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. 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.

H/T Natal­ie in the UK

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Stephen Sond­heim Teach a Kid How to Sing “Send In the Clowns”

Bri­an Eno Lists the Ben­e­fits of Singing: A Long Life, Increased Intel­li­gence, and a Sound Civ­i­liza­tion

Dutch­man Mas­ters the Art of Singing Led Zeppelin’s “Stair­way to Heav­en” Back­wards

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

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