Tuvan Throat Singing

The unique sounds and music of Tuvan throat singing emanates from the Tuva people of southern Siberia.  This exceptional art form relies on the singer manipulating overtones while singing to make higher frequencies more distinguishable, in essence making it possible for the singer to produce two notes at once.

While there are many different classifications and sub-classifications of throat singing, Tuvan throat singing is called Khöömei. From childhood, Tuvan singers are trained as apprentices to master throat singers to use the folds in their throat as reverberation chambers, and develop a form of circular breathing which allows them to create multiple notes that can be sustained over a long period of time.

Tuvan throat singing is a male-dominate practise, as it was believed that the singing would cause infertility and childbirth issues in women, as well as hurt her male relatives. However, this idea is slowly being abandoned, and young girls and women have started learning the Khöömei system of throat singing. Tuvan throat singing reflects the geographical and cultural aspects of Tuva life. Throat singers will imitate the sounds of their natural surroundings, including animals, mountains, streams, waterfalls and the wind. The open southern Siberan landscape allows for sounds to travel great distances, so Tuvan throat singers will often travel into the countryside to find the ideal river, or climb up a mountain to create the perfect pitch and acoustic environment for throat singing.

Tuvan Throat Singers

How to Sing like a Tuvan Throat Singer

Step One: Relax the muscles of your jaw and lips. Keep your mouth open with a one centimetre gap between your upper and lower teeth.

Step Two: Place the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth, as if  you are going to pronouncing the letter "L". Slide your tongue slightly away from the roots of your top teeth. Press the tip of your tongue firmly against the roof of your mouth.

Step Three:  The unique sound of Tuvan throat singing comes from a strong harmonic resonance in the mouth, which is achieved by establishing a resonant chamber, which is made with the roof of your mouth and your tongue. While keeping the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth, drop the main body of your tongue, with the sides of your tongue touching your side teeth, forming a seal. Make sure it is round and airtight so you can’t breathe through your mouth.

Step Four:  You now need to make a small vent hole by opening up a small portion of your tongue and the roof of your mouth (or your side-teeth). The air goes through this vent and passes through some of your grinding teeth. If you hold your nose, you should be able to breathe through this vent only. Make sure this vent hole is as small as possible. If you breathe, you will hear a sound like ‘hu’, like in ‘human’.

Step Five: To create a melody in throat singing, the volume has to be changed in the resonant chamber. To do this, move the central part of your tongue up and down without separating the side parts of your tongue from the roof of the mouth (or side-teeth), except of course for the vent hole you made in the previous step. Don't collapse the chamber completely: you just make it flatter or rounder. Try to change the volume as mentioned above while making the "hu" noise constantly. You should hear the pitch of the noise changing.

Step Six: While maintaining the shape of the mouth as described in the previous steps, try to vocalize the sound ‘oooo’ (the vowel in ‘cool’).  If it works, you should hear a flute-like sound, the basic throat singing sound. Try to change the shape of your lips very carefully to find different resonances and musical pitches, which can form the basis for your Tuvan throat singing melody!