“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