Sounding the Source
with Harmonic Singing
by Heather Frahn
Overtone harmonic singing is a voice technique where one person sings two notes at the same time. So where did it come from? Pythagorus discovered harmonic overtones with the monochord about 2600 years ago. This is said to be the first recognition of this in the western world, however the cultural and spiritual musical art form developed in Mongolia, 14,000 years ago. Still today in Mongolia this vocal art is widely practiced, mainly as entertainment and expression. As people in Mongolia migrated, overtone singing practices went to Tuva, Tibet, Siberia, Central Asia, South Africa, and Canada.
There were dozens of harmonic singing styles throughout the cultures of the world, with some traditional names and forms include Khoomei, Sygyt, Kargyraa, and Rekkukara. Interestingly harmonic singing styles were used for hunting and fishing, long distance communication, and calming and calling flocks of animals by shepherds. Perhaps the most common reference of it to westerners is hearing Tibetan Buddhist monks as they chant and pray in their spiritual practices. Sadly today only a few throat singing cultures still survive. The art of throat singing is endangered and needs to be conserved.
The spiritual practice of harmonic overtone singing can be understood metaphorically. The high pitched harmonic sounds represent the ‘spiritual realm’ or ‘divine feminine, and the fundamental lower tone represent the ‘earthly realm’ or ‘divine masculine. The two separate sounds of “Mother Earth”, and “Father Sky” actually come from the same Divine Source. In terms of harmonic singing, these two elements need each other to exist. You can’t have a fundamental tone without the sum of its harmonic parts, and vice versa. When we consider it from this perspective, it is indeed a spiritual practice, and perhaps finds meaning for those who consider humans to be spiritual beings on an earthly journey, and that the tantric voice can bring oneness with Spirit.
What I find interesting about listening to harmonics being sung, is a reference to the third eye. The third eye is a mystical and esoteric concept referring to a speculative invisible eye which provides perception beyond ordinary sight. Most of us have heard of this, but have you heard of the “third ear”? Some years ago a harmonic singing teacher said to me “one of the first steps in learning how to sing harmonics, is learning how to open your third ear”. I was intrigued, and have come to know the third ear as being similar to the third eye; as a speculative invisible ear which provides perception beyond ordinary sound. When we listen to music, we usually hear the most obvious sounds that are there, like the melody in a song for example. But underlying and overlaying these obvious sounds, are harmonic undertones and overtones, however we don’t usually consciously hear them. It is through the hearing of these harmonics with our ‘third ear’ that allows the practice of harmonic singing to be developed, and fully appreciated as an effective spiritual and meditation practice, an energy medicine, and healing tool.
Heather Frahn is an Australian Certified Sound Therapy Practitioner, Award Winning Vocalist, Songwriter, and Musician part of the Conscious Music Movement, and Meditation Guide specialising in Sound as an instrument for Mindfulness and Insight. www.heatherfrahn.com