Throat singing for Americans

August 14, 2008 1:24 AM

Anyone ever successfully taught themselves to throat sing? Are there any throat singers here at all?

I'm looking for resources to attempt to throat sing. I have no idea what goes into it at all, so I'd need a primer from the retard level. I don't know if this is something that can even be taught, or something that only comes after a lifetime of being surrounded by it in the wilds of Tuva.
posted by mediocre (18 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

I can do it. When learning it's good to practice in front of a wall or something that will bounce your voice back at you and sing "ear". The upper harmonics you can make mostly in your mouth by changing the shape with your cheeks and tongue. The low harmonics are a little tougher to get, but you do so by opening your throat. With enough practice, you should be able to the the fundamental with two notes on the bottom (in octaves) and around 3 on top — that's 6 notes simultaneously. The top notes you should be able to move around by changing the shape of your mouth.

It's pretty easy.
posted by mexican at 2:15 AM on August 14, 2008

Are there any websites, books, videos, illustrated resources of any sort? From what I've gathered it seems that mouth shape is the most important thing.

Also, I have dentures. Would it be easier without my teeth in? Do dental prosthetics make it impossible?
posted by mediocre at 2:41 AM on August 14, 2008

Here's a guy demonstrating some different throat-singing ranges individually.

It's kind of too bad you don't live in Japan: sometimes it seems that almost every musician I know here can do at least a passably good hoomei. it's very, very popular! (Above commenter mexican is based here in Tokyo, too: did you learn here, mexican?) A fellow I've gigged with quite a bit over the years here is Japan's foremost practitioner of the art. His name is Makigami Koichi, and every year he goes to a sort of festival/competition/gathering of throat singers, in Tuva. He tells me this year he's bringing a contingent of 8 or 10 Japanese throat singers to join in the merriment.

But I see you're in Portland: surely there's someone in a town like Portland doing it, and maybe even teaching it.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:16 AM on August 14, 2008

Oh, and here's an FPP I made earlier this year on throat singing.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:18 AM on August 14, 2008

Here's a guy based in not-so-far-from-you Seattle, doing a bit of a throat-singing thing. Maybe you could get in touch with him, see if he has any leads/advice for you. Here's his MySpace.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:29 AM on August 14, 2008

These are really helpful, and they're free.
posted by umbú at 6:54 AM on August 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

I sent this link to my students, and had a throat-singing contest with them on the last day of class. I practiced every day while walking my son to sleep (he's a baby), because the chest vibrations were a great way to get him to drift off.

Two of my students totally figured it out and kicked my ass in the contest. I've figured out the overtones pretty well, but ended up focusing on that, and not on perfecting the core voice. I'm doing the contest again, so hopefully by december I'll have that down.

It's really fun. I worked a lot on All the Young Dudes by Mott the Hoople as a starter song, and Hey Jude was another fun one to work on.
posted by umbú at 6:59 AM on August 14, 2008

surely there's someone in a town like Portland doing it

They're probably standing outside of the Hawthorne Fred Meyer and selling beads, too.
posted by cortex at 7:00 AM on August 14, 2008

Seriously, those lessons linked to above are what you're looking for.

I don't know if it's fair to say it's pretty easy (mexican, did you have a lot of vocal control to begin with?), but it's kind of like those 3-d magic eye posters, where you feel like you're never going to figure it out, and then poof, you make a breakthrough and it starts to come together.

Your teeth do vibrate to contribute to projecting the higher harmonics. Once I realized that I could focus on concentrating the sound through them, my sound became a little clearer. I could see dentures either hampering a little bit, or helping, depending on their material. Hell, it might end up being an advantage.

A huge part of finding the sweet spots is tongue position, and it has helped me to jut my chin out a little. Something that Brian Grover focuses on is constricting the ring right by the larynx while keeping the parts of the throat above and below relaxed--I had never separated these areas out in my mind before. It makes more sense when you hear what the relaxed but constricted way sounds like, as opposed to full-on constriction.

But again, and I've pretty much fallen back into this for now, you can do overtone singing without doing full-on Tuvan throat singing. Check out this turtleneck-sweatered chap singing amazing grace.
posted by umbú at 7:13 AM on August 14, 2008

Next month's Mefi Music Challenge?
posted by umbú at 7:14 AM on August 14, 2008

Here's a version of Love Will Tear Us Apart.
posted by umbú at 7:17 AM on August 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

A huge part of finding the sweet spots is tongue position...

posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:52 AM on August 14, 2008

I learned it while at music school in New York. We had a lecturer come talk to us about Tuva and throat singing and that's where I heard the "ear" trick. The right mouth shape for the upper harmonics is in between the "eee" and "rrrr" in the English pronunciation of "ear", so that's where I'd suggest starting. And it's true that hoomei is popular with musicians in Japan. While most guys I know can't do it, they all know what it is.

For me, making the harmonics feels pretty separate from singing, so I don't think vocal control is all that important. You use the shape of your throat and mouth to make the harmonics more than you voice, so I don't think being a good singer helps with the mechanics. Once you've got the mechanics down, good singers probably sound better and can do more interesting things.

And I should probably clarify the part about it being easy: it's easy to do mechanically, hard to do musically.
posted by mexican at 8:11 AM on August 14, 2008

and, once you've got the technique, be sure to end every sound with "aaahyoi" back at the fundamental. Very important.
posted by mexican at 8:15 AM on August 14, 2008

They're probably standing outside of the Hawthorne Fred Meyer

I did that a good chunk of last summer, across from the Baghdad, playing banjo.

I wasn't a bum, I dressed in a suit like a gentleman. I was a busker.

Can or worms, opened.
posted by mediocre at 8:17 AM on August 14, 2008

Q: What do you call a banjo player in a suit?
A: The defendant.

Signed, A Disgruntled Mandolin Player :)
posted by Jofus at 9:01 AM on August 14, 2008

Mediocre, I think I may have seen you in front of the Baghdad. Have you been playing out in Portland this year? Ever since I heard Punch 'Em in the Dick, I've been staring a little extra suspiciously (nervously?) at any banjo buskers I see, watching for punch-like actions.
posted by Secretariat at 10:28 PM on August 16, 2008

This year? I don't think so, maybe in early spring or something.. I can't quite remember. Last summer was my real time out, I was the definition of a horrible leftist hippie government leech. I was on unemployment, food stamps, and busked for extra money. Funnest 6 month summer in recent memory. But that's the job market in Portland..
posted by mediocre at 9:10 AM on August 17, 2008

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