OVERTONE SINGING: THE ESSENCE OF HARMONY
The origins of overtone
Overtone singing is an ancient technique that enables a singer to produce 2 or more sounds simultaneously with his or her voice. Although the origins of this technique are partly cloaked in mystery, recent investigations have unturned an enormous amount of information regarding the present uses of the technique and some information regarding its origins in different parts of the world.
Overtone singing as a technique and cultural or spiritual musical artform, developed in Mongolia, Southern Siberia and Central Asia, in Tibet, and in South Africa Many theories exist that overtone singing once had a ritual and spiritual use in Kabbalistic ceremonies, Masonic lodges, mystery schools and Sufi practices. Some theories go as far as to say that it was used as long ago as the civilizations of Atlantis, Ancient Egypt and Mayan Central America.
Overtones, known also as harmonics, were first discovered in the West by Pythagoras some 2 600 years ago. The famous Greek philosopher and mathematician was also a musician, and together with his students spent years studying sound and vibration. He found, after studying the monochord, a single stringed instrument, that all sounds were composed of multiple vibrations or frequencies, not just one, as our ears generally perceive.
In much the same way that white light is made up of a wide spectrum of colours, which become visible when the light is refracted through a prism, sound too can be refracted so that its constituent parts can be perceived. Just as the rainbow is made up of the colours that the human eye sees as white light, overtones (harmonics) are the colours of sound. These overtones, which usually go unnoticed, are vitally important for all human beings, and allow us to differentiate between one sound and another. It is the richness of the overtones in certain parts of the infinite spectrum of sound which help us to tell the difference between one musical instrument and another, even when they both play the same musical note.
It is the overtones of the human voice, however, that are the most interesting, magical and mystical to hear. The singer produces a single, powerful humming sound, and then, through a variety of techniques, converts his whole upper body into a vibrating resonance chamber. Using the cranium, nasal passages, pharynx, chest, abdomen, and diaphragm, as well as all the parts of the mouth: tongue, lips, palate, soft palate, glottis and epiglottis, cheeks and jaw, the singer begins to channel the sound differently to a singer in the more “normal” singing traditions.
The sound that follows must be heard to be believed, in fact, many people do not at first believe what they are hearing, as a clear, beautiful, flute-like sound appears above the voice of the singer. An accomplished overtone singer can sing up and down the Harmonic Scale (Overtone Scale), reaching up to 16 overtones or more and create beautiful melodies above their voice.
One of the most healing, meditational and spiritual aspects of overtone singing is the fundamental drone; the unchanging root note from which the overtones spring.
Overtone singing has been discovered to have many therapeutic applications. Perhaps the most obvious of these is the hypnotic, trance-like effect they have both on the listener and the performer. This effect, essentially a form of deep meditation, relieves stress, balances and clears the chakras (energy centres of the body), and creates a feeling of lightness and well-being. The sound of overtones helps to balance the two hemispheres of the brain, as it engages both the logical, reasoning left-brain, due to the mathematically precise proportions of the overtone scale, and the creative, intuitive right brain through the musical expression possible once one has become proficient in the technique.
The harmonic ratios found on the overtone scale are, found throughout Nature, and reflect the natural structure of all life on Earth. We human beings are no exception. When listening to or creating overtones, we begin to resonate in harmony with these primordial vibrations of which we are made, and which reflect our own atomic, molecular and cellular structure.
Overtone singing, when practised with intention, can serve as a very powerful tool for vibrational “repatterning”, in other words, a way of re-programming our physical, mental and emotional bodies with a more harmonious, natural, “in tune” pattern. The beauty of this miraculous technique is that it bypasses the intellectual mind and goes right through to one’s essential being without being first analysed.
Analysis is an ancient human defence mechanism that helps us to make decisions based on experience, for our survival. But what happens when our experience, and the information with which we have been programmed is based on much incorrect information? How do we tell what is good for us or not?