ALEX GLENFIELD: Singing: The Music of Sound

Overtone Singing: The Music of Sound

Exploring the physics, metaphysics, philosophy, and cultural significance of overtone singing and throat singing, I offer wisdom old and new on the theories and methods of this fascinating vocal art that anyone can learn to do.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Posted by Alexander Glenfield at 10:20 AM 6 comments: Email ThisBlogThis!Share to TwitterShare to FacebookShare to Pinterest

Overtone Singing Is Actionless Action

We live a sad life when we do for the results instead of for the doing itself. Having been teaching students the fundamentals of overtone singing for ten years now, I can conclude confidently that one cannot do this. One can only be this. To do overtone singing well, one must be for the doing alone.

However, this does not mean we ignore the quality of the results; rather, we can attain enhanced results by desiring the present-time experience of the process itself. 
If that seems confusing, do know that it’s supposed to be confusing, as the act is nothing the mind can reason through. To clarify, or to confuse in just another way, we can all think of an instance in life when we cared so much about something that we couldn’t do it. Finally, when we gave up, perhaps assuming inevitable failure, the task was more doable. Surrendering our excessive caring for an attachment to the outcome helps us do it even better. 
I call the ideal performance of overtone singing “actionless action,” but you’ll find other terms to describe this seemingly mysterious, paradoxical process that can apply to the performance of anything. In Taoism this actionless action is known as wu wei, and in Hindu philosophy you can find it referred to as nishkama karma. To grossly summarize these profound teachings, and others like them but not mentioned here, desire for the outcome inhibits the quality of performance and the consequent attainment of the outcome. For example, singing with the desire to make the overtones louder and more prominent interferes with the the act of singing the overtones. 
The most common correction I make to a student’s singing is to stop their constant starting and stopping. A student begins to sustain a tone and after only a few seconds, his or her thinking judges the sound as undesirable before the tone has a chance to sustain itself. Then, s/he begins again, once thinking editorially about the tone before it can sustain, and then cuts it off. First, this is a waste of endurance, as the act of setting the vocal cords into vibration costs more energy than the act of sustaining the vibration; in other words, you wear your voice out faster by making repeated attacks with the vocal folds. More importantly, by stopping too soon, you try to rush past the process to get to the result. The process is the sustaining of the tone, and the desired result is the tone and overtones exactly as you want them to sound. 
You will get the result you want, your pleasure, if you find an inner hold by concentrating on the tone itself and all the physiological sensations that occur when toning. Listening without thinking tethers awareness to the act. By listening, I do not mean with the ears alone. Listening is also an attitude of receptive attention, and so we can “listen” to the physical sensations in the body. When we listen we suspend the activity of the internal senses, our thoughts, and something deeper begins to pay attention; next, something deeper inside us begins to sing. 
By temporarily suspending your judgement and listening to your body produce a tone, you get much closer to producing the desired result of enhanced overtones. However, you must continue to sustain the tone no matter how crappy you think the tone sounds. Do not stop. Sing through the undesirable sound coming out of you. You must pay these dues of process to experience the result. Though it seems hard to believe, you can begin to enjoy even the most displeasing of your sounds. Appreciate this process of “sounding through the crap”. Fail again and again and love it. This takes guts. 
This method of doing regardless of result has other applications in life. You can practice actionless action in anything. Do it, and prove you are not one of the gutless masses in search of only the pleasure.
Learning to overtone sing, however, seems to be an exemplary method for getting the knack of this kind of doing for a few reasons. First, overtone singing occupies the speech organs and consequently reduces the mind’s inner speaking. Second, sustaining long vocal tones requires enhanced awareness of the physiology of respiration, a focal point which further reduces mental activity. Third, singing overtones is itself a paradoxical activity as we attempt to isolate and amplify the overtones that in fact are already present in any continuous vocal tone. 
Considering that, perhaps overtone singing is an efficient defense against the continual attack of your thinking. But to make it work, you must pay the dues of attention. You must love the process so much that even if your reap no reward whatsoever, you’d continue to do it anyway. 
Finally, I still offer lessons and consultations through SKYPE and GOOGLE HANGOUTS and I do guarantee results during the the first lesson. However, the more valued guarantee is in how I teach you to love the process.

