How to Practice Harmonic / Overtone Singing

(Last Updated On: February 27, 2021)
Overtone Singing

Harmonic or overtone singing is that the singer in this kind of singing can manipulate the quality of the vocal sound that is created as air comes out from the lungs, passing through the vocal folds, and finally to the mouth producing a type of melody.  In this process, you can change the shape of resonant cavities in your mouth, pharynx, and larynx by amplifying the partials selectively like the overtones and fundamentals of a sound wave created by your voice.

How Does Overtone Singing Voice Works?

As far as ordinary singing is concerned, a singer usually maintains a flat tongue, and that the only audible pitch that you can hear clearly is the fundamental one. The sides of your tongue are formed on an upward curve, being held against the premolar teeth on the upper portion.  This creates a seal in the roof of your mouth in a round form allowing the air to pass through a small opening.

If you want to try this, sing “errrr” and move your tongue in a forward direction when you’re attempting to sing higher overtones. Lip shapes and vowel sounds are essential in harmonic fine-tuning.  You will notice that in this process, the emphasis on the lowest harmonics is done with a tight “oo” sound.  On the other hand, higher harmonics are made through the change of vowels as in “oh…ah….awe…ee,….ay,” and sounds that are in between.

With this method of resonant tuning, you can create more than one pitch at one time consisting of the selected overtone and the fundamental.  In effect, you’re still able to generate a basic frequency with your vocal folds.  Overtone singing is also called “throat singing“, but that word is commonly utilized in Inuit throat singing that is produced in a different way.

When you are singing in overtone, you manipulate the resonances present in your throat while the air passes through your vocal folds.  If you want to master this ability, you have to use a method that can clearly put emphasis on your voice’s high harmonic to make it distinctly heard together with a low pitch that you simultaneously produce.

This talent is not possessed by many people, and since harmonic singing needs a lot of practice, you can apply some tricks to make you learn the process quicker.

How to Practice?

1) Hydration

The first trick that you can use is the process of hydration that is commonly solved by just drinking enough water.

You may think that this is simply a temporary relief; however, when you swallow something, your epiglottis takes out the water from your respiratory system and larynx.  One smart trick that you can do to hydrate your mucus membranes that are present in your vocal system is to put a mouthful of water and inhale some air through a tiny hole in your mouth.  When air bubbles are produced, they will force the water behind your throat thus, soothe your larynx and trachea by moistening them.

2) Harmonic / Overtone Singing Exercises

The second trick is called vocal exercise that you can practice by alternating the sounds and tones that you create in performing this kind of singing method.  In doing this, engage your vocal folds first by making a sustained tone.  After this, release and repeatedly engage your ventricular folds in producing an alternate pattern of resonance.

3) Harmonic Resonance

Third, try to sing with your mouth closed.  This is the best remedy if you cannot achieve harmonic resonance.

By doing this, you can open your velum to enable you to sing through your nose.  If you sing through the tiny passage of your nose, you’ll be able to create back-pressure that greatly helps in producing the desired sound.

4) Practicing in Reverberating Environment

The fourth is practicing in a reverberating environment.  If you always practice in a room with an echo like in a bathroom or stairwell, you’ll find it a lot easier to hear the sound of harmonic/overtone singing and individual tones that you are producing.

History of Overtone Singing

Overtone singing is one of the ancient singing methods that allows a vocalist to create multiple sounds (normally 2 or more sounds) concurrently with her or his vocal / voice. Recent researches have discovered an immense quantity of info about the current uses of this unique singing technique across the world.

According to history, Overtone Singing had been actively used as a religious or ethnic musical artform. It’s a singing technique developed in mainly in Southern Siberia, Mongolia, Central Asia, in South Africa, and in Tibet. Besides that, there is a minority ethnic in Sardina still practicing it, and they called it as “European overtone singing.”

There are several theories stated that it had been used in religious ceremonies, in Masonic lodges, Kabbalistic services, Sufi practices, and mystery schools. And there are some studies showed that it had been in the cultures of Atlantis, Ancient Egypt Central America. Sadly there’s insufficient information in this respect.

Drilling deep in its origins, Overtones also can be considered as harmonics singing, which was originally from the West by Pythagoras some 2 600 years past. A musician, also known as a famous Greek mathematician and philosopher, and a group of his students had spent several years in studying and analyzing vibration and sound. After analyzing the monochord, a single-stringed instrument, he found that all sounds were formed by combinations of various frequencies and vibrations.

Developments in Modern World

Many singers from America and Europe are now using throat singing, harmonic singing, and harmonic overtone singing that originated from Tuva and Mongolia of the former Soviet Union.  The style of harmonic singing is similar to the techniques used in diphonic singing, Tuva singing, throat singing, sygyt singing, xoomi singing, and overtone singing among others.

You’ll realize the acoustic style of this singing through the extent of acoustical response coming from your vocal tract.  You will notice that in this kind of method, the singer gives emphasis on a high harmonic voice to the extent of becoming heard separately from singing a low, pitched note.  This is made possible by making a change in the frequency of resonance through the different notes present in the harmonic series.

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