Listen to the cowboy throat singer

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2019/06/20/listen-to-the-cowboy-throat-si.html

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giphy

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All thanks be to youtube! (And Pesco)

I heard this many years ago on a CD compilation of cowboy singers, even played it on college radio, but it wasn’t my CD and it’s been almost twenty years now. But I never forgot how cool and odd it is!

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So am I the only one who hears like a tone or a whistle with the throat singing?

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His control with the overtone is great. I studied (very briefly) with David Hykes and learned how to do this but damn it’s hard to control. This is amazing. Also - cowboys.

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Since you seem familiar with this - did you see my comment? Does overtone make a whistle like tone?

Yes. That whistle is a feature of this kind of singing. If you listen to Gyuto Monks, for example, singing Om, you will hear the same whistle created by many throats. Here’s a youtube video of a woman who is a master of this, and she explains it well.

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yeah - what @bluecat said

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She explains everything except how it’s done!

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Given her hand movements I say she’s playing an invisible theremin at the same time as singing. It’s the only rational explanation! :wink:

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The first rule of Polyphonic Overtone Singing club is…

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How it’s done… I know how to do it, and vaguely how to teach it.

The first thing to know is what you’re (unconsciously) doing in standard singing. Put your fingers of one hand along the front of your throat, sing a scale, and (more easily if you’re a boy) feel the position of your Adam’s apple match the tone: up top for high notes, down bottom for low notes.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Try singing a constant tone, but yawn in the middle, and your Adam’s apple will drop even though the actual note doesn’t change. (Certainly the sound changes, but not the note.)

In fact you can fill out the entire square of possibilities, high/low note, raised/lowered Adam’s apple: independent variables.

Unfortunately what you need to manage, to promote overtones, is not the comfortable yawning variation; rather, you need to get your Adam’s apple up top, even though your note isn’t correspondingly high. When do you shove it all the way up in ordinary life? While vomiting.

So I’m afraid what you need to practice is singing a constant tone, in the middle of which, you try to gag. Feel your throat; if it goes up to the top you’re getting somewhere. It’ll sound incredibly nasal and horrible!

All I can promise you is that, once you can push it up top (without actually vomiting), if you push your lips way forward, you’ll hit overtones pretty effortlessly. (Controlling them, to get the note you want, will take plenty more practice.) Actually I can do it now with my mouth closed.

I have a little more bad news. While you’re learning what muscles you actually need to activate to get your Adam’s apple up top, you’ll be clenching plenty of other unnecessary ones. It took me a month (of practicing while I was walking from point A to point B) before it stopped giving me headaches.

I learned from this guy (at a one-hour workshop at a juggling convention) who was also masterful at undertones, which are a completely different thing. Endoscopic video thereof (not for the squeamish; it’s pretty ■■■■■).

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Nope. I heard it too.

I taught myself throat singing. Lost my voice for a week, but it was worth it. Did it for years, but for some reason I’ve lost the ability since I stopped practicing. Now all that happens when I try is that I make myself cough. A warning.

The whistle parts is real. You can tune it a bit so it comes forward. I can actually still do the high tone version of throat singing which really makes the whistle audible, but I never found it as cool as the kargyraa style.

You basically make a big white noise source in the back of your throat and use your mouth, usually tongue against the roof of your mouth, to tune in various frequencies. I always thought of the base tone I made as imitating a chainsaw.

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Just FTR, an experienced choir and solo singer once told me that you can damage your vocal cords trying to achieve this. They, as most parts of the body, need constant and measured training. This would include warm-up singing.

I’m not a singer myself, and can manage some overtone singing, but ever since I’m a little more careful.

Well, I can attest to the damage part. I don’t believe there was any lasting harm.

I agree with the warm-up part too. I’d usually do a quiet version of the base tone with my mouth closed for a while first. I also liked to drink coffee with cream before a performance.

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I was explained you wouldn’t notice under “normal” circumstances, but if you would be singing (also non-throat, mind), the different consistency of scar tissue could lead to further damages, and might in severe cases cause serious trouble.

Professional singers are a very specific case, and they would know about this anyways. However, the person who told me all this (including some advice to watch laryngoscopy videos, which I cannot recommend, but maybe I’m squeamish) knew friends who had several operations on their vocal cords. They were talking about scar tissue knots making it difficult to meet, and hold, certain notes, and how resonance frequency of the whole vocal cord apparatus could change.

Mind, they also told me about smoking, alcohol, and several foods which had interesting effects on your vocal cords, and people would use these effects to “tune” their voice, but damage it through it also.
This didn’t stick as much as the overtone warning, though - can barely remember what effect they mentioned. Overtone damage, however - I had experienced nearly losing my voice once through it, and the feeling was awfull enough to make me remember that warning…

Technically, what he is doing is overtone singing, not throat singing.

More cowboy throat singing:

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To be absolutely clear: is it overtone singing you were warned against / nearly lost your voice to, and not undertone / throat-singing? I ask because (a) I’ve been warned about undertone but never overtone and (b) one definitely does weird things with one’s vocal cords during undertone and AFAICT not during overtone production.