As an aspiring singer or one who studies many methods with the voice, you may have heard about learning how to throat sing.
Throat singing, also known as overtone singing, Tuvan throat singing, or Mongolian singing, is a technique to manipulate your vocal cords to create sound. It is famous within the Asiatic and Inuit cultures. People in these cultures have practiced and performed the technique for thousands of years as part of a tradition.
Throat singing is a unique way to stretch the voice, and when done correctly, you can produce more than one note simultaneously. Learning the skill of throat singing can help make you a more versatile, well-rounded singer.
Many people think that this ancient singing method is an art form, but it is not that difficult when you gradually learn how to do it and practice well. Just be aware that it will take time and patience.
But how do you learn to throat sing? Read on to find out what throat singing is all about, the steps to take on how you can work on your voice, and learn the methods for throat singing.
Does Throat Singing Limit Vocal Range?
When you learn how to throat sing properly, it doesn’t limit your vocal range.
It combines two techniques: Formant tuning and modulation of the sound using false chords, which create the overtone sounds.
Formant tuning amplifies certain overtones, making them more precise and more audible as a separate pitch or multiple pitches. This manipulation is done by changing the shape of the vocal tract and does not affect the vocal folds when done correctly.
Singing, in general, involves the manipulation of formant frequencies. It is what creates vowels and some consonants when you sing. So formant tuning is not a peculiarity of Tuvan throat singers. It is just applied in a particular way.
Types of Throat Singing – A History
Depending on the culture or background, people use varying methods of throat singing than other cultures. For example, women of the Inuit people from North Canada have throat singing embedded deeply within their culture. However, the Inuit women’s style differs in that their specific technique focuses more on short, sharp inhalations and exhalations.
The Tuva region focuses more on the men only allowed to throat sing, and their version is to copy the sounds of nature for entertainment. On the other hand, the Xhosa are indigenous people of South Africa, and they predominantly use women; their primary purpose for singing is to create melody during festivals and celebrations.
What Happens to the Vocal Cords When Throat Singing?
Modulating the sound by the false chords happens when the false chords vibrate harmonically with the vocal folds in a well-defined frequency ratio. For Tuvan throat singing, only a proportion of 1:2 is usually used.
The ratio creates a note one octave below the pitch of the vocal folds. When done correctly, the vocal folds continue their regular, natural business during throat singing.
Before you learn how to throat sing, the first thing you should be able to master is controlled breathing. Work on breathing exercises to sustain notes for long periods since this will come in handy when you start to practice throat singing.
Learning To Throat Sing
The short answer to the question is yes, you can learn to throat sing. However, it takes a lot of practice, discipline, and effort to figure out how. You may ask, is throat singing difficult?
The answer is that yes, it can be challenging to learn because it takes time to master. But, just like with any craft or skill you want to become good at, you need to work for it.
If you want to learn to throat sing, follow these five simple steps to help you understand the technique:
Step 1. Relax Your Jaw
It would help if you kept your jaw, tongue, and lips relaxed when you sing. The same goes for throat singing, and you need to drop your jaw and mouth slightly and keep them as flexible as possible.
A tip for keeping your mouth relaxed is to do some breathing exercises or practice humming or slightly opening your mouth to an “o” or “oo” sound on just one sustained note.
Step 2. Using the “R” and “L” Sounds
You know how to say the letters, but make the sound with just the tip of your tongue. Your tongue should be very close to the roof of your mouth. Practice this multiple times to get comfortable with the positioning when saying or singing these letters. It might be helpful to look for songs with a lot of the “R” and “L” consonants to get used to how these sound when you sing them.
Step 3. Sing Low Notes Comfortably
Sustain and hold low notes as long and comfortably as you can. Make sure your tongue is in the same position as to say the letters “R” and “L” still. You will be utilizing this note to create the overtones for throat singing. Sing as deep within your chest as you can, staying in the chest register.
You should note that singing in a lower register will be more challenging for women than for men. But work with the lowest note you can within your chest without straining your voice, keeping your larynx low and relaxed.
Step 4. Move Your Tongue
Start moving your tongue as you sing the low note, shifting it around while keeping the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth. Think about positioning your tongue when saying and singing those letters “R” and “L.”
Step 5 – Move Your Lips
The next step is for you to start moving and shaping your lips, which will adjust the sound coming out. But, again, do it in a very gradual, slow manner, and listen to how the sound resonates on the inside and how it bounces around.
You should hear multiple undertones as you continue to move your tongue and lips to manipulate the sounds. There is no perfect way to do this. There is no particular style or specific volume to strive for while throat singing.
But, when you hear the overtones, keep your mouth positioned in that same place and hold the tone out. You have successfully figured out how to throat sing!
If you cannot hear the overtones undertones when you start, don’t worry. Sometimes you can’t listen to them coming from you as you sing. Instead, you should take a video of yourself practicing and listen to it to hear if you can detect that you are throat singing properly and hear the higher pitch whistle tones and undertones.
Can Throat Singing Damage Your Voice?
Throat singing can damage your voice if you do not do it proficiently. Therefore, it would be most helpful to work with a professional voice teacher, vocal coach, or instructor who can train you in the best techniques for how to sing to avoid straining your vocal folds and damaging your voice when learning to throat sing.
In addition, an instructor will help ensure you are utilizing proper singing techniques and the correct form of the throat, allowing you to engage your breathing and produce the sounds you desire.
When you work to learn independently, you risk putting too much pressure on your vocal cords or straining to reach lower notes that are not comfortably within your range.
You might even get vocal nodes on your folds, which are a result of overuse and strain on the folds, and then you will not be able to sing and might even need a surgical procedure to fix.
You can still learn on your own; this is not meant to scare you from learning how to throat sing, but simply a warning to be cautious. Take your time while learning and applying each of the steps. Pay attention to the stress on your voice, and take frequent breaks to allow your voice to rest.
Practicing and Mastering Throat Singing
You can improve your overtones and undertones by practicing with some noises in the background. The noise will cover your natural vocal tones and help those high-pitched whistle tones more prominent.
The shower is an excellent place for practicing throat singing since the sound of the running water will help mask your original sound. The water also helps keep your larynx moistened so that they can vibrate more cleanly and keep your throat from drying out, so you have less strain.
Don’t Forget The Power
Singing brightly and holding these notes out to get the overtones requires a lot of power. Therefore, you need to ensure enough energy to sustain the overtones and whistle sounds when singing with a strong singing voice. Supporting and holding these notes for throat singing is why practicing breathing exercises can be beneficial.
If you want to get the sound right, imagine singing to someone who is far across a crowded room so that you force and push the sound out to help you create more prominent overtones.
The resonance of sound helps create and bring out the undertones and overtones. Sometimes as humans, we can’t hear the whistling sound when it’s at such a high frequency.
You might want to try Mongolian throat singing with musical groups, developing harmonic singing together. Multiple voices singing base undertones with a melody and mixing in throat singing to provide multiple overtones and whistle tones can be beautiful to listen to and create the illusion that there are hundreds of them with just a few voices. Everyone’s voice is unique and produces different types of undertones and overtones.
Practice Throat Singing
Now that you’ve learned the history, steps, and ways to manipulate your sound for throat singing, you can try it. Take your time, and pay close attention if you feel any strain or pressure on your vocal cords.
Get assistance from a voice teacher or instructor to help you learn proper techniques to effectively throat sing on your own. Soon you’ll find that you can throat singing like a pro in no time!