Throat singing, or to use its more specific name, overtone singing, refers to a certain style in which the singer manipulates the resonances created as air travels from the lungs past the vocal folds. The aim is to create a continual hum, which performs a function similar to the drone string on a sitar, the drone pipe of bagpipes or the bellows of an accordion, to which further harmonies may be added.
Whilst to the uninitiated throat singing may appear to be a somewhat limited genre, surprisingly, a wide range of different styles exist amongst its practitioners, involving varying tension in and manipulation of the diaphragm, throat and mouth.
Throat singing may be observed in countries as diverse as South Africa, Japan and Italy, but Russia and its former Soviet states boast the highest proportion of the world’s overtone singing communities, with many hailing from Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and remote republics within the Federation.
The majority of communities with a tradition of throat singing are animists, and when searching for the origins of such a distinctive custom, anthropologists have suggested that it developed from mimicry of nature’s sounds and in order to identify the spirituality of objects in nature. Indeed, the hauntingly beautiful flute-like melody of the Tuvan people, to name one example, has an otherworldly allure.
For those of you who have been inspired by this undervalued musical field, we’ve included a handy guide.
How to Throat Sing
Sing a constant note and try and bring it as far back down your throat as you can – by moving your tongue up to almost the roof of your mouth and then backwards.
To moderate the sound or alter the pitch of the overtone, either vary the position of your tongue or the degree to which your mouth is open.