From opera to throat singing, vocal traditions from around the world – some centuries old – are every bit as relevant as they were three hundred years ago. Some of the most ancient vocal traditions have made their way into modern music, bringing new understanding to a variety of regional and national histories of music. Here are five vocal traditions of music worldwide.
Traditional Japanese Singing
Traditional Japanese singing dates back thousands of years, and is enjoying a revival in western tradition. This kind of singing involves a great deal of nasal tone, warbling, and sustaining tones in the back of the throat in the area of the soft palate. Very often, a great deal of leaping and vibrato is involved, in which the singer changes tone quickly and effortlessly. Traditional Japanese singing can typically only be studied in Japan, although a few instructors in this technique live outside the country.
One of the most famous western traditions of singing, the operatic singing technique is usually rooted in the Italian bel canto style, involving beautiful tone, firm support, and, often, intensive vibrato depending on what is being sung. The operatic style is more than five hundred years old, and is applied not only to opera, but other classical forms and even vocalizing in modern genres of music, like metal and gothic industrial. The opera or bel canto style can be studied almost anywhere in the world, and in the west is taught as the standard singing technique for all vocal music students.
Throat singing is an incredibly complex form of vocalizing that takes place almost entirely in the throat and the back of the mouth. Experienced throat singers can also sustain two tones simultaneously using this technique, which baffles many who aren't familiar with this particular capability of the human voice. Believed to have originated in Mongolia, throat singing spread as a tradition through Asia and the Middle East.
Swedish and Norwegian in origin, kulning – or “herding song” - was used by reindeer and other cattle herders to call their herds home for the night. This ancient vocal tradition involves high, piercing tones and a great deal of ululation, and can often be heard in traditional Scandinavian folk music, especially twenty-first century creations. Kulning is being rediscovered in its home region as a method of vocal music.
Indian Classical Singing
Indian classical singing consists of two major traditions: Carnatic and Hindustani, with the latter being the more widely performed. This style of singing consists of exceptionally smooth and straight tone, and “scooping” or “sliding” from one tone to the next, creating a melodically consistent and swooping vocal line. Indian classical singing informs the modern Bollywood and pop styles of Indian music.
No matter where you are in the world, each of these singing traditions is fascinating in its own right –