“Silent Night, Holy Night”, the world’s most famous Christmas song, was sung for the first time on 24.12.1818, exactly 200 years ago. On Christmas Eve 1818 the Arnsdorf village school teacher and organist Franz Xaver Gruber (1787-1863) and the auxiliary priest Joseph Mohr (1792-1848) performed the Christmas carol for the first time in the Schifferkirche St. Nikola in Oberndorf near Salzburg, Austria. (Wikipedia)

For this version for overtone singing, the brilliant pianist Michael Reimann has improvised a piano movement on the electric piano. The notes for overtone singing are suitable for beginners. At one point, however, a small psychoacoustic trick is used, because one of the melody notes is not actually included in the overtone series. Who can find it?

Michael Reimann: https://www.michaelreimann.de/
Video: Ljubljana Christmas Market filmed from the castle.

Incredible Medicine: Dr Weston's Casebook | Trailer – BBC Two


At the moment (until 4.3.2018 was announced, but so far it still works) you download the German version of the BBC documentation in HD from the ZDF-Mediathek with Mediathekview (Wunder der Anatomie – Krankenakte X – Grenzfälle der Wissenschaft). The link only works in Germany.


Surgeon Gabriel Weston has spent many years studying the functioning of the human body. In the new series “Incredible Medicine: Dr Weston’s Casebook” she introduces people from all over the world with the most unusual bodies and abilities.

Also the unique body control required for overtone singing is illuminated (from 11:11 min.). In November 2016, a film team from the BBC Science Production, Emma Hatherley (production, direction) and Alexis Smith, shot this part of the series at the Institute for Musician Medicine at the University Hospital of Freiburg with Prof. Bernhard Richter and myself, Wolfgang Saus.

Impressive live images from the magnetic resonance tomograph show the complex motions in the mouth and throat, which take place during overtone singing. Interviews explain the scientific background of the phenomenon.

BBC Seite der Serie

“Ode to Joy”, overtone singing by Wolfgang Saus inside an MRI.

This spectacular dynamic MRI video shows how the tongue moves during overtone singing. The melody of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” is created by double resonances which are shaped by the tongue in the mouth and throat. Overtone singing is based on the combination of the second and third resonance frequencies of the vocal tract on a single frequency to increase the volume of a single overtone from the vocal sound.

The second resonance frequency is controlled by the base of the tongue along with the epiglottis. The third resonance frequency is regulated by the space under the tongue, which is larger than it appears in the video, because it also spreads to the side of the tongue frenulum, which covers the space in the image. Overtone singing requires constant fine tuning of the two resonance chambers.

It is not easy to sing in the very loud magnetic resonance tomograph and even record the sound. The noise level is so high that I had to wear hearing protection and couldn’t hear my own overtones. I had to sing by feeling. That the right melody came out is spectacular in itself. It shows that it is possible to develop a body feeling for the exact pitch of the resonances that also works without acoustic control through the ear.

The team in Freiburg has developed highly specialized equipment for recording and filtering. Of course the sound is not HiFi.

MRT footage with kind permission and a big thank you to:
University Hospital Freiburg
Clinic for Radiology – Medical Physics & Institute for Music Medicine
https://fim.mh-freiburg.de/
Prof. Dr. Bernhard Richter
Prof. Dr. Dr. Jürgen Hennig
Prof. Dr. Matthias Echternach
(c) 2015

Here is my overtone variation about the canon of Johann Pachelbel, in which I sing bass and soprano at the same time. It is an exercise for polyphonic overtone singing, which I once wrote for my students in the mid 1990s.

I have developed a series of preparatory exercises for my Masterclass students to build up the polyphonic singing skills step by step. It takes a whole weekend and a few weeks of practice. But if you want to try it out with the canon right away: Download the sheet music for free here.

It is a multitasking exercise that requires concentration. I sing two melodies contrapuntally. I lead the bass melody (ostinato) with my left hand and sing it first without overtone technique. Then I start the melody in the overtones and follow it with my right hand.

The left hand is linked to the right brain, where the perception of overtones is located. But it follows the basic melody, which is processed in the left brain. The right hand is controlled by the left hemisphere, but follows the overtones that are processed on the right side (see “How overtones work in the brain” and “Test: Are you an overtone or a fundamental listener?“).

In my experience, this crossover of hand control and auditory perception has an accelerating effect on learning and intonation gets better. If you occasionally swap hands, i. e. overtones on the left and fundamental tones on the right, this intensifies the training effect. But generally I recommend to practice the first version.

