"The One Voice Chord

Tibetan and Mongolian chanting


"One night in 1433 AD, the Tibetan lama Je Tzong Sherab Senge, awoke from a startling dream. He had head a voice in the dream unlike any voice he knew. It was a low voice, unbelievably deep, sounding more like the growl of a wild bull than anything human. Combined with the first voice, there was a second. This voice was high and pure, like the sound of a child singing. These two voices, so totally different, had come from the same source and that source was himself.

In this dream,  Je Tzong Sherab Senge had been instructed to take this special voice and use it for a new chanting style that would embody both the masculine and the feminine aspects of the divine energy. It was a tantric voice, a sound that could unite those chanting it in a web of universal consciousness.

The next morning, Je Tzong Sherab Senge began to chant his daily prayers. The sound that came out of him were the sounds he had heard in his dream – unearthly sounds, tantric sounds – and he gathered his fellow monks together to tell them of his dream."  (Jonathan Goldman, Healing sound)

That year, 1433 AD, more that 500 years ago, the Gyume Tantric Monastery began in Lhasa, Tibet. The monks of this monastery learned to chant in the same voice which Je Tzong Sherab Senge have heard in his dream. It was a voice that enable each monk to chant three notes at the same time, creating the ”One Voice Chord”. Within that same century, another monastery in Lhasa, the Gyuto Tantric college, was founded.  

What is throat singing

In the western world Throat singing is also called overtone singing, harmonic singing, or harmonic chant. The most known Throat singing is the Tibetan and Mongolian chanting but also many other regions in the World are practicing a similar type of singing, that manipulates the harmonics resonance's created as air travels through the human vocal folds and out the lips.

The harmonic frequencies created by the human vocal apparatus are harnessed in throat singing to select overtones by tuning the resonance in the mouth. The result of tuning allows the singer to create more than one pitch at the same time, with the capability of creating six pitches at once. Generally the sounds created by throat singing are low droning hums and high pitched flutelike melodies. 

Different practice of chanting in the West

Michaael Mosley has mailed me following comment:

"The story of the monk having a dream and singing is a nice story, and may actually have happened, but the Tibetans encountered khoomei {throat singing} much earlier. Their spread of Tibetan buddhism led them into Mongolia and Siberia where khoomei was already an old practice of nomadic herdsmen. From time out of mind shepherds and cowboys have sung to their herds to keep them calm at night - to let them know they protectd and can sleep deeply without worrying about predators. The combination of needing harmony for the song and the attempt to mimic natural sounds as sacred to the animistic religion of the area, led to discovering the ability to sing harmony with one's own voice. 
I myself did this as a child, so it's not that improbable. I did not, however, realize any real importance in such a thing until I re-learned it as an adult through time spent with Jonathan Goldman and Jill Purce, who was Jonathan's teacher. There are many people in the west who can do polyphonic chant, not just Jonathan. It is a rather simple process, more hearing and practice than technique. The technique is a two minute lesson."

Since I wrote about the Tibetan "One voice chord" and Mongolian chanting, Hoomi singing, I have received several mails from Westerner practicing singers, who teach and perform throat singing, and they all tell me, that the technique actually is easy and do not require deep studies of Buddhism still less spiritual enlightment, in order to perform the deep chordal chanting. 
They point out that Western musicologists and scholars in their research of Tibetan chanting are infatuated by a well meaning but often incorrect fascination of the mysticism of the chanting monks.

Concerning the widespread propensity to mysticism among Western scholars of Tibetan chanting I will quote a mail from a well known practician, Steve Sklar, who is a longtime student, performer and teacher of Tuvan Throat-Singing and Tibetan voice. He has a much more down to earth approach. He has even made on-line lessons in Throat Singing. Steve Sklar wrote:

"Since our earlier correspondence, I've tried to further investigate this issue of the monks' voice. I have indeed received some criticism for saying that there is indeed a technical basis for their peculiar chant voice. My point is that the voice can be understood and that there is no need to perpetuate myths about it. The Tibetan voice is a powerful and beautiful thing, valid in its own right, and not in need of romanticizing.
The actual technique simply involves the use of the ventricular folds in addition to the vocal folds, and often a lowering of the
larynx/trachea, enhancing the deep sound by lengthening the air column of the vocal system.
Conversations with Tibetan monks and ex-monks still point to learning by exposure to and imitation of the elder monks. Some can produce the sounds as young boys, prior to joining the monasteries. Some, including some very highly regarded monks, cannot chant in the low chordal voice.
The Tibetans DO sometimes mention a reincarnational propensity towards various practices, such as memorizing texts or being good at chanting. Some have mentioned a belief that I may have been a monk in a prior life, hence my skill at producing the tones and teaching."

