Singing this note is IMPOSSIBLE!

Try to sing up the scale of notes into a pipe, and you’ll find certain notes are impossible to sing. WHY?!
You can learn more about CuriosityStream at

Prof Joe Wolfe’s acoustics website:
Intro chapter on the voice:
Wade et al paper on soprano singing through resonances:

More on vocal tract resonances:

More facts: Most objects have a number of different resonant frequencies. The first resonance of the pipe were were using was around 70 Hz, which was lower than any of us could sing. A bass singer could hit that note, but were were singing in the range of the second and third resonances of the pipe.

No longer compiling your pipe singing submissions, but feel free to tweet me your attempts! @thephysicsgirl

45 thoughts on “Singing this note is IMPOSSIBLE!”

  1. Atharva Vaidya

    No one:
    Absolutely no one:
    Dianna: So the other day, I was holding a tube and I thought to myself, “hey, I can find it’s resonant frequency”

    1. @Atharva Vaidya Fair enough, but oddly you tend not to see comments like yours on science channels that are hosted by men, this comments section is full of comments like yours, I picked yours because it was at the top.
      And it’s an oblate spheroid. 😁

    2. @Kev Lavis i think people who click on science when there is a man are nerdy types who know they gonna get usual science but when there is a pretty girl maybe they expect a different perspective and it may attract more normal people who see a different balance and have different expectations. We have to accept differences and it is ok to be pleasantly surprised when you find a girl who likes chess or whatever like it is ok to surprised when a boy likes to play with dolls or whatever but it is not ok to judge and say people shouldnt do this and that like some old grannies were shocked and negative when my boy was playing with a pram

    3. Yes I get it, that’s exactly why I pointed it out.

      Is it ok to be pleasantly surprised and express it publicly? I didn’t think it was. If I remarked my surprise at the engineering skills of a female engineer (where I work) I’m confident that she would feel patronised and belittled. Female engineers have been in the news (yes, the actual news) expressing their dismay at exactly what you described.

      The other effect of course, is that female scientists can get too much praise, like Physics Girl, for doing normal things, like science.

      This is not my opinion and are not my rules.

    4. @Kev Lavis yeah i agree. it is awkward sometimes like i find myself holding doors open for guys and elder women but it gets funny looks if you do it for a random woman .. very confusing.:)

  2. Trombone!
    Musical instruments such as brass and woodwinds are quite amazing, but certainly far from new. The “impossible” note is easy to generate, if you have a tube of the appropriate size/volume/resonant characteristics. My favorite is the trombone, capable of generating EVERY frequency between a tuba, and a piccolo, with no restrictions except the skill of the artist.

  3. SweetSpotGuitar

    Played tuba really seriously for a good while; most brass players will know this sensation, unless you “half-valve” the instrument. The Q (Quality Factor) of the harmonics (resonant modes–there are many of them, of course) can be very high. I’m guessing that the better a horn feels and sounds, the higher the Q is, but I’m not totally sure about that. That high-Q, though, creates “effort troughs” which make it very easy to sing notes of those harmonics, but difficult to avoid the troughs as well.

  4. Ow this is amazing i thought that i was the only person in the world doing that haha. i used to that as a kid singing with it but as a musical instrument and actually if you wiggle between notes u can do it, also used to do elephant noises ect… And now am 23 and still do it, sometimes i do beatboxing with it haha

  5. This is totally cool! I def. thought you’d find the resonant frequency that way.
    If you have a really tall glass of water – like a 2 L graduated cylinder kinda scale – and you take a hollow tube and put it in the water,
    then you’ve made a variable length tube. The water closes the bottom of the tube you put in and you can lift that tube up and down, changing the internal length.
    If you hold a tuning fork over the top, it’s basically silent until you hit that correct length.
    So.. if varying the length of the tube to match the frequency is so easy, surely you can … you can…
    What the..?
    Hey guys! Check this out!

  6. Hello professor. Love your videos. I have a quick question. How can you determine the resonant frequency of an unicellular organism?

