Throat Singing
Streaming Audio

Listen:  Flash Audio Player
[Once the program is playing, click and drag across the volume bars to increase or decrease volume.]
Note: This audio requires the free Flash Player. Please let us know if you have any trouble playing this program.

Throat singing is found around the world. The Inuit perform it. Tibetan monks perform it. Many other cultures have traditions of throat singing. The southern Siberian republic of Tuva is home to one of the most popular and revered forms of throat singing. Singers around the world travel there to study Tuvan throat singing.

Many forms of throat singing rely on extraordinary shaping of the vocal tract to isolate overtones from the fundamental tone being sung. In the method of Tuvan throat singing called "sygyt", a droning tone provides the fundamental material for the singer's airway tuning. By shaping lips, teeth, mouth, and throat, the singer picks out individual overtones by filtering out unwanted ones. The singer also damps down the fundamental tone, so that a melody of pure overtones stands out from the original drone.

Throat singing may provide an explanation for how birds produce their purest tones. Birds do not whistle those notes. They sing them, and it's a real puzzle to acoustics experts who design models of the avian syrinx and airway how birds produce those notes. Airway shaping to filter out overtones, as exemplified by the Tuvan throat singing style "sygyt", may provide a clue.

There are many sites on the web devoted to throat singing. The example of sygyt singing I use here is from the video clip of Tuvan singer Alexei Saryglar found on the khoomei.com site.

Scientific American published an excellent article explaining Tuvan throat singing in the September 1999 issue. The article, "The Throat Singers of Tuva", used to be available online, but is now behind a paywall. [As of September 2012, the text of the article can be found on this throat singing website.] The online version of the article at Scientific American included fascinating "x-ray" videos of a singer's vocal tract while singing in various Tuvan styles.

If you're interested in how to throat sing, try Brian Glover's How-To Crash Course of Tuvan throat singing lessons and demonstrations. You'll find Glover's demonstration and explanation of sygyt style singing on the page "Sygyt Demonstration".