#15 – Carnatic Music Basic Lessons Series
Here is a small attempt to guide the students/singers who are very passionate about Carnatic Music. The work is split into small files and uploaded as PDF, enabling people to download or view the notes. The series will be continued.
Here is a Lecture Demonstration on the Salient features of Raga Mayamalavagowla done by me. A student of Carnatic Music is supposed to know these basic facts of this particular Raga.
Just click to read the file and Right Click and Click “Save Target As” to save the file.
#14-GENERAL CHARACTERSTICS OF RAAGAS
Generally, when I write the Raga Review of a particular raga, I use the terms Jiva swara, Gruha Swara etc. Here is a small attempt to explain what are these terms.
1.Gruha Swaram is the note on which the Raga is commenced. There may be One, Two or even more Graha Swaras in a Ragam.
2.Hamsa/Jiva Swaram is the note which reveals the melodic identity of the Raga; (Soul of the raga). This swara is repeated frequently in an Alapana as it brings out the Raga Chaaya or Raga Swaroopam. It is considered as the main swara of the raga. There can be one or more Hamsa swaras in a raga.
3.Nyasa Swaram is the note with which a raga concludes or it can be called as the ending note of the raga.
4.Bahuthwam the note that is used frequently in the raga.
5.Alpathvam the note that is used sparingly in the raga.
6.Mandram and Tharam are the lowest and highest notes beyond which the Raga sancharas should not extend for a chosen raga. Mandram defines the notes that are singable in the Mandra Stayi for the particular Raga. The swaras lower than that should not be sung/performed. Similarly, Thara Swaram defines the notes in Thara Stayi which are allowed in the raga.
7.Sampoornam is a raga consisting of all 7 Swaras in both Arohanam and Avarohanam is called a Sampoorna Raga. All the seven notes are used while performing this raga.
#13-Art and Science of Singing Voice
Yesterday I attended a Seminar on Voice Training and here I am just reproducing what ever I heard in the Seminar presented Dr. Jayakumar Menon, a vocalogist at KIMS Hospital and Binu John Mathew – Eminent Voice Trainer.
Role of Lips, Teeth and Throat while Singing.
Certainly, for us to sing better, we not only need to know how to protect our voice we also need to understand the various common singing problems or habits that we may have, as well as how to avoid them!
- The more the lips move the better the voice
- If you open the mouth and teeth your voice is still better
- Voice is the best when you sing with a smiling face
- To improve the voice power, flicker a candle kept at a 5 feet distance by blowing
- Produce bouncy and light ‘ssss’ sounds with our breath, that would be extremely useful to us whenever we need to sing fastsongs (like Breathless sung by Shankar Mahadevan)
- Keep Our Neck, Jaw and Face Relaxed During Singing
- If you are singing in a standing position, bend one of your knees.
- Look into the mirror while you sing. Ensure you have a smiling face,You are not doing neck breathing or shoulder breathing.
Aging and Voice Production
Children - For kids the vocal ligament is incomplete. So their range is relatively narrow. You should never force a kid to improve/increase his/her pitch. Doing so may damage his/her vocal ligaments due to over strain. Kids should be left to sung at their own most comfortable level of pitch.
Adoloscence-The voice of girls are not much affected during adoloscence.But for boys,pitch drops by one octave as their vocal chords starts getting thicker during this age. Voice tend to become a base voice. This is a temperory phase. They can feel the astonishing change in their voice after this phase.
Ladies During Menopause- Estrogen production goes down. This influences their voice slightly. The pitch goes down.This was demonstrated by the great singer P.Leela’s voice during her young age and old age. Again this is different on a case to case basis. The great singer S.Janaki’s voice remains almost the same even at this age!
Generally the voice is best during the middle of a menstrual cycle for a woman. It is always advised to choose this time frame for professional recordings or to give public concerts, when the voice is more sweet and powerful. It is not advisable to sing or give a concert just 3-4 days before your monthly menstrual cycle. The voice gradually improves after the period.
For a Male the pitch drops slightly after 60 years. The breath control and the power of singing also falls down. In a very old age- say after 75, the pitch raises for both male and female.
- One of the major “Good Food for Good Singing” is actually a liquid, and it is called WATER. The most essential ingredient for a honey dipped voice is the intake of adequate water. Water should be neither too hot nor too cold. It should be lukewarm. There is not limit for drinking water as it improves the human system in other ways also. But make sure that your urine should be colourless.
- Never steam or inhale for improving vocal cords.
- Bathroom singing is very good as the air in the bathroom contains lot of humidity.
- If possible stand in neck deep water adn do the Saadhakam.
#12- Mythological origin of the swara
There is a fascinating mythological tale about the origin of the swaras, as follows:
It is believed that Lord Shiva once addressed a celestial congregation, for the welfare of mankind. While the subject of His address became the Vedas, the differences in His tonal quality became the seven swaras. Shiva is known to have five faces or the ‘panchavaktra’, which are, Satyojata, Vamaka, Tathpurusha, Isana and Aghora. He first addressed the audience at the centre, and then the immediate left and right. The centre tone became the basic note or the shadja (sa), while the ones on the immediate left and right became the ‘ni’ of the lower octave and ‘ri’ respectively. Shiva then addressed the audience to the far left and right. Here, two notes emanated out of each face, to reach to the farthest sides. So there emanated the notes ‘dha’ and ‘pa’ of the lower octave on the left side and ‘ga’ and ‘ma’ on the right. This totalled to seven swaras, Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha and Ni.
Mother Nature’s contribution to the Indian swara system!
One interesting fact that the origin of swaras gives us is that they were derived from Mother Nature Herself! The tonal quality of each note is associated with the call of a specific animal or bird, as listed below:
NAME OF SWARA NOTATION WRITTEN NOTATION SOURCE
Shadja S Cry of the peacock
Rishabha R Lowing of the bull
Gaandhaara G Bleating of a goat
Madhyama M Call of the heron
Panchama P Call of the cuckoo
Dhaivata D Neighing of the horse
Nishaada N Trumpeting of the elephant
#11-Lord Anjaneya – The Master of All Arts- The Great Vainika
Hanuman is known as an immortal genius who had mastered all arts and sciences and other branches of knowledge. He is known as the embodiment of all knowledge and the Vedas themselves. He learned all the vedas and all the Vidya Sthanas from Surya, the Sun god.
