This style of singing takes advantage of the overtone series. In the same way that colors blend to create white light, overtones are frequencies that mix to create the unique sound quality of a musical note. That's why overtone singing always requires a low drone, buzz, or hum, what's known as the fundamental. Those overtones are always present in the fundamental tone, just usually at a strength that makes them indistinguishable from each other. By slightly adjusting the position of the tongue as they hum, singers can increase the strength of certain overtones, making them pop out as a whistle-like tone to the audience's ear. That's why virtually anyone can do it: it's not some special organ that lets a person sing more than one note at once, just an expert knowledge of how to manipulate the overtone series. Watch polyphonic singers in action and try it out yourself with the videos below.
Anyone Can Learn To Sing Two Notes At Once
The Turko-Mongol people of Southern Siberia and Western Mongolia are well known for their many styles of "throat singing," a style in which a singer produces more than one note at a time. They're not the only culture to practice a form of polyphonic overtone singing, as it's also called, and that's for good reason: there's nothing unique to their genetics that gives them this impressive ability; just special techniques and a whole lot of practice.
Polyphonic Overtone Singing, Explained Visually
Watch German musician Anna-Maria Hefele demonstrate her impressive polyphonic singing ability.
from Anna-Maria Hefele
An Ethnomusicologist Gives A Throat-Singing Lesson
Try the technique for yourself.
Key Facts In This Video
Our speaking voices don't have one fundamental tone. (0:00)
The technique of two cavities splits the mouth cavity into two parts using the tongue. (2:02)
Hear an example of Tuvan throat-singing: (2:28)
One Part Heavy Metal, One Part Mongolian Throat Singer
Hear how one musician is blending two distinct cultural styles.
from Great Big Story