To receive more information about lessons, please send an email to alexglenfield(at)hotmail(dot)com

Posted by Alexander Glenfield at 10:20 AM 6 comments: Email ThisBlogThis!Share to TwitterShare to FacebookShare to Pinterest

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Using & Improving: Overtone Singing and Desire

For ten years I’ve been teaching a method for learning to overtone sing. Every student I’ve known wants to improve the isolation and amplification of parts of the harmonic series; in other words, make the overtones louder. Increased prominence of the overtones in one’s voice is easy to achieve, and you might be producing loud harmonics already, but your ear is not yet able to detect them; more specifically, your awareness of your ear’s signals is not yet heightened enough to perceive the inherent overtones in sound. That concentration and some time.

Teach the ear to hear the harmonics by sustaining very long tones with your natural singing voice while, as slowly as possible, and with the minutest of oral movements, stretch out some vowels sounds. Then as you continue to sustain a steady tone while stretching vowels sounds, relax and just listen. Don’t yet  try to hear any harmonics in the sound yet. Instead, just place all your focus on your hearing of the sound, and all the while feeling the vibrations of the sound in your body. Direct all the senses, and even the inner senses of the imagination, toward sounding and sensing. When you begin to hear a kind of melody, a changing of flute-like sine tones, over or within your droning, you’re beginning to hear your own overtones.

The ear leads the voice. Listening, in the most all-embracing sense, yields to almost all of the most desirable improvements.

So, one improves and reaches the desired level of ability. Then one asks, “What can I do with this?”

The human nervous system is programmed to seek out improvements. Perhaps this condition of continual betterment is the deep impulse to evolve , but it is also the source of much misery, as even when one has something great, one wonders of having something even greater. In leaving the great for the greater, and finding there is no greater, one returns to the great, but sometimes to find it gone.

In contrast, we might perceive the great thing as great in itself, and we declare to be totally satisfied, but then we ask, “What use is it?” or “What can I do with that?”

Like meditation, singing overtones is an end in itself, and needs no purpose to evince its value. In way, it is totally useless, as is meditation, but therein lies its highest use!

The moment we desire some end from the process of singing, we have lost the purpose. Desire for something more than the act itself diminishes the quality of of the act.

However, I have made some use of overtone singing in creating eleven mystical love songs in a collection of songs known as “The Me Machine.”

For many more years that I have taught, I have struggled conceptually with what to do with overtone singing, to whom it belongs, whether I should be teaching it at all, and how best to share it with others.

Forced into live performance on occasion for need of money, I had to come up with something to do to keep the show going. Overtone singing alone can’t always fill an hour-long set. So, when not overtone singing, I would sing or recite lyrics of my own smart-ass design, or play trumpet, and generate looping drones of any of those sound sources to support the lead melody. After a few performances, I found I had a body of “songs,” which audiences found amusing.

These songs are studio creations that employ much layering of overtone singing. These vocal layers provide accompaniment to the principal singing of lyrics that either switches to mini-solos of obvious overtone singing styles. When the overtone singing is not obvious, the singing is still performed with a subtle enhancement of the overtones. Nevertheless, all the sounds on this album were created with an enhanced awareness of harmonic overtones, and my awareness of of the overtones might be apparent to the listener.

The lyrics are mystically romantic. The text also contains little lists of philosophical aphorisms that I need to remember.

So, I have used overtone singing to produce an end, a product, an album of songs. The songs are blatantly popular, yet still weird enough to keep it all from falling into the pit of illuminati pop. And I can’t say I like them all, and I can’t even believe they are from me. But I didn’t do them for me. I made these songs for those that love me, and I took care to be sure that the music would have maximum universality for the diversity of my loved ones, and how thankful I am for the diversity of all the strange angels in my life.

They only indicator of success I desire is for them, and that one, to love this music.

Finally, I hope my use of overtone singing honors the beauty of solo singing while including it in the style of the popular song. Meanwhile, I shall set to work on the next improvement, the next whim of my desire, which I will soon share with you, with the beloved, and with the One.

Posted by Alexander Glenfield at 1:03 PM 7 comments: Email ThisBlogThis!Share to TwitterShare to FacebookShare to Pinterest

Sunday, July 27, 2014


Some of you, the good people who are kind enough to talk to me, have asked for more of this home performance stuff, and something like an online tutorial. I tried to create both in one.

Both in one. Always in search of the next innovative hybrid, we humans are always combining two things to make a third. Sometimes, one thing is divided into two, and then the new resulting parts are used to create a third.

