Voice Culture in Carnatic Music is very important as it is in any stream of music. Culturing the voice depends on the inherent texture of the voice and the genre of singing as in classical (Indian, Western), folk, light. Firstly, the singing voice and the voice with which we speak aren’t the same. While speaking is an action that doesn’t need any conscious effort (Do not refer to speaking as in stage orations), singing does demand. The technique of bringing the voice under our command is termed as “voice culture”. However, this comes with breath control techniques, healthy body, and more importantly a sound and focused mind. Nevertheless, in Carnatic music Voice Culture is very important.
While for an instrument, oiling, tuning, selecting the instruments made out of the right materials (depending on the instrument kind – percussion, string, air instrument) etc. would matter, culturing a voice needs an ardent effort and a personal care. However, every voice is unique and beautiful. But, the voice needs to be understood by its owner to nourish and culture it in a way that it gets strengthened. Each voice has its traits and limitations. Hence, voice culture must aim at reducing the shortcomings and enhance the impressive traits of the voice.
Dos and DONTs:
• Practicing early in the morning, soon after waking up may not suit everyone. Therefore, give sufficient time to your voice to even out. This helps in Voice Culture. Warm water gargling will also help. Talk to people in a soft tone. Get your tongue move and let your voice chords naturally moist before you start the first practice sessions for the day.
• DO NOT practice at (very) high pitch (Shruthi) when the sun is right above the head (that’s between 12 noon and 4pm) i.e., during the noon. If your pitch is five and half, it will do good to stick to five (say half a pitch lower than yours) at this time of the day. This would avoid wear and tear.
• Firstly, every session of saadakam (practice) need to start with a piece of varnam preferably;. Hence, varnams are made in a way that will give sufficient exercise to the vocal cord and from all possible angles. This is an important voice culture technique.
• Secondly, try to modulate the voice and never sing using the maximum pitch beyond the comfortable upper sthayi rishabham (Ri). Also, always Soften the voice to lower the stress on the vocal chord. However, this doesn’t mean that you use in false voice. Using false voice may help in easy singing but might not reach the audience in the long run. Therefore, learn the difference between singing with open voice and singing loudly and the difference between singing with a false voice and singing softly. This also helps for better voice culture
Physical Posture and Voice Culture
• Thirdly, proper physical posture is required for a good voice production. Certain voice types would get strained with 2-3 hours of practice but some people can go upto 5-6 hours in one stretch. Hence it is important that you understand the nature of your voice and its limitations. 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)
• Nasal touch is required for a proper alignment with Shruthi, but nasal twang shouldn’t inhabit your voice completely. Open mouth singing helps reduce the nasal twang.
• Diet plays an important role in maintaining the voice health. Drinking warm water is good; warm tea and other herbal mix using honey blended with clove, ginger concentrate in jaggery or molasses, as well as pepper milk helps a lot to soften the voice. Avoid food items that are too cold or that which contain excess oil.
• Always try to avoid overuse and strain to the voice. Never scream under any situation. This will leave a scratch on the voice. Learn to talk softly. Its always nice to abstain from any verbal communication for a few hours every week. Mouna Vrata helps a lot in voice culture. It gives complete voice rest. Most importantly don’t be afraid all the time that your voice might be affected by a cold. If you worry about falling sick all the time, you might actually fall sick, as per the law of attraction.
Cover Image used in this page is of Lavanya Sundararaman. Picture Credits to Lavanya Sundararaman