This "clash" of cultures, the ancient, esoteric tradition against the Western democratic, practical way of life, is indeed refreshing and hopeful. (This remind me of a similar story: The outstanding Chinese martial arts fighter, Bruce Lee, developed from the secret tradition a new style in USA available for anyone, not only for the initiated Chinese.) 
Unfortunately, I am not able to perform polyphonic chanting myself, so I am limited to second hand information, which I in the following have clean out for most of the wail of mysticism. 
However, I am aware of the law of being: a lower being can not recognize a higher being. Hence, their might be a world of difference in level of being and conscousness, concealed in the different traditions. 
One thing is the actual technique of producing the chordal voice, which many has shown is relatively simple. There might be other more subtle shades in the voice, which only can be produced by beings of a certain level. It is my belief, that the sound one emits is a reflection of ones being. This does also applies to the states where something bigger than oneself is taking place and one experience oneself as a channel or a vessel for something more sublime and mighty. The ability to be a channel is also a reflection of a clean being.
This is not meant as sitting in judgment over monks versus secular singers. The benefit from the chanting can be of great value for anybody, who want to work on themselves and explore the power of sound. In The Power of Harmonics I have tried to elaborate on that subject.

The Tibetan One voice chord

Religion is sound. This is how the high priests of Tibetan Buddhism describe the importance of music in their worship.
The goal of Buddhism is to reach enlightenment by practicing the path to liberation. To this end, the life of a Gyuto monk involves practicing compassion for all people with the studying and memorization of sacred texts at the core of this practice. This memorization is carried out by constant oral repetition to the tune to which it is later chanted. One important reason for the vocal recitation is the fact that Tibetans believe that gods and spirits live in trees, houses, rocks, etc. By speaking aloud, these entities can hear and benefit from the Buddha’s teachings. Once these texts have been committed to memory, chanting is continued as a form of worship. It reminds one of the Dharma, the truth or right path, as well as making positive karma. 

In 1950 Communist China invaded Tibet and began a brutal colonization with the aim to destroy the powerful and deep rooted religious life. Dalai Lama and several of his monks escaped to India, where they continued their tantrum rituals. In addition they began to communicate to the free Western world with the aim to find a way for a return of Dalai Lama and a possibility to practice their religion in their homeland.  

The Tibetan chanting was first experienced by Western listeners in 1967, but since then, the monks have traveled around the world, performing in such prestigious places as Carnegie Hall and The Sydney Opera House. A number of CD's with Tibetan chanting has since been released. On the Web there are many sound samples of Throat singing.

Tibetan multiphonic chanting has its own characteristic sound. Gyuto monks are able to chant in three octaves simultaneously. The sound has been compared to the Australian digeridoo or resonance of a drum.  The chants are usually metrical, in both symmetrical and anti-symmetrical measures, and the chant is produced by a close-throated, constricted style, deep in pitch. The chants can be monotone or a pattern of three to seven notes and glottal slides are sometimes added.

Another interesting feature of Tibetan chant is the insertion of meaningless syllables between the main syllables. This was done to prevent uninitiated outsiders from hearing the sacred texts. This practice is not unique to Tibet however, it was also done in sacred Hebrew and Byzantine texts. Other words are mumbled or omitted because they are part of secret mantras that novices must work they way up to.

Single monks can perform chants as a form of devotion, or a choir of monks may chant as part of a liturgical ritual. Studies measuring the frequencies of the throat singing and the brain waves of the monks have shown synchronicity in the brain, causing it to emit similar waves to those found in studies of silent meditation.