The creative act itself is dependent on the simultaneous occurrence of two seemingly opposite “realities” to create a new one that often brings with it a flash of insight, and sometimes humor. This third thing, this byproduct of opposing incompatibilities, is the spark of humorous insight. The creation equation.

This video is another thing I’ve made to give me a chance to laugh at myself, and I hope it brings a little dual reality convergence into your mind and heart, and whatever goo lies between them.

To sum up and bring it all together (before letting it blow apart again), overtone singing IS a perfect example of the creation equation. We have what APPEARS to be one note PRODUCING more than one note: melody within drone; movement within stasis; music within sound.

Posted by Alexander Glenfield at 12:45 PM 11 comments: Email ThisBlogThis!Share to TwitterShare to FacebookShare to Pinterest

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Sounding Flows the Feelings?

More deep thoughts, said dumbly here, as it must be. 
They ask me: “Does overtone singing have a healing effect?” Almost anything can be used to heal, and this is evinced by the promulgation of publications declaring the revitalizing potential of everything from asparagus juice to mashed up bee brains to the pheromones collected in the stringy belt of dad’s terrycloth bathrobe. 
But it depends, really, what one means by “healing”. On one hand, healing suggests the improvement of life quality; on the other hand, that very unpopular hand, but the hand I most prefer to play, healing can be the transcendence of the need to be healed at all.
Through SKYPE or in person I encourage students to discover for themselves what effect the practice may have, as any declaration I make about the results of overtone singing becomes a suggestion and, under the right conditions of consciousness, a student may implant the suggestion and distort his or her reality to make the suggestion appear true.
I can theorize, however, that singing overtones is a means to bypass meaning, thus stilling the movement of thought to let other parts of the self arise to express and clear the system of its blockages. This theory, however, assumes that the movement of feeling is beneficial to a state of mind-body health.
What is thinking? Though some of us think in pictures, bodily sensations, emotions, or even smells, most of our thinking is in words. Words, vocal sound symbols, point to meanings. These symbolic word sounds can exist outside the body in waves upon the air molecules, and inside the body in the audial imagination, which is that place where you can imagine a sound. Thinking is the movement of words in the audial imagination: When you think, you talk to yourself, and almost everybody does it.
How many of your waking hours are dominated by word thinking? How much do you talk—presumably internally—to yourself? When communicating with your fellow creatures, how much do you rely upon your—presumably external—words?
These words are mostly an act of the conscious mind. Through most of the day, our breath, vocal apparatus, and audial imagination serve the intellect in word thought.
The mind-body system’s health is partly dependent on the free flowing of feeling. Down deeper—or perhaps up higher, I don’t know which—our emotions struggle to ride the breath across the vibrating vocal folds. Most of the time, however, they are blocked by intellect. Our voice (internal and external) serves our intellect. Feelings want to go out and play, but intellect is clogging the exit. 
Overtone singing is a non-signifying vocal act: it means absolutely nothing, yet the isolation of overtones does use the raw materials of signifying speech; specifically and among others, the vowel sounds. 
While singing with awareness on the sound of sound itself, rather than its symbolic meaning, the individual bypasses the conscious mind temporarily to clear the way for something else. I dislike naming the something else, as I dislike naming anything, but the feeling state one experiences in this clarity is distinctly profound: sometimes highly emotional; sometimes highly blissful; sometimes transcending all that is feeling and knowing.
But above words it takes you.
So what “healing” effects can result from singing above meaning? Best to test for yourself, but keep an open mind and heart about what healing can be.
I feel, however, that I’m closer to reality when singing and entering into the unnamable state of mind. Free of the judgments of passing thoughts in the audial imagination, I cease my distortion of reality, and come closer to what is; to what is without my intellectual filtering.
Deep thoughts, dumbly.
To enter into the indescribable way,Hear the mind’s mental chatterNot as meaningful words,But as beautiful music.
Stare with the ear andTo hear the always music everywhere,And in all sound,External and internal.
The brain says “yes”;The heart says “maybe”;The time of your lifeNeeds a winding.

