Throat singing is a technique that causes your vocal cords to produce a unique sound. It is sometimes called overtone or harmonic singing and is popular in many Inuit and Asiatic cultures.
Learning how to throat sing is fairly simple, providing you follow a series of steps. The process should be enjoyable, so even if you don’t get it right away, stick at it and try to have fun when perfecting the technique.
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Warming up Your Voice
The first step you need to take before learning how to throat sing is warming up your voice. This is important before undertaking any style of singing, but especially so when throat singing.
This vocal technique involves using the throat muscles to manipulate your vocal cords, to produce the illusion that more than one pitches are being produced simultaneously.
It feels very different from conventional singing styles. Therefore, warming up is imperative if you want to avoid damaging your voice. It will also ensure that you give yourself the best possible chance to succeed at learning this new skill quickly.
I’m sure you already have a vocal warm-up practice, but if you don’t you can simply sing through some scales that are within your vocal range. Start by using the lip roll technique, then move onto “ah” sounds, “o” sounds, and “mmm” sounds.
Once your voice is warmed up, you’re ready to get started with the various steps that build the skill of throat singing. Prepare to create some weird and wonderful noises that you didn’t know you were capable of!
Step 1 – Relax Your Jaw
The initial step when throat singing is to completely relax your jaw and lip muscles. Open your mouth slightly, so that there is a centimeter of space between your lower teeth and your upper jaw.
An effective way to relax your jaw and lips is to sing along to a drone. A drone is a single-note that plays continuously. You can find plenty online, or create your own using an instrument and a delay pedal or looper.
Inhale a deep breath, and within that breath cycle sing along to the drone. Copy the note and hold it until you need to inhale. Repeat this for around 5 breath cycles, and your jaw should become very relaxed.
Make sure you choose a note and syllable that is comfortable for you to sing. You can choose either “la” or “oo” sounds, as these allow the jaw to remain slightly open without overly tensing the muscles.
Next, you need to make either an “L” or “R” sound using only the tip of your tongue. Your tongue should be positioned very close to the roof of your mouth, but you should aim to stop it from touching.
If your tongue does come into contact with the roof of your mouth occasionally, don’t worry. You should just be focusing on getting comfortable and familiar with having your tongue in this position.
Step 2 – Establishing the Base Note
Now that you’ve gotten comfortable with the correct tongue position and your jaw is sufficiently relaxed, it’s time to establish the “base” note. This foundational note will be different for every vocalist.
Simply sing a note that is comfortable in your vocal range, where there is no tension present in your vocal cords or throat musicales. Remember to keep your tongue in the correct position, ever so slightly away from the roof of your mouth.
The note that you choose will be used to create the overtones. Push the sound out from your chest, rather than lower in your stomach. It helps to make the sound “oo” in the deepest voice you can.
It’s also important at this stage to make sure you are taking sufficiently long breaths in between the note. Throat singing relies on long sustained notes, so your breathing must facilitate this.
Step 3 – Tongue Movement & Lip Shape
Next, you need to focus on tongue movement. Your base note will provide you with the foundational tone of throat singing, but it’s the motion of your tongue that creates the harmonic overtones.
Start by moving the main part of your tongue back and forth. Keep singing the base note, with the correct tongue position I previously described. It might help to swap between the sounds of “R” and “L” with your tongue.
Then comes the really important step. You need to gradually change the shape of your lips to create a variety of sounds. Move from the “R” and “L” shape to an “E” and “U”, without pausing. The sound should transition fluidly with no stops.
Perform this step slowly at first, and focus on the sound that you are producing. Notice how changing the shape of your mouth affects the tone of your voice, and play around with it for a while.
Step 4 – Putting It All into Practice
If you’ve managed to create something that resembles throat singing using the aforementioned steps, that means you have a natural ability for it. If you haven’t you can learn, as long as you stick with it for a little while.
Now it’s time to connect the dots and attempt your first throat singing performance. Carry out the steps one by one, and then combine the techniques. When you hear an overtone, hold that mouth shape and try to prolong the note.
Everyone’s ability is different when it comes to throat singing. It depends on the shape of your mouth and the construction of your vocal muscles. Keep practicing and you’ll get it right in a very short timeframe.
Throat singing is one of the most interesting and unique vocal styles in existence. If you’re reading this guide, you’ve probably been inspired by listening to someone perform using this technique.
Provided you stick at it, there’s no reason that you can’t master the technique of throat singing. The more you practice the skill, the easier it will become, and you’ll be amazed at the vocal potential you never knew you had!