 3.75 s the performer finishes the ‘recitative’ part, which sounds like hoarse singing and begins the ‘vocalize’ part with its ‘two-voicing’. (All the spectral graphs have been formed with help of author’s program SPAX, especially developed for such investigations.)

A sonogram loke shown on fig.1 was published in [2], and the authors of [2] proved on this base the presence of ‘two independent mechanisms’ of sound production. From my author’s point of view, these ‘presence of two mechanisms’ can not be proved with, because we see on sonograms appearances of only one of it, the low-frequency component, which builds the first harmonic on the burdon frequency and a row of higher harmonics on multiple frequencies. The presence of a second ‘independent’ sound source would produce any spectrum line or a system of harmonics. If these harmonics coincide with the spectrum components of the first source — this fact must be explained.


Fig. 1. Sonogram of khoomei sound (style ‘sygyt’)


Possible interactions of two sound sources have been studied in the work of specialists from Tuva [3]. In this article, the authors assert, that the two voice oscillators will be self-synchronized in some way: ‘In a system which contain two connected sound sources in throat, which have neighboring oscillation frequencies, according to synchronization theory a stabilization effect of base tone occurs’ ([3], P.379). However we see no stringency in this conclusion.

Based on new results with the use of computer sound analysis and khoomei sound simulation, the author offers another explanation of the mechanism of sound production in khoomei. This explanation is also based on theory of signals and facts which have been fixed in previous investigations. These are: 1) presence of only one system of equidistant harmonics in khoomei sonograms, calculated in our work and also by other authors; 2) forming of a ‘whistle’ in the throat of singer for generating of a tone 2-4 kHz (this has been simulated physically in [2]).

In the new model, the author offers the following mechanism of ‘two-voice’ sound producing. The Ferrein’s cords block the expired air stream with a certain rhythm. The vestibular cords, which build the ‘whistle’, answer every air pressure pulse with an aerodynamic whistling on frequencies 2-4 kHz. As result, at the ‘output’ of vocal tract a sequence of pulses will be formed with the period of oscillations of Ferrein’s cords, and the pulses are ‘filled’ with high frequency oscillations produced by vestibular cords. The study of nature khoomei oscillations confirms this model. On fig.2, a fragment of oscillogram from ‘vocalize’ part of performance is shown. (The time scale is enlarged in comparison with fig.1.) These oscillations have the character of sinusoid, which is amplitude-modulated with pulses with the modulation coefficient near to 100%. The pulse duration (between two adjacent valleys) is equal to period of main tone (its frequency measured from the spectrum is f1 = 185 Hz — see the lower line on sonogram on fig.1).



Fig. 2. Oscillogram of khomei sound during the ‘vocalize’ part (see. fig.1, time moment t = 4,5 s)


In signal theory, the spectrum of such oscillations will be build as following. A sequence of pulses, modulates on amplitude oscillations with frequency .  Each of  pulses has a spectrum . Therefore, the resulting oscillation will has the spectrum



The scheme of forming such a spectrum is shown on fig.3.













Fig. 3. Spectrum of one pulse (a), spectrum of a periodical pulse sequence (b) and spectrum of sinusoidal oscillation which has been modulated with the periodical pulse sequence (c)


The resulting spectrum has a double width in comparison with that of pulse sequence, and his center position moved to the frequency . In this way appears the ‘formant’ in the area of higher frequencies. It is also known [4] that if a low-frequency oscillator with the pulse frequency  manipulates another one, which oscillations appear at the beginning of a pulse and ends when the pulse finishes, then the resulting spectrum will contain only components on frequencies , where k = 1,2,3,…  is harmonic number. Therefore, this spectrum will be build only with harmonics of low-frequency source which controls the second oscillator. In this case, the component with frequency  can be absent in spectrum: we can see such situation on fig.1 at the moment t = 4,5 s, when formant changes its position.

The result of computer simulation of a pulse sequence which is ‘filled’ with high-frequency oscillations is shown in form of sonogram on fig.4. The ‘envelope’ of resulting oscillations is alike fig.2. The pulse frequency is equal to 165 Hz; the high frequency of the ‘second oscillator’ (simulating vestibular cords) is firstly 2000 Hz, then 2150 Hz, and at the end 2000 Hz. The most powerful harmonics groups around the frequency of ‘second oscillator’ and forms a spectrum ‘formant’, which position changes and depends from the high frequency of ‘second oscillator’. Movements of this formant effects the ‘selecting’ of some spectrum overtones, but the overtones itself does not move: their frequencies are still . This simulation corresponds with real khoomei sonogram shown on fig.1.





Fig. 4. The sonogram of computer simulated pulse sequence with constant repetition
frequency (165 Hz) and changing high-frequency ‘filling’ oscillations.


On the sonogram on fig.1 one can see also some low-frequency harmonics (which are not present in the spectrum on fig.3c). Maybe, this effect can be explained through incomplete blocking of air stream by vestibular cords, which builds the ‘whistle’. In this case, a part of air pulses formed on Ferrein’s cords will pass direct to the oropharyngeal horn, and then the spectrum will contain some components from ‘usual’ voice pulses and also from high-frequency pulses formed by vestibular cords. As it has been shown above, there not any dissonance will appear, because the harmonics of both sources are multiple to lower frequency .

Consequently, our model of interaction of two oscillating systems in vocal tract during ‘vocalize’ in Tuva’s throat singing performance explains the main effects which one can hear and measure in spectrum study of this sound.