Posted by Alexander Glenfield at 9:17 AM 8 comments: Email ThisBlogThis!Share to TwitterShare to FacebookShare to Pinterest

Saturday, October 26, 2013


Take notice of the silence in the sound The sound of sound is in the music there Be still the mind where judgments are abound
The ear is known to sense the world profound To subdivide the ugly from the fair Take notice of the silence in the sound
This is a place with music all around The bliss of wind in trees without a care Be still the mind where judgments are abound
Undo the violence seeing will surround Unlike the eye, the ear can never stare Take notice of the silence in the sound
Do know that we are partials of the ground Divine that births the world through silent prayer Be still the mind where judgments are abound
These musical intentions will astound To find the subtle masterpiece is rare Take notice of the silence in the sound Be still the mind where judgments are abound

She took her place among the line of dolls Beset with fear her skin turned sickly pale And all who saw her turned before the fall Unto the sounding of the bugle’s wail
Beset with fear her skin turned sickly pale Her shapeless legs held firm around the wind Unto the sounding of the bugle’s wail A trail of dirty tears down to her chin
Her shapeless legs held firm around the wind That sweetness of her face a dying dream A trail of dirty tears down to her chin The dolls beside her hacked a golden scream
That sweetness of her face a dying dream The sky around them shuddered with the thought The dolls beside her hacked a golden scream The One they called to save them then, was not
The sky around them shuddered with the thought For hope was always drifting in the air The One they called to save them then, was not Their universe ached on without a care
For hope was always drifting in the air They fell as one, went lifeless to the ground Their universe ached on without a care To the silent, sliver moon’s impassive frown
For the evil of the man that sent her home And for all who saw her, turned before the fall For the man who wanted her to him alone She took her place among the line of dolls
Posted by Alexander Glenfield at 8:39 AM 4 comments: Email ThisBlogThis!Share to TwitterShare to FacebookShare to Pinterest

Sunday, November 25, 2012


He found himself in a landscape that was on one hand the loneliest and most isolated, and on the other, the most profoundly inclusive environment, he had ever known. The South Siberian Steppe. The land was the frozen motion of the planet’s most subtle tremors blanketed with treeless grasslands extending to the edges of the sky in all directions. The sky so vast the land seemed hardly real beneath it, and how easily the vastness of emptiness, with the slightest descent, could swallow the ground that held him.  
Though the land was barren, with the tallest vegetation being the waving grasses gone to seed, the wind sounded a continuous and strangely human-sounding “aahhh”. Perhaps the ethereal vowel sound on the wind was a result of the air’s passing over the hole of his ear, but it must have blown through or around something to produce almost clarion resonance. In that moment, no effort he needed for contentment. No need to pose himself before others so as not to harm or be harmed. And the everyday judgment he habitually passed and received was away on the wind.   
He returned the sound, gently as though letting breath surrender into sound, and from that effortlessly sounding intonation of “aahhh” he heard the music of sound, the inherent harmonics of a vibrating body.
With the little ego self away, the big self into sound. Before this moment in nature, the putting of the self into sound was merely theory, not direct experience.  It was a theory his Hindustani Music Teacher had imparted to him. Guruji declared, “During the Brahmacharya stage of development, you must discover the self by holding each note for a very long time, and maybe for even hours a day if your dedication is complete. So long the swara must be held that there is nothing left of you and only the swara remains.”
In the Hindustani system of classical raga singing, the term swara had once meant more than “note” or “pitch”, as it has come to mean in the modern age. The ancient meaning, however, is there to be found in the word itself. By simply taking an etymological view of the prefix and suffix, one can know that the Sanskrit swa meant “of self” and ra meant “bestow.” Then to sing a single note, the swara, is to bestow the self in sound, and one found the self in the sound by uttering it and listening to the vast harmonic content of a single, sustained vocal tone. However, the singularity of this tone is illusory.
To sustain any one single note vocally is impossible, as the oral cavity, by default, forms the raw buzzing of the vocal folds into vowels. Though the speech centers of the brain are programmed to perceive vowel sounds as parts of signifying words, the vowel sounds are horizontal combinations of overtones (“chords” if you will, but more specifically, “formant regions”). Differing combinations of overtones distinguish one phonetic vowel from another. Our speech is replete with the music of vocal sound.
He was also bestowed with the knowledge that in the classical Hindustani singing tradition the vowel “ah” is preferred for singing, as this is the vowel sound of the heart, an expression of supreme adoration.
And is it merely coincidence that many of these vowels sounds, when used as raw expressions, heard alone and unaccompanied by contrasting consonants, have culturally specific meanings associated with them? For example, take “ah” as an expression of adoration in the Hindustani system. To a westerner, does it not have a similar meaning? 
What is your emotionally driven vowel response to the following stimuli and scenarios?
1) An adorable kitten with a red bow in its fur approaches you; it purrs, meows, and rubs against your leg.  