The Tibetan monks believe, that in the creation of the 'One Voice Chord', the monks do not 'make' the sound. Rather, they become a vehicle through which the sacred sound may manifest. This is a basic principle contained in the Tibetan Buddhist teachings of sacred sound. The chanting of the Gyuto and Gyume monks embodies this understanding of sound and their powerful multi-phonic chanting exemplifies the application of this principle. The harmonics which they create are a result of their becoming one with sacred sound.

  Tibetan chanting employs mantric formulas which make up their sacred texts. These are mantras which are fundamental to their spiritual practices. Each sacred scripture is an invocation to a specific deity or a collection of deities. The chanters visualize these deities while creating a Mandala, a circular cosmological painting which they inwardly visualize in archetypal symbols. These mandalas may involve over 150 deities and entities, all in specific placement. This combination of vocalization and visualization allows the monks to become the embodiment of the energies they are invoking.

Mongolian Hoomi singing

Comparisons are often made between the ’One Voice Chord’ of Tibetan chanting and the Hoomi or throat-singing style found in the Tuvic region of Mongolia. This is natura1 since these two traditions are foremost in their use of harmonics as an integral part of their sacred sounding. The ’Kargiraa’ style of Mongolian overtone chanting is characterized by an extremely low fundamental pitch sung with much resonance deep in the chest. Using vowel sounds, singers produce the low pitch and create harmonics two and a half to three and a half octaves above that note. 

Before Buddhism became the religion of Tibet, the religion of the country was an animistic shamanic practice known as 'Bon' (a Tibetan word meaning 'to chant'). Most likely the Buddhists has been inspired by the much older Mongolian shamans tradition. Little  information exists about the exact nature of the Bon chanting techniques, but there are indications that it was similar to chanting styles utilized by Mongolian shamans in which open vowels were used to create harmonics.

The Tibetan Buddhist path to self-realization involves the understanding of the Three Mysteries. These are the Mysteries of Body, Speech and Mind, whose experience has been condensed into the mantric formula OM-AH-HUM. Speech is the interconnector between the Mind and the Body. Speech is the understanding of sound as the creative force and incorporates the knowledge of using mantra as a sacred tool for summoning up the appearance of gods and the forces of the universe. Through the creation of several tones at the same time, the 'One Voice Chord' may be a further condensation of the Three Mysteries into an expression of Body, Speech and Mind as pure tone.


As earlier stated by Western practician such as Steve Sklar, "the actual technique simply involves the use of the ventricular folds in addition to the vocal folds, and often a lowering of the larynx/trachea, enhancing the deep sound by lengthening the air column of the vocal system."

However, to obtain the sound a "harmonic transmission" is needed. The student have to be in directly vibratory presence of an expert in order to transfer the power of sound. 
The way the Tibetan monks learned to create this voice was by being in the presence of other monks, who already had the voice. 
As Steve Sklar points out, it is not a condition of creating the sound, that one is a Buddhist or mastering deep meditation. Some have the ability, some have not in spite of being a life long Buddhist monk. 

I have, however, come across other statements from scholars, who claimes that "
only those who have reached a certain stage in this meditation can become open enough to be vessels of this sound." Do not take such type of statements too literally. Find someone who can perform the chord and try. 


'Mantra' is a Sanskrit word meaning 'the thought that liberates and protects'. Mantras are sounds or words which when recited have the ability of changing the consciousness of the reciter. In the Hindu tradition, there are literally thousands of mantras, each with a different purpose and intention. Some mantras are designed to unite the reciter with a particular deity or energy form. Other mantras are designed to empower the reciter with specific 'siddhas' or powers. Still other mantras are utilized to resonate and activate the chakras of  the reciter.


    Chakras are energy centres located along the centre of the body. Clairvoyants and others with the ability of seeing these subtle energy centres are able to view them as vortices of shifting colors, sounds and densities. Indeed, the meaning of chakra (a Sanskrit word) is 'wheel', and they are seen as spinning wheels of energy. Knowledge of chakras is by no means limited to Eastern traditions, though it is from the Hindu and Tibetan systems that the greatest information about chakras has come. Many esoteric and occult traditions talk of energy centres along the body and it seems that anyone with real sensitivity can sense. 


    Subtle energy is energy that seems to bypass the normal measurable aspects of energy such as heat which can easily be measured by a thermometer. Subtle energy may be electro-magnetic in nature or it may be something else. It is, for the most part, energy that cannot be easily seen, felt or perceived either by normal people or instrumentation. However, individuals with heightened sensitivity can perceive this energy and new scientific instrumentation is being invented which can now measure this energy.

