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High Notes: The World’s Most Interesting Vocal Styles

The world is home to thousands of unique and intricate cultures, but there’s one thing that almost all cultures have in common: music.

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Throughout history, a plethora of vocal styles has developed on every continent. Some styles are used to communicate, while others may represent events from the past or significant cultural practices. Whatever the reason for their development and continued use today, these vocal styles are worth listening to. Let’s explore just three of these incredible genres.


Yodeling is a type of folk music, marked by quick and repeated changes from natural voice to falsetto. It is traditionally used in Central Africa, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, and Southeast Asia. This vocal style was first recorded in Africa 10,000 years ago. Ethnographers speculate about how yodeling traveled cross-continentally, but it’s entirely possible that the vocal style developed independently in each of these cultures.

In Africa, yodeling is used for everything from lullabies to warning cries. In Switzerland, the practice first developed as a way to communicate across mountain ranges and valleys, but now it has been incorporated into every type of music, from classical to rock.

As a young boy in Tokyo, Japan, Takeo Ischi taught himself to yodel by listening to the records of Franzl Lang. Today, he is a world-famous yodeler—you can hear his music here.

If you want to experience yodeling live, Switzerland’s National Yodeling Festival is the place to be. Join the fun and festivities as over 200,000 people congregate in Sempach, Switzerland, to celebrate yodeling.


Konnakol is the vocal recitation of solkattu, the rhythmic syllables associated with Carnatic music, which creates a percussive element similar to modern beatboxing. This vocal style originated in South India and is nearly 5,000 years old. It was first developed in Vedic times and then revitalized by the famous musician Mannargudi Pakkiria Pillai in the 1920s and 19’30s. Today, konnakol is a vibrant component of Indian music, and many artists feel that it has the versatility to be used in any genre of music.

B. K. Chandramouli—who sadly passed away in 2018—had been influential in the perpetuation of konnakol. He was an incredibly talented musician who incorporated Vedic practice into his performances, becoming one of the greatest konnakol performers in history. You can listen to his traditional demonstration here.

If you’d like to hear konnakol live, you can find it in almost any musical performance in Southern India, whether on the streets or in a concert hall.


Tuvan throat singing, or khöömei, meaning “pharynx,” is a style of singing traditionally practiced in Tuva and Mongolia. This vocal style uses an overtone so that a single performer can sing multiple notes at once. Typically, a low droning note is hummed while different overtones are emphasized with unique mouth shapes and techniques to create a melody.

This style may have been developed as early as 220 BC. It was originally sung by herders and nomads, who used it to connect with nature. The three main styles of Tuvan throat singing— khöömei, kargyraa, and sygyt—reflect the sounds of wind, water, and mountains.

Many modern Mongolian and Tuvan artists have embraced the practice of throat singing. If you’d like to hear it for yourself, click here to listen to The Hu, a popular Mongolian music group that combines the instrumentation of heavy metal rock with traditional vocal styles.

You may also want to experience the work of Tyva Kyzy, which means “the Daughters of Tuva,” the first and only all-female khoomei group.