2) Unprepared for your seminar presentation about wool slacks of the Elizabethan theatre, you improvise, thus faking it, and you use this commonly heard “mantra” of ponderous uncertainty heard all too often in public presentations and everyday conversation.
    3) To your shock, the kitten from before is, in truth, a rare breed of dwarfed tomcat and it is in heat. It sprays your leg with its putrid pheromones.

4)  On your lunch break, you spill an entire plate of Spaghettio’s on your temperamental boss’s white, silk blouse just five minutes before her meeting with the board of directors.


5) Angrily tearing up yet another piece of junk-mail from your cable provider, you feel the firm cardboard slice open the sensitive flesh between your fingers, which for whatever reason, was wet with lemon juice.

6) Having pondered at length on the reason for your rapidly shrinking gums, in a “Eureka” moment, you suddenly know that your toothpaste has been taken and replaced with a tube of Preparation H.

How have these expressions found their way into the lexicon of human communication? Perhaps they are there for the same reason we moan when in pain or pleasure, or scream in terror or excitement, or laugh in response to either humor or impending mental meltdown: emotional response is biologically linked with the breath and any breathing that excites the vocal folds into vibration will consequently produce a vowel sound. There is something universal in the body, its feelings, and its means of expressing them.  
Interesting to ponder, but like most idle contemplations, they serve to fascinate far more than they serve to offer any answers or evidence.

So he sings alone and there is no one to hear. There was no one there, not even him, and perhaps that is why there was no need to be known, for there was no one to know. He felt such relief in losing the little self, craving the recognition it needs to sustain it.
Nature is a place without names. Giving names to the phenomena of nature is to give it identity, and the bestowal of identity is the imposition of limitation. And with these names, to us the beings who give meaning to almost everything, the animate and inanimate myriad things of nature were reduced to their little selves.
He lost his little self on the wind in sound. “None of these forces shall sway me,” he declares to the past and future. The declaration dislodged the self-destructive tendency of his subconscious mind, and dissolved the deeply imbedded impetus to obscure the big self.
Perceiving the apparent singularity of the tone as illusory was the first step in the separation from the world of little things, ego things.   Dissolve the self, bestow the self, and listen.       

  Posted by Alexander Glenfield at 5:42 AM 9 comments: Email ThisBlogThis!Share to TwitterShare to FacebookShare to PinterestOlder PostsHome Subscribe to: Posts (Atom)


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About Me

Alexander Glenfield I’ve been called “a silly little man” by some very serious giants. I’ve been called “a lazy mystic” by some very ambitious academics. I’ve also been called “the most unknown person in the world” by some very close undead relatives. Like always, I’ll let you decide who I am. View my complete profile


To service the world’s rising demand for skilled overtone singers, I offer lessons via Skype.

Before proceeding with a formal lesson, I first offer a connection quality test and a free consultation.

Please email to learn more!


My overtone singing styles will either raise your spirits, or just annoy the doubt right out of you.

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How To Sing Overtones Throat Singing with Alex Glenfield Ph.D.

How To Sing Overtones Throat Singing with Alex Glenfield Ph.D.

29,358 views•Jan 6, 2019 1.6K 20 Share SaveAlex Glenfield 11K subscribers Here is an extended tutorial on how to begin a singing, overtone singing, and throat singing practice. I remain available for consultations and lessons via SKYPE. Please send an email of inquiry to alexglenfield (at)

Overtone Singing Throat Singing, Glenfield, tutorial conclusions

Overtone Singing Throat Singing, Glenfield, tutorial conclusions

26,331 views•Jul 26, 2014 487 11 Share SaveAlex Glenfield 11K subscribers…… Here follows a response to the good people who talk to me. They asked for another home performance video and something like a tutorial. Damn weird. I’ll let you tell me if this is ridiculous or not. But the world needs all the ridiculousness it can get; at least, the kind that doesn’t hurt anyone. This piece is part of an ongoing epic, and at the end I begin a kind of “tutorial” which I’ll continue to add to. If people want it, that is.