As per His mother Anjana’s advice, Anjaneya approached Lord Surya and requsested for Lord Surya’s discipleship. But Lord Surya who is always on his celestial path said; “Being the creator of day and night, I could not stop at one place and teach you”.
Anjaneya replied that he would face his Guru Lord Surya and run along backwards in the same direction of the Sun and receive the vedic knowledge from him and Lord Surya need not stop. Upon this agreement, Hanuman took the coaching for twelve years.
The Vidya Sthanas are eighteen in number. 4 vedas, 6 sastras, 4 upangas and 4 upavedas. One of the upavedas,is the Gandarva Veda – The Art and Science of Music.
Anjaneya the Sangeetha Exponent
In carnatic sangeetha tradition there are two classes of sakas (branches), one is known as Narada tradition and the other is known as Hanumath tradition. It is said that Saint Tyagaraja was the follower of Narada tradition. He was gifted with the “swararnavam” palm leafs by Saint Narada. Sri Muthuswamy Dhikshathar is follower of Hanumath tradition.
The celestrial sages, Sri Narada and Sri Tumburu, were great players of the fretted veenas. But there was clash of ego between them leading to bitter rivalry. Both of them would participate in function and compete in all the competition. At the end of the duel nobody would be able to say who is superior. Their ego was seeking a final decision as to who is best. The matter was brought before Lord Narayana (Sri Vishnu), who with a mischievous smile hugging His face suggested seeking the remedy for this from Lord Anjaneya who is an exponent in Sangeetha Sastra. Both agreeing that there could be no better judge than Lord Anajaneya they approached HIM. A date was fixed for the contest at the convenience of Lord Anjaneya.
On the day fixed there was a big assembly of Devatas . Both Sri Narada and Sri Tumburu were seated on either side of the dais with their fretted veena ready to play and Lord Anjaneya was seated in the center. Lord Anjaneya announced Sri Tumburu would play first followed by Sri Narada. The congregations of Devatas were eager to listen to the sound of the most divine instrument Veena from the sages who had mastered the playing on the instrument.
Firstly Sri Tumburu started his veena vadhan and the Devatas forgot to wink their eyes, all their attention drawn by the mystical tones emanating from the instrument. Slowly they could realise that world was coming to a standstill position devoid of any activity. Even sea waves stopped, oceans started freezing, birds stopped flying and those flying stopped mid air. Such were the effects of the music of Sri Tumburu. He was playing the raga Amirthavarshini which is normally played for bringing rain when effected by drought.
Now Lord Anjaneya signaled Sri Narada to play the instrument. Sri Narada started playing his fretted veena and the mesmerising tones emerging from the veena vadhan started moving around like a sweet fragrance enveloping the atmosphere. So sweet was the tone that it brought realisation in every thing. Bringing back dynamism, ocean started melting, waves started tiding, birds started flying with renewed verve. Sri Narada was playing the raga Punnagavarali. In the recent times Sri Thygaraja Swamigal had sung the kriti “Ghandamu paiyarul……” in the raga Punnagavarali. This kriti when sung, will make you feel the fragrance enveloping around you.
The final judgement by Lord Anjaneya
Now that the contesters had finished playing, the attention of the congregation turned towards the His Lordship – the Judge –
Lord Anjaneya. Since this time also both had done their best, how Lord Anjaneya is going to judge as to who is better?
Lord Anjaneya paused for some time and got up from the seat and took possession of both Sri Narada’s and Sri Tumburu’s veena vadhan. Returned to his seat and patiently started removing each of the frets in the instruments. Everybody started wondering as to what Lord Anjaneya is trying to do. Sri Narada lost his cool and asked Lord not to monkey around the instrument and to give the judgment. Lord Anjaneya replied that both of them had played well, but before the judgment could be given asked them to play the Veena in the present state (ie, veena instrument without fret). Both Sri Narada and Sri Tumburu said it is impossible to play the veena without fret.
Lord Anjaneya with a smile in his face took a small bamboo piece (bamboo in wholesome is cylindrical in shape) and slides this bamboo piece over the melody strings and by using his nails as plectrums plucked the melody strings. The melody that flowed out was no compare to the one that was played by the sages. The melodious tone along with the drone with a soothing continuity had drowned the audience Devas in an immense pleasure and joy as that of having the nectar. Lord continued playing, making both Sri Narada and Sri Tumburu realise the power of pure music.
The audience were so immersed in the music, they had not noticed that Lord Narayana Himself had come to the scene to witness the music of Lord Anjaneya. When Lord Anjaneya concluded playing, both the sages accepted that their music is no match to that of Lord Anjaneya.
Sri Anjaneya saw Lord Narayana and he prostrated before Him and welcomed Him. Lord Narayana told that He was drawn to theplace by the music produced by the Adi Veena, the one without fret and a forerunner to the present veena used by both Sri Narada and Sri Tumburu. Lord explained to the sages that music however good it may be, with ego mixed it becomes lifeless and music with devotion is life, pure, real, and divine. The music of Sri Anjaneya was enchanting since it was over brimming with devotion, but that of the sages were with ego hence devoid of purity. Lord Narayana declared since Lord Hanuman had reinvented the original form of fretless veena it will henceforth be called as Hanumath Veena.
In times the Hanumath veena was known by the name Chitra veena.
Playing veena is yoga, leading to salvation as Saint Thyagaraja sings in his krithi ” Mokshamugalada..”. Here the Saint brings out with all lyrical beauty
“vINA vAdana loludau Sivamano
vidha merugaru, thyAgarAja vinutha”
(Meaning) Is salvation obtainable to those who are not able to perceive the mind of Shiva who derives indescribable pleasure from listening to the divine music of Vina !
So.. What is the lesson we have learnt here..Quoting the words of Lord Narayana once again..