    Nearly fifty years ago in Russia, Semyon and Valentina Kirlian were experimenting with photographic plates which were exposed to high-frequency electrical fields. They observed that when a subject placed a finger or hand on the plate, there appeared some unknown substance surrounding the physical organ. This substance often varied in brightness, depth and size, depending upon the health and vitality of the subject. The Kirlians speculated that they had found a way of measuring the 'aura' of the body, long claimed to be visible by psychics, seers and sages.

  Within the last decade, Dr. Hiroshi Motoyama, a Japanese scientist, has invented instrumentation for measuring aspects of the subtle body, including acupuncture points and chakras. Using highly sensitive photoelectric equipment, Dr. Motoyama measured advanced masters of yoga as they activated their chakras. He was able to detect light being emitted from the chakras of his subjects. With other instrumentation designed to measure minute changes in electric current, Motoyama was able to show changes in skin current at acupuncture points, As more and more instrumentation becomes available, other scientists are making rapid progress in the ability to measure subtle energy and the existence of the subtle energy centres known as chakras.

  The concept of subtle energy is nothing new. If we perceive that all is in a state of vibration, the varying degrees of this vibration would cause things to have different densities. Working with sound, and particularly harmonics, enhances the ability to affect many of these subtle energies. The chakras may be influenced by sound.


    Chakras seem to be the focal point of manifestation for energy which makes up the subtle body. From the chakras, the energy is thought to become more dense, first appearing as the points utilized in acupuncture and then, as they become even denser, this energy actually makes up the physical body. In most traditions, there are seven major chakras which are centrally located along the front of the body.

  The chakras are said to be related to the endocrine system, the 7 ductless glands of the physical body. The chakras also influence and affect the area of the physical body where they are located. Many physical imbalances may be perceived as being the result of imbalanced chakras. The following is a short summary of the chakras: 


7. The CROWN chakra or HEAD chakra is positioned at the top of the head. It is associated with cosmic awareness, highest spirituality, and complete integration with Source.
VIOLET is the color of the crown chakra and the musical note is B. - 123.47 Hz (the note B is also called H)
6. The THIRD EYE chakra is located in the center of the forehead. This chakra is also called the AJNA center. It is associated with intuition, understanding, visualization, and inner vision.
DARK INDIGO BLUE is the color of the third eye chakra and the musical note is A. - 110.00 Hz

5. The THROAT chakra is positioned in the base of throat. It is associated with communication, expression and speaking one's truth.
AZURE BLUE is the color of the throat chakra and the musical note is G. - 98.00

4. The HEART chakra is positioned in the center of the chest, usually shown to be even with the nipple line. The heart is associated with compassion, friendship, empathy and the ability to give and receive love.
GREEN is the color of the heart chakra and the musical note is F. - 87.31 Hz
Sometimes the heart chakra is shown as pink, especially in relation to sending love out from the heart.

3. The SOLAR PLEXUS chakra or THIRD chakra is located midway between the end of the breastbone and the navel. It is associated with issues of personal power, emotions (especially blocked emotions), passion for living, and the ability to protect oneself from being the target of negative or aggressive emotions.
YELLOW is the color of the solar plexus chakra and the musical note is E. - 82.41 Hz

2. The SACRAL chakra, also called the SECOND chakra or the SEXUAL chakra, is positioned in the area between the navel and the pubic bone. Depending on which sources you read, it can be shown to be centered on the navel itself or to be aligned with the sexual organs - ovaries in women and testes in men. It is associated with creativity, sexuality, relationship, and reproduction.
ORANGE. is the color of the sacral or second chakra and the musical note is D. - 73.42 Hz

1. The ROOT chakra, also called the FIRST or BASE chakra, is located at the base of the spine. It is associated with issues of survival, drive, ambition, grounding one's energy in the physical dimension, your life forces, and balancing experiences that create "fight or flight".
RED is the color of the root chakra and the musical note is C. - 65.41 Hz.
(by permission of Hugo Hein, engineer & inventor)

  Composed by Thomas Váczy Hightower, 2004.

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