Alex Glenfield, Overtone Singing, Throat Singing, “Changing Same”

Alex Glenfield, Overtone Singing, Throat Singing, “Changing Same”

29,673 views•Aug 10, 2014 533 6 Share SaveAlex Glenfield 11K subscribers…… Here is another piece of something I made. I have these pieces all over the place, and sometimes they go together nicely. Yes, I still do Skype lessons and give you all you need to know and do. Watch (or skip) to the end of the video for my email address. CHANGING SAME (lyrics) So you’re afraid of the signs of change Never clear enough to tell The shadow of the spider Is so much bigger than the spider herself To blame again and again For this sloppy reincarnation But maybe karma’s just a system device To keep you from complaining Changing same Changing same Spin around the wheel of fortune The fate of each to fall Into changes strangely given Have to walk before you crawl Stay the same the sleeper slumbers On and on til death Let the changing ever present Find me on your breath

RONALD WALCOTT: The Chöömij of Mongolia A Spectral Analysis of Overtone Singing

RONALD WALCOTT: The Chöömij of Mongolia A Spectral Analysis of Overtone Singing

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The Chöömij of Mongolia A Spectral Analysis of Overtone Singing

Ronald Walcott

SELECTED REPORTS IN Ethnomusicology      Volume II, No. 1  1974

CHÖÖMIJ* IS THE MONGOLIAN NAME for a solo style of overtone singing where two distinct pitch lines are sounded throughout. One, a nasal‑sounding drone of relatively constant pitch, corresponds to the fundamental; the other, consisting of piercing, whistle like tones, forms a melody, line above the drone and results from the reinforcement of individual overtones within the ambitus of the 5th through 13th partials.

Reinforcement of partials is achieved by characteristic changes in the shape and volume of the mouth cavity. This is reminiscent of the principle of the Jew’s harp,’ where a vibrating tongue sounded at the lips produces a drone fundamental which the player modifies by shaping his mouth cavity so as to‑form a resonance chamber of critical volume. The volume of this chamber, functioning on the principle of a Helmholtz resonator, reinforces a narrow frequency band area within an existing spectrum. This band is sufficiently narrow to enable the singer to select a given single partial above the drone in accordance with the degree of modification made by him. The principle involving the reinforcement of discrete partials by a specific shaping of the mouth cavity is thus common to both chöömij and the Jew’s harp. A difference, however, lies in the physical origination of the fundamental. In the Jew’s harp it is produced at the lips, in the chöömij it originates in the throat region.

The unusual quality of chöömij arouses special interest. Subjective statements cannot take us very far and we need a more objective basis for describing it. The Melograph Model C offers a mechanical approach to a more accurate and precise representation of this complex vocal phenomenon.

A number of recordings of this style has been made*’ and an analysis of them will appear in a more comprehensive study. I have selected for detailed melographic analysis the initial phrase of one performance which is distinguished by the unusually long duration of its ictus, 1.4 seconds. This is reproduced on Plate 1 and transcribed in figure 1. The phrase of three descending tones is preceded by a groan like attack. The spectral graph presents a pattern of equidistant bands, corresponding to frequencies that remain virtually constant for the duration of the descending phrase. This is, in fact, true for the entire piece from which this example is drawn. An equidistant band pattern maintained throughout the changes in the whistle‑tone pitches suggests (a) that these are generated above a fundamental of constant pitch; and (b) that they are due to harmonic overtone generation, a predictable characteristic of wind instruments. Figure 2 shows in staff notation the approximate partials as they appear in consecutive order above a fundamental of about 100 Hz.


Fig. 2. (The‑tolerance of the filter permits only approximate readings of the frequency values.)

Most important to note here is not the precise distance between the bands or their absolute frequency value, but rather (a) the pitch vocabulary of the partials from which the melody tones are selected, namely the 6th to 13th partials but excluding the 11th;

and (b) the general range of the fundamental. As concerns the chöömij style, I would suggest that a physiological limitation prevents the singer from descending below the 6th or from ascending above the 13th partial if he wishes to isolate the desired melodic tones with sufficient intensity. The melodic style would seem to dictate the selection of tones agreeable to an anhemitonic penta scale widespread in Mongolian music, and this would naturally require the lowering of the 7th partial from f‑ to e’ and the avoidance of the 11th partial altogether,


Finally, the stable drone fundamental is in the author’s experience invariably selected from within the approximate range of G‑d,

The reason is that only this range permits the generation of a corresponding complement of partials that the mouth cavity can effectively filter.