  7. It’s basically your Lungs compressing after you are blowing out all your breath, get on my level kid

  8. Siddharth Rodrigues

    So you’re saying you didn’t try a speaker producing the required frequency in the pipe so the pipe couldn’t becomes a dinosaur?

  9. Yann Chemineau

    I guess there is a link with this video but have you ever blown into an electric striped steath ? Well, I have, and noticed you could only produce one specific frequency and its multiples (x2, x4 etc). Maybe you could explain this ?

  10. Well, you have NOT explained why this phenomenon is present in tubes but you haven’t experienced it in other objects, or have you?

  11. Dietmar Steinhaus

    That´s gorgeous! I will use it in my elemantary school as an experiment in science education and music as well. Thank you so much!

  12. DrRocketman 779

    So that’s why a good soprano will be heard without amplifying, all the way back in the nosebleed seats in the balcony!

  13. Just off-hand I would think, that the resonans frequency is the note you can’t sing. It generators back-pressure because when you reach the resonans frequency the oscillations are stronger

  14. MartialSpiritDragon

    I’ve knoticed that the voice and hormone can be set by conious desire to set the subcionus sounds. If your vocie feels like something is on the throght when you voice cracks, then move up and donw that octiv a few times then move on and back to the spot that is likely hormone attraction waist. Have you subconious find the right octiv and learn ,Tara The Robot’s, I Feel Fantastic. Try to sing in the deepest scale and the highest scales that you can also. It is good vocal practice.

  15. MartialSpiritDragon

    Oh, BTW I was thinking about having a Drone that Transmited a R.F. with infra sound while it moved for a dopler effect causing fires. I think that the idea could be used for more than a intense heat weapon. I bet that It could be used to hit something with grouth resences in places that a realese would realese and spread well. The subcious lead the idea. Voices and hormones go hand and hand…..bla…..bla…..bla……Using R.F.+ Infra Sound with a doplar effect for heat is easy to figur out. I’m sure that if you were very pasfic with the frenquicy then you could use a method like this for a lot of things. It might not always be more effent than just sound or R.F. for some uses.

  16. Would humming into it make a difference? Since the air in your lungs and in the tubes would be disconnected that way.

  17. A pipe of any given length has a fundamental pitch related to that length, and that can be shifted upwards or downwards depending on the material, and the bore (diameter).
    When you put a pipe up to your face, it is (usually) pretty long, and so its fundamental frequency/pitch is right in the average person’s singing voice.
    The harmonic series defines which other frequencies it vibrates at best and more easily, because it is not just the resonating frequency; there are infinite frequencies going up forever (and possibly down, but that’s a different topic). When you ascend in pitch, there comes a point to where you hop to the next partial, because the tubing prefers to vibrate at some frequencies after others. This is how brass instruments work. It’s very easy to be around the frequencies in the harmonic series, but anything outside of it is very difficult to be able to play. There’s too much to explain with the harmonic series to explain in a comment, though, so just know it is a multiple of the base frequency.

    When a soprano singer changes the shape of their mouth/throat, it causes the overall shape and size to change, resulting in a change in pitch. This would be how they use it to change.

    Next time you sing through a tube, just pay attention as you ascend. Every time you go up a partial, or one of those breaking points, each one should get closer and closer in pitch, to where the gap in leaps gets smaller and smaller.

    This also explains singing through your hand; the “pipe/tube” of your hand is so short, the fundamental pitch/frequency is so high, it is well above your average voice. (Considering the tube could be about 8 times longer than your hand, and each half size jumps an octave, its primary resonating pitch would be 3 octaves above the pipe. Ouch)

    Really, it just comes down to how strange our world can be. Everything has a set pitch it vibrates best at, and an infinite series of multiples that go above them.

  18. It seems to me that what is happening is this: When you hit the resonant frequency of the tube, it sets up a standing wave which dramatically changes the impedance of the tube, making it more difficult to sing through.

    I want to see the following experiment: First, record the actual frequency of the notes above and below the “cracking” effect. Next, choose a frequency between those, and sing it. Finally, while singing this magic note, bring the tube up to your mouth and see if you can either power through it, or if it causes your note to shift.

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