How to Sing Two Notes At Once (aka Polyphonic Overtone Singing): Lessons from Singer Anna-Maria Hefele

Last year we drew your attention to the video above from Munich-based singer Anna-Maria Hefele in which she gives us a stunning demonstration of polyphonic overtone singing. It’s a technique common to Tuva, Inuit, and Xhosa cultures but largely unfamiliar to us in Western music.

Many readers pointed out that Hefele’s fine example of her technique did not in fact show us how to do it, only that it could be done in a variety of different, all equally impressive, ways. Well, today, we bring you a series of lessons Hefele has posted as a response to her first video’s popularity. In each of these videos, she offers detailed instructions on how to harness the power of your voice to sing two notes at once.

Before beginning Hefele’s course, you may wish to get a more theoretical overview of how polyphonic singing works. For that purpose, the video above gives us a visual representation of the overtones in Hefele’s voice. As she demonstrates via spectrogram, her normal singing voice contains several tones at once already, which we typically hear as only one note. Similarly, ethnomusicologist and student of throat singing Mark van Tongeren explains at Smithsonian Folkways, “everyone continuously when you’re speaking [or singing] produces a whole spectrum of sound.” The throat singing method involves altering the voice to enhance overtones. Hefele uses some slightly different techniques to “filter,” as she puts it, specific tones in her voice.

The first introduction to the overtone filtering technique comes to us in Lesson 1 above. Hefele demonstrates how to move from tone to tone by gradually transitioning to different vowel sounds. She also teases the second and third lessons, below, which show how to amplify specific tones once you have isolated them. Hefele is a personable and engaging instructor—she would, I imagine, make an excellent language teacher as well—and her cheeky presentation takes us into the shower with her in Lesson 2, the best place, unsurprisingly, to practice your polyphonic overtone singing.

You can continue learning how to filter, amplify, and modulate your voice to produce polyphonic overtones in lessons 3 through 6 below. And to hear how Hefele uses her vocal techniques in beautifully haunting, almost otherworldly music, make sure to watch this solo performance from 2012 or hear this Hildegard von Bingen choral composition adapted to Hefele’s polyphonic solo voice.

Lesson 3

Lesson 4

Lesson 5

Lesson 6

Lesson 7

H/T Natalie in the UK

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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