Chöömij closely resembles borbannadyr, one of four Tuvin overtone singing styles described by A. N. Aksenov (3) that are largely characterized by the ranges in which they occur.

P. Crossley‑Holland(4) describes two styles of overtone chanting cultivated by the Tibetan monasteries of Gyume and Gyumo that are differentiated from chöömij by their placement in a somewhere lower range.

We have so far provisionally established the nature and vocabulary of tones comprising the chöömij style, the physiological mechanics for their production, their relationship to general acoustical laws, and their general frequency range. Our attention now turns to the ictus. In the graph, the ictus is represented as a successive development and decay of overtones. For reasons to be discussed, it is considered as a progression toward “normal” sustained chöömij timbre. The graph of the 1.4‑second‑long period of attack reveals an upward flowing glissando of overtone emphasis extending across a wide chöömij range, namely from the fundamental to the 10th partial. This dramatic upswing, accompanied by a smoother downward resolution of the 12th, 11th, 10th, and 9th partials into the 9th partial alone, is a composite of varied partial durations and intensities unfolding in time and resulting in an attack “shape.” We are dealing here with a complex of duration, intensity, overlapping, pitch, and grouping of partials. Aural perception is not one of an ascending glissando of individual overtone pitches, but rather of a gradual change of colour during the ictus from whose complex sound emerges the pure, whistle like b’’ ­sounding above the drone of G(5) Also, the 16th and 18th partials (1600 and 1800 Hz) appear at the end of the ictus and remain faintly present through to the end of the phrase. Our microanalysis, deliberately scrutinizing a 1.4‑second‑long detail, captures a delicate moment of vocal timbre which the singer of chöömij must effectively control in order to establish “normal” sustained chöömij sound. The ictus, representing a drive toward the sonal norm, isolated here for study, may well prove to be the key to a precise physiological explanation of this style(6).

Following our description of the ictus that precedes the unfolding of the melody, we now come to the “normal chöömij sound” as typified by the descending notes b”, a”, g”. The spectral configuration of the three descending whistle‑tones shown by the melogram during the 2.1 seconds following the ictus is here considered typical and representative of chöömij sound; or, to speak more objectively, the distinctive “nasal” quality pervading this style results from the spectral configurations shown by the melogram and presented schematically in figure 3. These show the sounding areas of the formants in relation to non sounding areas. Figure 3 shows three formant areas for chöömij: (1) the fundamental; (2) the melody area, 6th‑13th partials; and (3) a higher nasal area that is new to our description for the range of this style. This third formant lies in the 1500‑1600 Hz range in this excerpt, and is present as the’16th through 23rd partials in chöömij style generally. We have made the experiment of eliminating the third.formant, and have found that this effectively negates the nasal quality so typical of this style.‑ If the three formant areas in the arrangement presented by figure 3 are considered an accurate description of chöömij style, it suggests that a spectrum judged to he nasal has a non sounding “hole” in the area of 900‑1300 Hz. This further implies a more objective definition of our perception of nasality. In order to indicate the existence of a non­sounding hole, the range initially presented in figure 2 (1st through 13th partials) for the chöömij must be extended to include the area of the 16th through 23rd partials. They exist as a stable upper drone cluster of tones vital to maintaining the nasal character of the style and their existence may be a function of physiological necessity. Our recognition of the “nasal formant” as an integral part of the style thus provides a further possible clue to its vocal production. Attention to detail during the sustained tone production may give further insights into this problem. At the point where the melody descends from the b’’, the dovetailing of pairs of melodic overtones results in transitional areas where both can be heard simultaneously,. resulting in the interval of a major second. Further, in our own experience, the last note g” predominates on first hearing; however, after an examination of the melogram where the a” is seen to be simultaneously present, the interval of a major 2nd can be heard quite distinctly.


Fig. 3. A stylized diagram of chöömij vocal sound. The dotted lines refer to the melogram shown in Plate 1 above.

We may have here an indication of the degree of efficiency of the mouth cavity as a selective overtone filter. It is clear that effective filter width permits the passing of more than a single partial. The question then arises: Is a single melody note more likely desired by the human mechanism unable to produce it? Or, alternatively: Is it correct to end some phrases with a blend of two partials such that the performer is in fact adhering to a canon of style?

