For hundreds of years, yodelling, the typically Swiss art of singing, has been as much a part of the confederation as chocolate and cheese. What’s behind this old Swiss mountain tradition? And how can you learn Swiss German from yodelling songs?
So what’s a yodler?
The word yodler is used both for the name of the song and the singer; a yodeller sings a yodler. Typically, the art of yodelling involves quick changes between chest voice and head voice, i.e. between deep tones and high tones. Real yodelling is singing without words that can be discerned. It often sounds like „Chuderwäusch“ (en.: sth you don’t understand), a language that nobody understands. However, many Swiss yodellers have lyrics that are sung in „Schwiizerdütsch“ (en.: Swissgerman); in these songs, the verse is sung and the refrain is yodelled.
Who on earth had the bright idea to yodel?
The art of yodelling originated thousands of years ago and is older than Switzerland itself. It wasn’t originally just for fun; Alpine dwellers used yodelling as a means to communicate with each other across valleys. Yodelling was an important survival skill and was also used to call in the cows that were spread across the vast Alpine meadows. Over the years, this everyday need turned into a vocal art form. Today, we can enjoy listening to yodelling songs which are often accompanied by the music of an alp horn. This typical Swiss instrument which has been around for over 500 years is made out of wood and can be as long as 4 metres. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to imagine Swiss tradition without the alp horn and yodelling.
Is yodelling a Swiss invention?
Yodelling is the Swiss national vocal art and there have been yodel songs in Switzerland for centuries. In the vernacular, a Swiss yodeller is often called a „Jutz“. Yodelling is not just limited to Switzerland; our German and Austrian neighbours yodel as well. However, yodelling doesn’t sound the same everywhere. Every country and even every region has its own way of yodelling. Someone with a trained ear can easily distinguish a Bernese Oberland yodeller from a yodeller from Appenzell
It’s not just Alpine dwellers who yodel, though; yodelling was used as a form of communication all over the world. At one time, yodelling was common in Spain and Sweden as well as in China and Thailand. But nowhere in the world did yodelling become such a strong part of a country’s tradition as it did in Switzerland. There are countless regionally known Swiss yodellers and yodel choirs and it has become a much loved pasttime for many. The national yodelling festival that takes place every three years attracts many thousands of participants and yodelling clubs from all over Switzerland compete in front of an expert panel.
Does every Swiss yodel?
Yodelling may be a strong tradition in Switzerland, but not every Swiss can yodel. There are around 22’000 professional yodellers in the country. Some people assume that yodelling is not very difficult and easily learnt. This couldn’t be further from the truth; yodelling is a very special vocal style that can only be learnt with a lot of patience. But you can learn to yodel. An expert teacher can show you how to practise the focussed breathing techniques and specific vocal exercises.
Peter Hinnen – Swiss yodelling star
One of the most famous Swiss yodellers isn’t a native of the mountains; he is from the city of Zurich. 75 year old Peter Hinnen began his career when he was still a young „Buäb“ (en: boy). Known as „Peterli“, he quickly became a local celebrity and signed his first record deal when he was still a boy. Although he retired from show business in the 1980s, he came back with a bang in 1992. This Swiss yodeller sang 22 different yodel tones in one second and was honoured with a entry in the Guinness Book of World Records. Peter Hinnen still performs occasionally
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It’s a must listen!
Can you learn Swiss German by listening to yodel songs?
Swiss yodlers are sung in the vernacular; common themes are the love of homeland, nature or social gatherings. As yodel songs are sung at a leisurely pace, they are well suited for learning new words in „Schwiizerdütsch“. This old Swiss tradition doesn’t just offer pleasant listening, it offers another way to learn Swiss German.
How much do you understand already?
Test yourself! How much do you understand of these lyrics to the Swiss yodler „D’Jodler“ by Max Huggler?
mir do zäme,
bim ä Glesli guetem Wy,
fröhlich söll ä Jutz erklinge,
und au s’Alphorn isch derby,
fröhlich söll ä Jutz erklinge,
und au s’Alphorn isch derby.“
As you can see, you really can learn Swiss German from yodel songs!
If you want to learn Swiss German even more quickly and in depth than with a Swiss yodler, join us on learn-Swiss-german.ch. Sign up for a course and start learning Swiss German today! It won’t take long for you to be able to understand all Swiss yodels.