What is throat singing?

25 May 2018, 11:03 | Updated: 25 May 2018, 11:05

By Lizzie Davis

Overtone singing – also known as throat singing or harmonic singing – is one of the oldest forms of music. But what exactly is it and where does it come from?

Image: Press Association

Overtone or throat singing is a style of singing or chanting which allows the singer to produce more than one note at the same time.

Yes, you read that correctly. And for anyone who has grown up in the world of Western classical or pop music, it sounds physically impossible.

How does it work?

Here’s how the Smithsonian Institution explains it:

“By precise movements of the lips, tongue, jaw, velum, and larynx, throat-singers produce unique harmonies using only their bodies”

Overtone singing uses a bass note – or fundamental – and then uses the shape of the throat and body to bring out the natural harmonics of that fundamental note.

Anna-Maria is an overtone singer whose videos have been viewed millions of times. Here she demonstrates all the notes in one fundamental.

Head to her YouTube channel for step-by-step guides to learning how to explore overtone singing yourself.

Where does it come from?

The Russian Tuva region, northwest of Mongolia, is perhaps the region most associated with throat singing. This style of singing is called Khöömei. Singers learn how to create reverberation chambers using the folds of their throat.

This style of singing is usually (but not always) performed by men, and include sounds that imitate the noises of the Tuva landscape – grassland steppes and high mountains.

Inuit throat singing

Two Inuit singers performed for Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall on their trip to Canada last year (resulting in a fit of giggles by the Duchess). This style of throat singing is called katajjaq.

Unlike the Tuvan tradition, Inuit throat singing is usually performed by women – often two women standing opposite each other holding arms (as can be seen in the recent performance in Canada).

The practice was banned by Christian priests over 100 years ago but has been revived and was given cultural heritage status by Quebec, Canada, in 2014.

Speaking to the Global News, elder and throat singer Alacie Aulla Tullaugaq said: “We were hungry, particularly in winter time, so it was a means to be patient, to try and let time go by until the hunters returned.”