Multiphonics is an extended technique in instrumental music in which a monophonic instrument (one which generally produces only one note at a time) is made to produce several notes at once.

Multiphonics in wind music are primarily a 20th century technique, first explicitly called for in the Sequenza for solo flute by Luciano Berio and Proporzioni for solo flute by Franco Evangelisti, though the brass technique of singing while playing has been known since the 18th century and used by composers such as Carl Maria von Weber. Commonly, no more than four notes will be produced at once, though for some chords on some instruments it is possible to get several more.



Woodwind instruments

On woodwind instruments - for example saxophone, clarinet, oboe and flute - multiphonics can be produced either with new fingerings, by using different embouchures, or voicing the throat with conventional fingerings. There have been numerous fingering guides published for the woodwind player to achieve harmonics. Multiphonics on reed instruments can also be produced in the manners described below for brass instruments.

It is said to be impossible to recreate exactly the conditions between one player and the next, due to minute differences in instruments, reeds, embouchure, and other things. This, however, is not entirely true; the multiphonic will depend on the room temperature and other such things, but essentially multiphonics sound the same due to the harmonic structure of the multiphonic. A multiphonic fingering that works for one player may not work for that same player on a different instrument, or a different player on the same instrument, or even after switching reeds. This often results from slightly different construction of two instruments from different makers. The tone quality of brass multiphonics is influenced strongly by the voice of the player.

Brass instruments

In brass instruments, the most common method of producing multiphonics is by simultaneously playing the instrument and singing into it. When the sung note has a different frequency than the played note (preferably within the harmonic series of the played note), several new notes that are the sums/differences of the frequencies of the sung note and the played note are produced; leading to the popular term trumpet/trombone/horn growl. This technique is also called "horn chords". The tone sung doesn't neccesarely have to be in the played tone's harmonic series, but the effect is more audible if it is. (Singing while playing is also possible for flute and recorder, though not as common.) Another method is referred to as "lip multiphonics", in which a brass player alters the airflow to blow between partials, in the harmonic series of the slide position/valve. The outcome is just as stable as any multiphonic and perfectly structured. When the frequencies add together or subtract from each other (essentially merge), the fundamental is recreated. For example; A 440 and A 220, this would combine to make 660. Creating a new fundamental of the second lowest B of the piano.

A third method, known as 'split tones' or double buzz, produces multiphonics when a player makes his/her lips vibrate at different speeds against each other. The most common result is a perfect interval, but the range of intervals produced can vary broadly.

String instruments

String instruments can also produce multiphonic tones when strings are bowed between the harmonic nodes. This works best on larger instruments like double bass and cello. [1] Other multiphonic extended techniques used are prepared piano, prepared guitar and 3rd Bridge.

Vocal multiphonics

The technique of producing multiphonics with the voice is called throat singing.

There is another technique done in whistling, where the whistler hums in their throat while whistling with the front parts of their mouth.

How multiphonics work

In general, when playing a wind instrument, the tone that comes out consists of the fundamental—the pitch usually identified as the note being played—as well as pitches with frequencies that are integer multiples of the frequency of the fundamental. (Only pure sine wave tones lack these overtones.) Normally, we perceive only the fundamental pitch as being played.

By controlling the air flow through the instrument and the shape of the column (by changing fingering or valve position), a player may produce two distinct tones not part of the same harmonic series, and thus perceive them independently.


Multiphonics may be notated in score in a variety of ways. When exact pitches are specified, one method of notation is simply to indicate a chord, leaving the performer to figure out what techniques are necessary to achieve it. Common on woodwind music is to specify a particular fingering underneath the required note; as different fingerings produce different qualities of sound, a composer who is concerned about the precise effect created may wish to do this. (It should be noted, though, that the same fingering can cause different result on instruments from different manufacturers, due to variations in construction.) Approximate pitches may be specified by wavy lines or in cluster notation to designate acceptable ranges of sound. There is, however, a wide range of notation used to designate multiphonics, with several individual composers preferring notations not in common use.

Use in literature

The first real use of multiphonics in literature are of the brass "horn chord" style. Carl Maria von Weber used this technique in horn compositions, leading up to his well-known concertino for horn of 1815.

Woodwind multiphonics and brass lip multiphonics did not make appearances in classical music until the 20th century, with pioneering compositions such as Luciano Berio's Sequenzas for solo wind instruments using them extensively.

The technique is used in jazz as early as the 1940s, with Illinois Jacquet an early proponent of the practice. Multiphonics were also widely used by John Coltrane; and jazz flautist Jeremy Steig uses multiphonics extensively.

Some composers who use multiphonics are:

Some musicians who use multiphonics are:

See also


  1. ^
  • Gerald Farmer, Multiphonics and Other Contemporary Clarinet Techniques, Shall-u-mo Publications, Rochester, NY, 1982
  • Murray Campbell: "Multiphonics". Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy. Accessed 24 Jan 05. (subscription access)
  • Richard E. Berg and David G. Stork, The Physics of Sound. Prentice-Hall, Inc. Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1982.
  • Kurt Stone, Music Notation in the Twentieth Century. W.W. Norton, New York, 1980
  • Robert Dick, The Other Flute. Oxford University Press, 1975
  • Nora Post, Multiphonics for the Oboe
  • Paul Keenan, Document accompanying Ph.D. Lip Multiphonics and Composition
  • John Gross (1999), Multiphonics for the Saxophone: A Practical Guide; 178 Different Note Combinations Diagrammed and Explained, Advance Music. OCLC 475411398

External links

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