Overtone focusing in biphonic Tuvan throat singing

Christopher Bergevin, Chandan Narayan, Joy Williams, Natasha Mhatre, Jennifer Steeves, Joshua G.W. Bernstein, Brad Story

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Khoomei is a unique singing style originating from the Central Asian republic of Tuva. Singers produce two pitches simultaneously: A booming low-frequency rumble alongside a hovering high-pitched whistle-like tone. The biomechanics of this biphonation are not well-understood. Here, we use sound analysis, dynamic magnetic resonance imaging, and vocal tract modeling to demonstrate how biphonation is achieved by modulating vocal tract morphology. Tuvan singers show remarkable control in shaping their vocal tract to narrowly focus the harmonics (or overtones) emanating from their vocal cords. The biphonic sound is a combination of the fundamental pitch and a focused filter state, which is at the higher pitch (1-2 kHz) and formed by merging two formants, thereby greatly enhancing sound-production in a very narrow frequency range. Most importantly, we demonstrate that this biphonation is a phenomenon arising from linear filtering rather than a nonlinear source.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere50476
StatePublished - Feb 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)


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