Further, the two pitches C and g” are accompanied by a rhythmic accent of the fundamental pitch. This accentuated accompaniment to melody tones occurs throughout this style. It might reasonably be anticipated that such accentuation would find some reflection in the display. Our melogram, however, shows no significant change in overall dynamics, such as would be typical of a push of air from the diaphragm. On the contrary, we find this dynamic swelling of the fundamental pitch to correspond to a strengthening of the 2nd and 3rd partials and, to a lesser degree, of the 5th. In reference to the physiological factors considered above, we could now ask what process involved in shifts of melodic whistle‑tones necessitates the emphasis of other partial groups. It must be considered further, however, whether this accenting is related to an unconscious physiological necessity of resetting the mouth cavity filter for emphasizing a different melody partial, or whether it might be a stylistic trait effected by an independent alteration of the mouth cavity consciously cultivated to accompany and punctuate pitch change. Or is it both? The answers to these questions necessarily await further research.

Finally, the overall dynamic graph peaks during the initial attack and remains unusually stable during the length of the phrase (8). The stability of this graph during notes of long duration suggests an ability on the part of the singer to supply constant air pressure to the vocal mechanism producing the fundamental pitch. This may be another consciously cultivated feature.

The latter part of this article emphasizes the relevance of melographic analysis to the physiological processes of voice production. It would be fascinating to go further and to add computer facilities. It might then be possible to calculate a progression of mouth and nasal cavity configuration corresponding with the normal vocal style (9). When this can be realized, it may well bring a new dimension into the objective study of musical styles.


* chöömij (Hans‑Peter Vietze, Lehrbuch der Mongolischen Sprache [leipzig: VEB Verlag Enzyklopädie 1969] , pp. 15‑16)

or khöömii (J. E. Bosson, Modern Mongolian [Bloomington: Indiana University, 19641, P. 11) are two possible transliterations for the Mongolian “xөөmий” which in Khalkha dialect means pharynx; throat; windpipe (A. Luvsandendev, Mongol’sko‑russkii slovar   [Moscow: Gos. Izd‑yo Inostrannych i Natsional’nych Slovarej, 1957], p. 553). In Classical Mongolian it is written K ØGEMEI, Which means pharnyx; throat (F. Ussing, Mongolian‑English Dictionary [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1960], p. 479). Aksenov (1964) writes chöömij and Vargyas (1968) hö‑mi.

1. The comparison of chöömij with the Jew’s harp was suggested by Lajos Vargyas, “Performing Styles in Mongolian Chant,” in

    Journal of the International FoLk Music Council XX (1968), 70‑72.

2. Professor D. Dinowski of the Ethnology Department, University of Warsaw, has kindly facilitated a study of this material.

3. “Die Stile des tuvinischen zweistimmigen Sologesanges,” in Soujetische Volkslied‑und Volksmusik. forschung. Erich Stockmann, ed.

   (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1967). Pp. 293‑308.

4. Notes to the recording, “The Music of Tibet: The Tantric Rituals,” Disk AST‑4005, New York, Anthology 1970. Musical analysis by

   Peter Crossley‑Holland; acoustical analysis by Kenneth N. Stevens.

5. This was investigated through a synthesis of this same excerpt on a generator of sine‑tones produced through a process using 

    insulated light. This apparatus was constructed by Dr. K. Schiigerl, Phonogramm‑archiv, Vienna, in 1970.

6. This topic is under study by Dr. Frank, Laryngologisches InstitiA, Vienna.

7. This result is based on filtration experiments carried out with the help of Dr. R. Brandi, Phonogramm­archiv, Vienna, 1970.

8. It is the opinion of Mr. Michael Moore, based on the perusal of a large number of melographs, that the dynamic display shows little

    fluctuation when compared with other vocal sty les.

9. Apparatus of this nature already exists and is being further refined and developed by Dr. P. Ladefoged in the Phonetics Laboratory at


Theodore C.Levin & Michael E.Edgerton: The Throat Singers in Tuva, in Scientific American Article, pp: 80-87, USA, 1999

Soundtransformations, Michael Ormiston & Candida Valentino Web PagesScientific American Article September 1999

Theodore C.Levin & Michael E.Edgerton: The Throat Singers in Tuva, in Scientific American Article, pp: 80-87, USA, 1999.

Michaegl Edgerton
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