  1. Banin A.A., Lozhkin V.N. Ob akusticheskih osobennostyah tuvinskogo sol’nogo dvuhgolosiya (About acoustical peculiarities of Tuva’s solo two-voice singing) //VIII Russian national acoustical conference. Moscow, 1973 (in Russian).
  2. Dmitriev L.B., Tchernov B.P., Maslov V.T. Taina tuvinskogo «dueta» ili svoistvo gortani cheloveka formirovat’ mehanizm aerodinamicheskogo svista (The secret of Tuva’s ‘duet’, or the property of man’s throat to form aerodynamical whistle). Novosibirsk, 1992 (in Russian).
  3. Ondar M.A.Kh., SarYglar A.S. O fizicheskoi prirode zvukov tuvinskogo gorlovogo peniya (About physical nature of sounds of Tuva’s throat singing) // In: Problems of study of cultural history of folks in Central Asia and adjacent regions: Proceedings of International scientific and practical conference in Kysyl, 5-8 September, 2005. Kysyl, 2006, p.380-381. (in Russian).
  4. Gonorovsky I.S. Radiotehnicheskie tsepi i signaly (Radio engineering: circuits and signals). Part 2. Moscow: Sowetskoe radio, 1967.



Alash – The Evening Muse – 2/22/17 – Charlotte NC – tuvan throat singing HQ audio

Alash – The Evening Muse – 2/22/17 – Charlotte NC – tuvan throat singing HQ audio

Published on Feb 22, 2017

Alash – The Evening Muse – 2/22/17 – Charlotte NC – tuvan throat singing HQ audio

Clé d’écoute : Le Chant diphonique , en collaboration de Tran Quang Hai d’après le film Le chant des harmoniques de Hugo Zemp

Le Chant Diphonique avec Tran Quang Hai / Clé d’Ecoute du CREM-CNRS



Présentation des clés d’écoute

Les possibilités techniques offertes par le développement du multimédia ouvrent aujourd’hui de nouvelles perspectives pour ” donner à voir ” les musiques de tradition orale. Elles offrent à l’ethnomusicologie des moyens susceptibles de bouleverser en profondeur ses pratiques de communication scientifique. La possibilité d’interagir avec un objet multimédia a ouvert la voie à de nouvelles expériences perceptives permettant de guider mentalement un auditeur vers certains aspects importants de la musique écoutée. Une série de modèles musicaux interactifs, appelés ” clés d’écoute “, issus des travaux des membres du laboratoire ont été développés sur ce site web (voir liens plus bas). Ces premières réalisations significatives permettent de dégager quelques propriétés spécifiques des modes d’écriture multimédia dans le champ de l’ethnomusicologie. En développant diverses formes d’écriture multimédia, le groupe a entrepris une réflexion épistémologique sur la manière de synchroniser l’image et le son, de souligner par une représentation graphique les aspects culturellement pertinents d’une musique, ou encore d’organiser un raisonnement scientifique par le procédé de la visualisation.


Comment les styles de chant diphonique sont ils produits sur le plan physiologique ?


Les Mongols et les Touvains distinguent les différents styles de chant diphonique désignés par des termes vernaculaires.  Les travaux de Tran Quang Hai et Hugo Zemp montrent qu’il existe essentiellement deux techniques de chant diphonique, différenciées par la position de la langue dans la bouche , dite à “une cavité” ou “deux cavités”.

Leur hypothèse concernant les techniques utilisées pour chaque style est que tous les chants dont la mélodie d’harmoniques ne dépasse pas 1.000 Hz sont réalisés à une cavité, et que tout ceux dont la mélodie d’harmoniques se situe entre 1000 et 2000 Hz sont réalisés à deux cavités.


le style KARGIRAA des Touvains (ou KARKIRA des Mongols) se réalise à une cavité

le style SYGYT des Touvains se réalise à deux cavités.

La pièce touvaine proposée dans l’animation alterne ces deux styles.



Dans cette technique la langue est au repos. Les fréquences sont sélectionnée par la forme de la bouche qui constitue une seule cavité. Le controle des déformations de cette cavité est réalisé en prononçant les différentes voyelles.



Dans cette technique, la pointe de la langue touche le palais, divisant la bouche en deux cavités. Les fréquences peuvent etre sélectionnées de deux manières:

a) en déplaçant la langue de l’avant vers l’arrière et en l’ajustant  sur des positions qui correspondent à des fréquences harmoniques, du spectre émis par le larynx (harmoniques les plus aigus obtenus avec la langue à l’avant de la bouche)

b)en maintenant la pointe de la langue en position fixe contre le palais et en déformant les lèvres pour prononcer les voyelles. Le “OU” permet d’obtenir l’harmonique le plus grave, le “I” permet d’obtenir l’harmonique le plus aigu


Shamanic Consciousness ☮ Tuvan Throat Singing & Shamanic Drumming ☮ Tuvan Mantra & Ritual Chants

Shamanic Consciousness ☮ Tuvan Throat Singing & Shamanic Drumming ☮ Tuvan Mantra & Ritual Chants

Published on Aug 7, 2017

Shamanic Consciousness ☮ Tuvan Throat Singing & Shamanic Drumming ☮ Tuvan Mantra & Ritual Chants #GV137 by Binaural Beats Meditation (Good Vibes)