“music however good it may be, with ego mixed, it becomes lifeless and music with devotion is life, pure, real, and divine.”
So let us all practice Music without Ego..Music as such practised with wholesome devotion will bring all prosperity in our life like name, fame, money, disciples etc. These are the by-products of divine music. Let us not lose focus and start concentrating on the by-products forgetting TRUE DIVINE MUSIC !
Not to forget the great Vainika – Ravana
As per Hindu mythology Raavan was a great devotee of Lord Shiva and was very regular in his worship. Being a devoted worshiper of Lord Shiva, Ravana use to play Rudra Veena to please him. It is said that to get the Aatma Lingam from Lord Shiva for his mother, he took out his nerves and used it as strings for playing Rudra Veena. He had to do this for getting the darshan of Shiva and thus obtaining Aatma Lingam from the Lord who was very much pleased with this act of Raavana.
Enjoy this clip from a Tamil Film – RAVANAN ,the musician!!
#10-A to Z Singing Tips
A simple article found on singing tips by Vocal Coach Yvonne DeBandi reproduced below:
A = Airflow.
Never hold your breath while singing. The airflow is what creates and carries your vocal tone, so keep it flowing. Avoid Clavicular Breathing and Belly Breathing — instead, learn the proper way to breathe for singing, called diaphragmatic breathing. Fill the lower portion of your lungs as if you had an inner tube around your waist that you were evenly filling.
B = Breathing
properly for singing requires the shoulders to remain down and relaxed, not rise with the breath intake. A singer will gain power to their voice by strengthening the muscles in their ribcage and back.
the music’s message. During performance it is very important to communicate the message of the song. If you make a “mistake” don’t point it out to your audience. It is most likely they did not even notice.
D = Diaphragmatic
Support. Develop the strength and coordination of the diaphragm and become a pro at controlling the speed of the airflow released, the quantity of the airflow released and the consistency of the airflow released.
E = Elasticity
of the Vocal Folds. The vocal tone is created as airflow bursts through the cleft of the vocal cords causing them to vibrate/oscillate. The vocal folds can lose elasticity due to misuse, lack of use and/or increase of age. Be sure to train your voice with vocal exercises on a regular basis to keep your voice in shape.
F = Free your natural voice.
Don’t be a slave to any music style — even your favorite one. Learn to sing with your full and natural voice by developing your vocal strength and coordination. Then add stylistic nuances to achieve any singing style you desire.
G = Guessing Games.
Never guess the pitch you are about to sing. Hear the note in your head before you open your mouth.
H = High notes
require consistent and steady airflow. Many students tend to hold their breath as they sing higher. Let the air flow. Try increasing your airflow and gauge your result.
I = Increase
your breathing capacity and control by doing breathing exercises every day. Be sure to avoid patterned breathing. Singers must negotiate phrase lengths of all different sizes, so it is important to be versatile.
J =Jumping Jacks.
If you are having trouble getting your body completely involved with singing, try doing some cardiovascular activities, like jumping jacks, for a few minutes before getting started again. Sometimes your instrument simply needs an airflow wake-up call.
K= Know your limits.
Don’t sing too high or too low. Don’t sing to the point of vocal fatigue. Never strain or push your voice. Doing so will not result in a higher or lower singing range, or a stronger voice, only a voice that has suffered undue stress.
L = Low notes
are often sung with too much airflow. Try decreasing your airflow to achieve a more natural, more relaxed tone.
M = Mirror.
Training in front of a mirror can help a singer discover many things about their instrument, as well as confirm that other actions are being done correctly. Be sure to rely on a mirror during vocal training, but be able to leave the mirror to face an audience.
N = Never
sing if it hurts to swallow.
O = Open
your mouth wider. Nine times out of ten this will help you achieve a stronger, more defined vocal tone.
P = Prepare
your instrument before singing. Singers are very much like athletes. Take care of your body/instrument by stretching out the vocal muscles and relieving the body of unnecessary tension before singing.
Q = Quit
smoking. Quit talking too loudly. Quit talking too much.
R = Raise the Soft Palate.
Creating a larger space inside your mouth by raising the soft palate, or fleshy part of the back of our throat, helps achieve a deeper more well rounded singing tone.
S = Sing
through the vocal breaks. If you do not teach the muscles the necessary actions to sing through the trouble spots, success will never be achieved. Sing through it, sing through it again, and again….
T = Tone Placement.
Learning the facts about tone placement and resonance make a huge difference in the abilities of a singer. In simple terms, a singer has numerous body cavities (nasal cavity, chest cavity, etc.) and amplifiers (bones, ligaments, etc.) that act as resonators. Focusing the vocal tone through the proper resonating chamber with the proper support is important with regard to controlling and developing your personal sound.
U = Unique Voice
Under Construction. Remember that your voice has its own unique fingerprint and is constantly changing with our actions, environment, health habits, etc. With this in mind, listen to your own voice often and use vocal training tools to keep your voice on the right track.
V = Vibrato.
Vibrato is a natural or forced fluctuation of a singing tone. Do not concentrate on learning how to sing with vibrato. Instead, concentrate on the basic foundations of singing, breathing and support. When the proper coordination is achieved, vibrato will occur naturally.
W = Water. Water.
Water. Drink room temperature water as often as you can to keep your voice organ hydrated. If you only have cold or hot water available, swish it around in your mouth for a moment. This action will keep your voice organ from being startled or stressed by different temperatures.
Y = You
Can Sing with Impact! Exercise your voice daily with contemporary voice lesson products. Don’t Just Sing when You Can Sing with Impact!
Z = Zzzzzzzz.
Be sure to get your rest. If you are tired, your voice will show it. A tired body/instrument will not allow you to produce your best possible sound.
#9-The Art of Singing Ragaalapana
What is a Raga ? To put it in simple terms, a combination of swara-s in certain order of ascent called arohana and descent called avarohana. Essentially it must have some aesthetically melodic content. AlApana is a means to communicate to the audience, the flavor or the bhAva of the rAga through the permitted notes and its phrases.An alapana, is the exposition of a raaga or tone – a slow improvisation with no rhythm. In presenting a phrase of Alapana, the swaras are not spell out as such, but spell out as certain syllables like tha dha ri na.
Just as there are alphabets, the combination of which forms words, words into phrases and phrases into sentences and finally a paragraph, a raga can be developed by a combination of swaras(alphabets) to form short sangathis (phrases) and combination of these sangathis(sentences)and finally to present a paragraph(raga).
If we take example of Raga Mohana, it has the swaras SRGPDS and SDPGRS. When we form phrases GPDPGRG..DSDPGPGRSRG..etc, they are within the framework of raga and hence makes sense. In combining these swara, there is yet another crucial gene which contributes to the essence of melody in the alapana. This is called the anuswara or the hybrid note. The main function of this anuswara is to bridge one note with the other, either in ascending or descending order. Its a smooth glide from one note to other without any break. This is called gamaka. The purpose of the alapana is to bring the complete raga bhava or raga swarupa. Singing alapana is based entirely on common sense in that the raga alap should cover as many octaves as possible.
In principle, it starts at the lower octave in perfect alignment with the sruthi. The entire process of presentation of alapana consists in coining various sagathis. Within the set of swara, there are some swaras that take a major role and some less. The less important swaras make a passing show as it were; which is called alpathva as opposed to bahuthva(major role in alapana). There are also some swaras which dominate and stay persistently; they also form resting swaras (called nyasa-swaras) on the display of alapana.
Speed or kalapramanam is yet another important factor. The general procedure in practice is to start at a slow speed and gradually gain speed or combine different speeds in one expression. Since alapana is a creative exercise, the art is based on the ideas of the artist.
Graha swaras are those with which a phrase can begin. Musician should be aware of graha swaras of the raga presented. There are however some ragas which have special impact if they are initiated or started at certain specific swara. For instance raga Ataana generally commences at the higher octave with the combination of swaras s, s RS NS D… or a raga like Anandabhairavi in the middle octave with the swaras PDPM DPM PMGRG… or raga ritigowla with swaras N DM GRG.. or even the raga sankarabharanam at ehe lower octave with the swaras SRGMG.. GMPMG. Jiva swaras or which lends life as it wre for the raga should be highlighted. They are Dhaivatha for Atana, Anthara Gandhara in Kalyani, madhyama and gandharam in hindolam.. These swaras are illuminated while coining sangathis.
Which note should be always sung with full volume and strenth or which note should be always sung with less volume or with subdued tone or “Alpathwa or Bahuthwa”as they are called technically. For example in Hamsadwani, all the notes are to be sung in full volume which means that stamina is essential. In Hamsadwani the Swara NSR should be less and NR should be more as per T R S’s Lecture Demonstration. RSN must be less and RN must be more..NPG must be less and NG should be more.GPN must be less and GN must be more. These are the general guidelines for singing Hamsadwani.
Techniques of Alapana
True to a great extent, it is intuitive. Nevertheless, ideas in Alapna and sangathis in alapana are there for us to find out in the krithis themselves, because, krithis are based on raga bhava and raga bhava in turn gives rise to sangathis in alapana. Amongst the trinities, its Dikshithar who has installed maximum raga bhava in his compositions.
Careful observation reveals that the lyric(sahitya) in the song are directly substituted with akAra, it automatically reveals a sangathi of the concerned raga.The best example can be quoted are navavarana krithis that brings out the complete raga bhava or Chethasri in raga Dwijavanthi. A clear synopsis ofthe raga emerges. With such beginnings and later on adding with one’s own imagination, the technique o singing alapna can be built up. and clear sense of swar gnana and a good concept of raga structure will go a long way in developing this skill.
Alapana is divided into three parts:
Akshipthika, which is the introductory of the alapana. This will give a rough idea about the raaga which is going to be sung.
Ragavardhini, is the major part of the alapana where the singer or the performing artist will elaborate the raaga step-by-step touching every important note in the raaga.This part is longer than akshipthika and magarini.
Magarini, is last concluding section of the alapana. In this, the performer will sing a brisk passages of swara’s scaling across the entire range of the raaga
Akshipthika or Introduction
The raga alap should show initially the entire personality of the raga in a briefway, ie, the alapana will start with the adhara shadjam and brings out the raga lakshna in the lower and middle octaves. In this movement it should be possible for the listeners to identify the raga. The sancharas should contain specific phrases of the raga which brings out the raga lakshana. The same procedure is adopted if the commencement of the raga is at the Tara Shadja or Higher octave and later moves down to the middle or lower octave. This is called Akshiptika – introduction of the raga.
The next stage is the elaboration of the raga alapana. This stage is called RAgavardhini. This is the most vital or imoprtant section in ragalapana. The ragavardhini stage starts with the adhara shadja and moves on to the lower octave with attractive gamakas. It just touches the thara sthayi and combines with generous movements of vilamba kala (movement at slow pace)sancharas. The second stage employs usage of more ranjaka prayogas and brings out the hidden melodies of the raga. This stage also incorporates more of madhyamastayi sancharas. In the third stage, the development is confined to tara styai sancharas. The fourth and final stage has mainly the madhyamakala and druthakala ( speedy akAras or Briga) movements.
The final stage is to sing the alapana in three speeds and finally end up in Adhara Shadja. Though the above is a theoratical analysis of the structure of Alapana, much depends upon variable factors amongst which the most important is the timbre and its pliability. It varies from singer to singer and consequently , the fabric of alapana also changes accordingly.
References : Various Lecture Demonstrations/Raga Sudhaalu
#8-Importance of Thalam / Rhythm in Carnatic Music
There is no life without sound .Every movement in Nature is governed by Rhythm. The best example is the heart beat, which occurs exactly 72 times a minute. Daily events like the sound of a moving train, sound of waves etc all have in built rhythm in them. Saint Thyagaraja has used the term “sogasugaa mridanga thalamu” emphasising the importance of rhythm. Tala is the physical representation of rhythmic cycles in Carnatic Music.
Some students need more time and different types of exercises in achieving stability in rhythm or talam. Others take more time to align themselves to the Sruthi. Each composition is set to a specific raga and with a specific rhythmic cycle. The student should be knowing that the initial set of exercises begin with the Raga Mayamalavagowla.
Why Mayamalavagoula is chosen as the basic raga?
This raga invokes bhakthi and devotion and is apt to be sung in the mornings. This is classified as a morning raga and the mood it generates is just like a few drops of refreshing morning dew outside the window to begin the day with a positive note. The student should note that all the varisais and alankarams are set to this particular raga mainly for 3 reasons.
- Improves the tonal quality of the singer (helps to develop open throat singing).
- Helps to understand the concept of Sruthi
- It also initiates the students to the concept of tala or rhythm.
The student is required to practice all these initial set of exercises varisais in 3 or more speeds. These varisais are set to Adi Talam (8 beats) – the most commonly used Tala in Carnatic Music
First speed – 1 note per beat
Second Speed -2 notes per beat
Third Speed – 4 notes per beat
Advanced students can practice in 4, 5 and 6 speeds also.
Fourth speed – 8 notes per beat
Fifth Speed – 16 notes per beat
Sixth Speed – 32 notes per beat
Regular practice in advanced speed maintaing the same kaalapramanam (increasing the vocal speed without increasing the speed of the thalam) will help the student to perfect the rhythmic exercise.
Advanced students can also practice varnams in three speeds. The ability to sing Varnams with precision and in good speed equips the voice with all the necessary skills to render authentic Carnatic music. It should be remembered that the practice of any classical art requires a lifetime of dedicated application and saadhana. The early lessons and voice development techniques are very essential for a grasp of classical nuances in terms of swara sthana, sruthi alignment and concept of rhythm.
The voice should be trained in such a way that the singer should be able to reach the ManthraSthyai(lower octave) and TharaSthayi (Higher Octave) Panchamam without any strain. There is no short cut to achieve this except for dedicated Saadhana or practice. The TharaSthyai varisai improves the tonal quality and the range in upperoctave. The ManthraSthayi Varisai improve the tone and range in the lower octave.These two varisais should be practised in all the speeds to attain perfection in rhythm and swara/note.These exercises should be practised in Akaram too to attain perfection in sruthi alignment, rhythm and notes. Carnatic voice demand a powerful, majestic voice. We have to develop open throat singing. Here we dont sing softly.If you sing softly, you will lose the colour or charm or shade that is required for the song.As in any athletic training, it is important for singers to achieve ‘good form’ through systematic training and develop the knowledge and ability to use their unique GOD given instrument with the maximum freedom and facility.
Special Emphasis on Rhythmic Exercises or Alankara
Just like Saptha or Seven Swaras, there are seven thalas. Alankaaras increase your grasp of Talam when they are rendered by doubling the speed in different tempos. Alankaras are set in 7 different Suladi Thalas known as Saptha Tala Alankaras. The seven major groups are druva, matya, rupaka, jampa, triputa, ata and eka. There are five varieties in each of these group. The 5 groups are tisra-3, Chathusra-4, Misra-7, Kanda-5 and Sankirna-9. Thus we have 35 talas. Alankaras can be practised 3 speeds in 5 note raagas too like Mohanam, Hamsadwani, Madhyamavathi etc and Six note ragas like SreeRanjani etc.
#7-Importance of Varnams
This article is again about the topic Varnams which is a a continuation of my previous article, Varnams – The Pillars of Abhyasa Ganams.Though Varnams belong to Abhyasa Ganam category, due to their high standards, they are suitable to be performed in the concert. We have the tradition of singing/playing a varnam at the very beginning of a concert.
The Sahityam part of a varnam is very minimal, and mostly of Bhakti or Sringara Rasam. A varnam has two parts. First part is known as Purvangam and it is follwed by Utharangam.
Purvangam consists of
- Anu Pallavi
- Mukthayi Swarams
Utharangam consists of
- Ethugada Swrams (also known as Charana Swarams or Chitta Swarams)
Understanding and practising ethugada/charana swarams is the first step in learning kalpana swarams.
Way of Singing Varnams
First the Purvangam is performed, followed by Utharangam. In the Purvangam, each avartham is performed twice in first speed (4 aksharams per kriya). Once the Mukthayi swaram is performed this way, the entire Purvangam is repeated at second degree of speed, in the same manner. Once second speed is over, the entire purvangam is performed at the third speed, and concluded by the performing a portion of pallavi at the firstspeed.
Once the Purvangam is over, Utharangam can be performed either at a fixed speed (Madyama Kalam) or in 2 or 3 speeds.
In Utharangam, Charanam is performed first followed by First chitta swaram. After each chitta swaram,
Charanam is repeated again before progressing to the next chitta swaram . Varnam is concluded by performing Charanam or a portion of it, after reciting all the charana swarams.
If you closely oberve a varnam has all musical forms consisting all the elements of gitam, jatisvaram and svarajati. It prepares the students with adequate skills to be able to learn a kriti. The first half of a varnam which has profuse vowel extensions resembles a kriti while the second half beginning with ettugada pallavi and charanam swarams resembles a svarajati or a jatisvaram.
Advantages of Practicing Varnams in 3 speeds.
While getting trained in varnams, varnams are sung in two kaalams (or sometimes in 3). Kaalams refers to the tempo with which the song is sung. The first speed is normal, the second speed is 2 swaras per beat and the 3rd speed is 4 swaras per beat. In effect 2nd speed is twice as fast and 3rd 4 times. It requires lot of practice to sing the varnam correctly in higher speeds while still sticking to the tune and the sruthi (octave). Once you have mastered it, it gives your voice flexibility to effortlessly glide over the swaras even at breakneck or blistering speed.
Singing Varnams in three speeds helps in culturing the voice and training it to be able to perform complex aspects of music. Akara singing ( of Janta and Dhattu Varisagal) in at least four speeds with clarity with each notes rolling like “laddus”, with good kalapramanam (uniform style), has to be practiced in many ragas on a regular basis.
Varnam highlights everything important about a raga, known as the sanchaaraas of a raga – this includes which notes to stress, how to approach a certain note, classical and characteristic phrases of a raga, the scale of the raga, and so on. Though there are a few different types of varnams, in essence, they all have a pallavi, an anupallavi, muktayi swaras, a charanam, and chittaswaras. They are sung in multiple speeds, and are very good for practice. In concerts, varnams are often sung at the beginning as they are fast and grab the audience’s attention.
By practising varnams in slow tempo one can develop the raga alapana in each phrase.Great composers have composed varnams giving the full fledged raga bhava, swara phrases ,range of the raga etc. Pallavi and Anupallavi in varnams help to develop gamakas or oscillations.Gamaka is an oscillation between previous and next note.Gamaka is defined as Graceful singing. Singing the Varnam in 3 speeds also help to develop Brigas. Brigas are closely packed gamakas. They have more notes.There has to be a judicious mix of gamakas,brigas and flat notes while singing an alapana or krithi.
Speaking a little about voice culture, Sri. Thayagaraja has pointed out that the main resonating cavities are, Nabhi (stomach region), Hrid (chest), Kanda (neck), Rasana (tongue i.e. mouth) and Nasagrea (top of the nose i.e. head). These are classified in the Western classical music as, the chest register, middle register and the head register. Practice of Varnams help us to develop the voice in 3 octaves and gain tremendous breath control.
#6-Tips to Develop Your Singing Voice
This is a continuation of what I wrote a few months back as to How to Develop the Singing Voice ? I would like to say that I am not a Voice Guru. Whatever I pen here is my own way of experimenting to improve the quality of my voice. But i can assure you that these simple techniques works towards acheiving a very good voice quality.
In this article I would like to give special emphasis to Voice Care Techniques. For example, a singer with a wrong posture is not going to utilize his vocal organs and other parts to create the best possible voice. Your Vocal Chords are just like any other body part – If you use your limbs properly by moving around and being active – they will be okay. If you tiptoe around or hibernate in bed, your legs will be in trouble. Similarly your vocal chords needs to be active with regular vocal exercise. Are you a singer who finds immense strain when you sing higher notes? If your veins in the neck sticks out when you sing top notes, beware ; you are moulding an ideal situation for creating vocal trouble over a period of time.
If you have irritation or itching in your throat, it may be because of the following reasons. This was told to me by Dr.Jayakumar – A Trivandrum based Laryngologist, when I met him 6 months ago for a session.
- Severe dryness of the throat or Throat Dehydration
- Excess or excessively thick mucus in the throat
- Voice fatigue after a period of voice use
- Throat irritation or soreness
- Loss of vocal range (especially the higher notes)
You are doing Voice Abuse in the following cases.
- Talking too loudly, for too long.
- Avoid excessive speech in noisy environments
- Don’t do all the talking!
- Try not to raise your voice volume or pitch when you get excited.
- Don’t shout across a room or talk over loud background noise. Move closer to your listener when speaking.
Food Habits- Very Important Aspect of Voice Care
1. One of the major “Good Food for Good Singing” is actually a liquid, and it is called WATER. A healthy voice is VERY dependent on vocal cords that are kept continually moist with watery mucus. Thin, watery mucus in the throat is normal and necessary. Without adequate mucus, the vocal cords must work harder to produce sound which leads to inflammation or swelling of the vocal cord tissues. Generous amounts of water, fruit juice, and other decaffeinated beverages are preferred for optimal voice hygiene. Caffeinated and alcoholic beverages actually pull water out of the tissues in your voice box. Even though they are liquids, these substances can work in this manner to cause dehydration of the throat and voice box.
Keep a glass of lukewarm water beside you whenever you are singing or performing, or just drink some warm water before you sing! This helps to soothe our vocal cords and our throat, and also moistens the tissues and muscles involved, reducing the risk of vocal damage. This is what i always do whenever i have to perform, or whenever i have to take several singing classes consecutively.
Water is so very very important to singers!
2. Foods containing Vitamin A helps cells regenerate normally, Vitamin C helps prevent the common cold and sore throat as well as improve immune functions of the body. These foods also help to keep the mucus membranes in our throats healthy, so that we avoid irritation in our throats when we sing.
3. My favourite food for voice care is Honey which has antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties, meaning that bacteria will find it hard to survive and reproduce in honey. This also means that when we have a sore throat or just feel some discomfort in our voice, we can just take one spoonful of pure Honey, and let it drizzle down our throats. This will help to keep the bacteria away, and will also help our sore throats to heal faster!
4.The best way to treat vocal irritation is to prevent it. Avoid Tea, Coffee, Alcohol,Carbonated Soft Drinks and Spicy food specially before singing . Generally, we should also try to avoid taking too many cold drinks, for health reasons as well as for overall voice care too. Cold drinks cause our throats and our voices to contract and stiffen, and this is not good for singing because we need our vocal cords and throats to be warmed up and flexible in order to be able to hit the various pitches that we sing!Substitute Fresh fruit juice instead of coffee and soft drinks. Many singers usually would also avoid dairy products before a performance, for example cheese, yogurt, milk, ice cream and so on, or even common fruits like bananas. These foods create excessive mucus production and may cause singers to have too much phlegm or mucus when they are singing.
Another severe problem that the singers face is frequent throat clearing. This bangs the vocal cords together and causes irritation. It was mainly for this reason, I had an appointment with Dr. Jayakumar.
The following remedies were suggested.
- Take a drink of water and not to speak for a few seconds
- Swallow HARD
- Sniff, then swallow hard
- Yawn to relax your throat
- If you have to clear throat, clear quietly and gently.
It may help to start small. Choose one hour each day and do not clear your throat during that hour. Each day, add some minutes to that hour. The more you clear your throat, the more you will feel the need to clear your throat. The less you clear your throat, the less you will feel the need to clear your throat.
Another important cause for voice irritation is Acid Reflux.
Acid reflux (when our stomach acids flow back up towards our throat) it causes throat and voice irritation, and it may be caused by taking too much spicy food, as well as eating a lot of food very late at night just before sleep. When the food is being digested at night and we are lying down on our bed, this increases the possibility of acid reflux, and in serious cases, it could cause damage to our vocal cords directly! Acidic fruit juices also increase the chances of acid reflux and should be avoided too, especially late at night before sleep.
To avoid Acid Reflux Doctor advised me with following tips.
- Drink lots of water.
- Eating food at the right time.
- Dinner intake should be any food that is steamed.
- There should be a 2 hour gap after dinner and before retiring to bed.
Above all Good breathing techniques (Pranayama) and Vocal Warm up exercise on a regular basis will help us to maintain our voice in a healthy condition. We sing SA-PA-SA to warm up or vocal muscles. Generally I sing Tharasthayi and Manthrastayi Varishakal for Vocal Warm ups. We should do proper vocal warmups each time before we sing, so that our voices are well supported and warmed up before each vocal performance or practice! This will go a long way towards preserving our wonderful singing voices! A person gifted with musical abilities has a naturally gifted voice apparatus and propensities that need to be unlocked, awakened and orchestrated.
Certainly, for us to sing better, we not only need to know how to protect our voice, we also need to understand the various common singing problems or habits that we may have, as well as how to avoid them!
#5-Simhananda – The longest Thalam in the World
Simhanandana is the longest talam in world music. It has 18 angas, 128 kriyas(or beats) and 512 aksharas. The talam, apart from commonly used angas Laghu and Drutha, also contains the rarely used angas Guru, Plutha and Kaakapaada.
On comaprision, 1 avartha of Simhanandana Tala is equivalent to 16 avarthas of Adi Tala. A lot has been discussed about this talam by musicians of yester years, who refer to it as a “Simha Swapnam”. The angas of this talam are Guru-Guru-Laghu-Plutha-Laghu-Guru-Dhruta-Dhruta-Guru-Guru-Laghu-Plutha-Laghu-Plutha-Guru-Laghu-Laghu-Kakapada. This talam is the 37th of the Ashtottarashatha(108) talas. It can also be seen as a sequence of 6 talas of the 108 tala scheme. They are Chanchatputa, Rati, Darpana, Kokilapriya, Abhanga and Mudrika talas, taken in the same order.
A brief history from time: Simhanandana talam has been found quoted in association with well known musicians from past and present. The legendry musical battle between Sri Bobbili Keshavayya and Sri Syama Sastry(the eldest amongst the music trinity) is a well recorded one. It is said that Bobbili Keshavayya challenged Sri Syama Sastry by singing a Pallavi in the Simhanandana talam. In the recent history, Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer(1844 – 1892) is known to have sung a pallavi in Simhanandana talam, Kalyani ragam. He later made the same into a tillana in Kalyani ragam. This tillana is also sung in Kanada ragam.
In his work ‘Naa Kanda Kalaavidaru’, Mysore Vasudevacharya records Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar singing a pallavi in Simhanandana talam at Gayana Samaja, Bangalore. The Simhanandana demonstration at Madras Music Academy by Mudicondan Venkatarama Iyer is also well known. Another exponent of the Simhanandana tala was Pallavi Chandrappa.
In the present day, Vid. Suguna Purushottaman is known for giving concerts and presenting lec-dems in Simhanandana talam.
Vinay Sharva, a 19 year old Karnatik Classical Vocalist from Bangalore has set a new personal record by singing a Pallavi in the Simhanandana Talam.
#4-Varnams – The Pillars of Abhyasa Ganams
- Varnams are scholarly compositions belonging to Abhyasa-Ganam Category. They are like the pillars amongst Abhyasa Ganas.
- In learning music, Varnams are the foundations of Ragams and Gamakams. Students should learn Varnams very carefully and thoroughly because they learn about gamakas from here only. If a student fails to properly understand and master gamakas, which are the essense of Ragas, it’ll set a very wrong foundation that’ll affect the student’s entire progress in music.
- The composition of varnam is of very high standards. It has the Raga
bhavam, Raga ranjaka prayogas, rare sancharas, Dhattu and Janta
phrases in appropriate places. Analysing and understanding of these
aspects are the first steps in Manodharma Sangeetham (Raga Alapana, Kalpana Swarams etc.)
- All the students learning vocal and instrumental music should practise varnams in 3 speeds. This will help them establish their fingering (instrumental) and bring control to their voice (vocal). In the varnam’s composition, all sort of exercises are present. So the students will gain the ability to sing/perform all kind of prayogas.
First understand what Varnam-s are…
For students, they are useful for learning the swaras of various raagas, singing in multiple speeds rapidly, as well as learning the appropriate gamakas. They introduce the proper combinations of swaras for each raaga and require great discipline for singing. The structure of the varnam includes pallavi, anupallavi, muktaayi swaram, caraNam and multiple ciTTa swarams that return to the caraNam . In Charanam, there are two or three Swaram-s of one avartanam, one Swaram of two avartanam-s and finally one Swaram of four avartanam-s. Varnams are usually the first pieces sung in concerts.
The three Varnam categories are Daru Varnam, Pada Varnam and Taana Varnam .
Daru Varnam: Daru varnams are special type of varnams in whose mukthAyi swarams, there are first the swarA passages, followed by the jatis which are then followed by the sAhitya. An example is the daru varnam “mAtE malayadvaja” in rAgA kamAsu (which when repeatedly spelt becomes sukama = sugama !!):
Pada Varnam: These are suitable for choreography in Bharatanatyam and mostly, only these are used. This has Saahityam for all Swaram-s. They are fairly slow paced.
Taana Varnam: This does not have Sahityam for Swara-s. Usually, the speed is such that it suits Duritha Kaalam and Tisra Gati. Students of Carnatic music learn at least fifteen Taana Varnam-s.
It is good if the students listen them carefully and try to to sing long with the singer for a few times.
Varnams – Part 1
Varnams – Part 2
10- Sami Ninne-Panthuvarali
Varnams – Part 3
#3-Develop Your Singing Voice
The voice is the only living instrument of music. Every individual is unique, so is every voice. Though there are individual limitations differing from person to person, it is very important to note that this is the only instrument, which can be cultivated, improved and cultured, by variation of pitch, intensity and timbre (tonal quality) and all the above mentioned features.“Your throat is constructed exactly like the throat of the world-famous singers and speakers. There is just one difference. A little one, but all-important. They have a perfectly developed voice muscles—ours is weak, underdeveloped, and imperfectly controlled. If you build up these muscles until they are as strong and well controlled as theirs, our voice will become rich, pure and beautiful. But the regular, persistent, silent, physical exercise of the vocal organism is absolutely essential.The four basic steps of voice training include:
2. Control of Breath.
4. Physical and Mental Fitness.
Imitation is the first step towards learning. This statement applies to voice training, too. Concentrated listening is the basic requirement. By listening more and more, the brain creates and stores a mental image of the music. The notes, the tunes, the rhythm, the speed, the words, the volume, the tonal quality of the voice or instrument, etc. are stored in the brain.When we try to sing, this mental image co-ordinates with the laryngeal muscles to produce the music required. Thus, it can be easily understood that, the more we hear, the more we listen, there will be a better ability of voice production. We should listen with all the aspects of the musical form in our minds – like, tonal quality, phonetic quality, time intervals, the microtones (shrutis), expressional effects of the voice, etc. The more deeply we listen, the better quality of music we will sing. Better the mental and physical co-ordination, better will be the voice production. Though this is the first, basic fundamental and unavoidable step towards learning, we should remember that this is not the only step. It is not enough by itself.
Control Of Breath:
This is also a very important step towards voice culture. If we can master our breath, we can easily master our voice for singing. Breath Control gives fine-ness, clarity, steadiness and confident phonation to the voice.The primary source of energy to produce the voice is the smooth flow of air provided by the breathing apparatus. All varieties of voice modulation and the voice leveling can be mastered only when we have enough breathing capacity. Incorrect breathing can cause disorders in voice production.
Everyone knows – ‘Practice makes a man perfect’. Practice should be divided into two types:
1. Trying that which we cannot sing but want to sing.
2. Repeating that which we already know and bring it closer to perfection.
By constantly practicing the system of muscles and the whole system of voice production are physically trained. These exercises differ according to the genre of music which is sung. Voice aspects such as pitch control, articulation, and phonation also vary with the form of music. With classical music there is plenty of improvisation which is integrated into the performance. For this reason a lot more time should be devoted. In such a case the Voice culture for singing practice sessions could even take up to three hour at a time. By regular practice of singing, we give physical training to all the muscles and the voice production system on the whole.
Physical and Mental Fitness.
Last but not the least, physical and mental fitness is equally important in developing a singing voice. If you possess a poor singing posture, it’s not only your physical health which is affected, but also your voice. The negative effects of having a poor posture are causing a lot of difficulties in the major systems of your body. Aside from physiological effect, the tone and quality of your voice as a vocalist can also be greatly affected. Drink lots of water. Keep the moisture of your vocal chords intact to improve your singing voice. Avoid vocal strain and do not sing, if you have a sore throat. Choose the songs that can fit within your range and comfort.
#2-Carnatic Music Lessons – Basic
These are the basic lessons for students who are learning Carnatic Music. The files contain lesssons on Sarali Varisaigal, Jantai Varisaigal, Saptha Thala Alankaarams, Dhattu Varisaigal and Geethams. It is good if the students listen them carefully and try to to sing long with the singer for a few times.
#1-How to Develop Your Voice
Voice is God Gifted – this is a fact. Voice can also be trained. This is also a fact. Before starting with the Music Lessons, I wish to share a few tips on how to develop the voice. Singing demands a good voice. The voice in singing and the voice in speech are very different. When we speak we need not make any conscious effort to modulate our voice. But while we sing, we should see that the voice that comes out is in perfect control. This is mainly dependent on three main aspects ; breath control , healthy body and a sound and focused mind. The singer should know his/her limitations and talents in singing and and do all the needful to nourish and culture it in a way that it gets strengthened and enhanced to exhibit its impressive traits .
Do’s and Dont’s
- Diet plays an important role in maintaining the voice health. Drinking warm water helps; hot tea, clove in honey, ginger kashayam, and pepper milk do wonders and soften the voice.
- Stay away from very cold things, beverages, aerated waters, chocolates, pickles, chillies and anything very sour. Chocolates, Toffees and other paste like things form a layer on your tonsils, exposing it to infections.
- Learn to modulate the voice. DO NOT sing with the maximum voice beyond upper sthayi rishabham. Soften the voice to reduce the stress on the vocal chord. Using false voice may help in effortless singing but wouldn’t reach the audience in effect. Know the difference between singing with open voice and singing loudly and the difference between singing with a false voice and singing softly.
- Proper physical posture is required for a good voice production. One should know his/her own competence to practice and NOT overdo! If the posture and the singing technique followed are acceptable, at the end of the practice session, the abdominal muscles should get strained and not the voice chords. This could be a self check. (Nabhi hruth khanta rasana-Origin of voice is from the abdomen) ” Om ” is one shabdh that makes use of the abdomen, chest and the head . “A(comes from abdomen) – U(chest) -UM(head)”.Practicing Om kara is itself a good voical exercise.
Practice Om kara in three octaves…as you do with “sa-pa-sa”
- Avoid overuse of the voice- don’t scream; talk softly; have limited talks.
- Few drops of honey every morning helps. Regular practice is “the” way to culture the voice.
This page has the following sub pages.
- #21-Analysis of Bhairavi Ata Tala Varnam
- #24-Classification of Raga on the Basis of Gender
- #20-Briga Exercises
- #19-Notations of Sarali, Madhyasthayi & Vakra Janta Varishaikal
- #17-Study of Ata Tala Varnams
- #18-Dwimadhyama Panchama Varja Ragas
- #22-Analysis of Kalyani Ata Tala Varnam
- #23-Analysis of Sankarabharanam Ata Tala Varnam
- #16-The importance of Sruthi or Drone-The Concept of Sruthi