At the beginning you always have the problem that either the overtones don’t sound good or the keynote is completely out of tune. This is probably due to the fact that the brain can initially concentrate either on the clarity of the overtones or on the intonation of the fundamental tones. This multitasking is very similar to playing the piano, where the left hand plays the bass and the right hand the high part.

Try out which hand follows the overtones more easily and leave it in the comments. And whether you’re right or left-handed. I’d like to know if left-handed people are different.

Wie immer könnt Ihr die Noten als Print- und editierbare MuseScore-Version kostenlos herunterladen:

Zurzeit (März 2014) unterrichte ich in Schweden und genieße den nordischen Frühling. Zum Anlass zweier Konzerte am kommenden Wochenende in Lund und in Kopenhagen habe ich einen Satz des schönen schwedischen Volksliedes “Ack, Värmeland, du sköna” für Obertongesang geschrieben, der dort zur Uraufführung kommt. Zusammen mit Anna-Maria Hefele singen wir eine Version für zwei Stimmen und Nyckelharpa.

Try entering “overtone singing” in other languages into a search engine. I have compiled over 50 translations. You will find videos and other treasures you would never have been able to find otherwise.

New creative developments of overtone singing are often not easy to find if you only search with the usual terms: Throat singing, overtone singing, khoomii, etc. According to Google, “throat singing” is the most searched term in this context, but treasures from France or Russia may be lost.

Do you know another translation? Then please put it in the comment below.

Bashkir 18px-Flag_of_Bashkortostan ba:
Өзләү, Özläü, Uzlyau

Basque Flag_of_the_Basque_Country18.svg eu:
Kantu armoniko

Chakassic 18px-Flag_of_Khakassia tut:
Khai

Chinese flags-republic_of_china zh:
卡基拉

Danish flags-denmark da:
Strubesang, Overtonesang

Dutch flags-netherlands nl:
Boventoonzang

German flags-germany  flags-switzerlandflags-austria - Kopie de:
Obertongesang, Obertonsingen, Kehlgesang, Kehlkopfgesang

English flags-united_kingdom en:
Overtone singing, harmonic singing, harmonic chant, throat singing, diphonic singing, Tuvan singing

Estonian et:
Kõrilaul

Finnish flags-finland fi:
Kurkkulaulu, yläsävellaulua

French flags-france fr:
Chant diphonique, Chant de gorge, Chant harmonique, Diphonie

Hebrew (Ivrit) flags-israel he:
שירת צלילים עיליים

Italian flags-italy it:
Canto armonico, Canto difonico, Diplofonie, Triplofonie

Japanese flags-japan ja:
喉歌

Lithuanian flags-lithuania lt:
Virštoninis dainavimas, Harmoninis dainavimas, Virštoninis giedojimas

Low saxon (Netherlands) flags-netherlands nds-nl:
Strötsingen

Luxembourgish flags-luxembourg lb:
Baovetoeënzaank, Kaelzaank

Mongolian flags-mongolia mn:
Хөөмэй, Transkriptionen: (ISO9) Höömej, (Duden) Chöömei, Chöömej, (Engl.) khöömei, khöömey, (auch verbreitet) khoomej, khöömej

Norwegian flags-norway nn:
Strupesong, Strubesang, Overtonesang, Overtonesong

Polish flags-poland pl:
Śpiew alikwotowy

Portuguese flags-portugal pt:
Canto difônico, Canto dos harmónicos

Russian flags-russia ru:
Горловое пение

Swedish flags-sweden sv:
Strupsång, Övertonssång

Serbian flags-serbia sr:
Аликвотно певање

Serbo-Croatian flags-serbia sh:
Alikvotno pjevanje

Slovenian flags-slovenia sl:
Alikvotno petje

Spanish flags-spain es:
Canto difónico, Canto de armónicos, Canto de la garganta

Tatar 18px-Flag_of_Tatarstan tt:
Бугаз җырлавы

Czech flags-czech_republic cs:
Alikvotní zpěv, Hrdelní zpěv, Harmonický zpěv

Tuwinian 18px-Flag_of_Tuva tyv:
Хөөмей

Ukrainian flags-ukraine uk:
Горловий спів

Vietnamese vi:
Hát Đồng Song Thanh (“singing with two simultaneous sounds”. Thanks to Tran Quang Hai)

Xhosa flags-south_africa xh:
Umngqokolo

http://www.wikidata.org/wiki/Q691771?uselang=de
http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kyrillisches_Alphabet#Mongolisch

Picture credits: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b1/WorldMap-B_non-Frame.png
By www.demis.nl [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons