You must have noticed that the vocalist in that Carnatic concert you can’t stop raving about had an enviable control over voice modulation, pitch, and ornamentation! Undoubtedly, such levels of Carnatic vocal singing come about because of years of diligent, daily, and dedicated practice. The control in the gamakas (ornamentation), the steady tone at melasthayi (high octaves), the perfect swarasthana (position of notes) were possible because of continuous and regular practice. 

Protip#1: Avoid murmuring or singing between your teeth. 

It is important to open your mouth and sing (of course, don’t feel compelled to display your entire array of dental endowments!)

Vocal exercises that can improve your Carnatic voice

1)  Practise pranayamas               Estimated Time: 10-15 mins

Breathing is the basis of life – and of singing. Your breath decides your ability to have a steady voice, to reach high pitches, and your capacity to hold a note for any length of time. It is the secret behind having a full voice, minimising impurities that enter you when you sing, and improving your voice control and culture. 

Singers need to know:

  1. How many times to take breath 
  2. When to take breath
  3. How to hold your breath as you stay on a note

Pranayamas help you with breath control.

Note: Posture is also extremely important for any singer. And yoga trains you in good posture. Ensure that you take deep breaths with your spine erect.

A. Anulom Vilom/Nadi Shodhana Pranayama

Hold your breath to swell your song!

3.

S  R  G  S  | R  G  |  S   R  | |

S  R  G M  | P  D  |  N  Ṡ  | |

Ṡ  N  D Ṡ   | N  D |  Ṡ  N  | |

Ṡ  N  D P   | M  G | R  S   | |

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Janti Varisai Exercises:

4.

SS RR GG MM | PP DD | NN ṠṠ ||

ṠṠ NN DD PP | MM GG | RR SS ||

5.

SS RR GG MM | RR GG | MM PP ||

GG MM PP DD | MM PP | DD NN ||

PP DD NN ṠṠ | ṠṠ NN | DD PP ||

NN DD PP MM | DD PP | MM GG ||

PP MM GG RR | MM GG | RR SS ||

Note: Ṡ is one octave higher than S

Points to remember 

  1. Practice these notes in three different speeds – slow, medium, fast. Test yourself to see how fast you can say them. This will help you with speed, enunciation, and clarity with fast numbers. 
  2. Practice Aakaara, Ookaara, and eekara with these notes at different speeds. These will ensure you build a solid foundation in singing. Just as an escalator transforms seamlessly from steps to a smooth surface, your voice should also be able to move from one note to another melodiously and harmoniously. 
Protip#2: Practise in the morning.

1. Your muscles are unstrained in the morning. By evening, your voice has taken the load of the day’s demands and is not at its strongest.

2. To be able to produce the sort of ornamentation you want for your songs, good control of voice is essential. So, it is believed that if you can control your voice in the colder conditions of early mornings, you will be able to control it at any other time in the day. 

My mother woke me up at 4 a.m. to practice sarali, jantai, and alankarams, replacing swaras with vowels. This was an everyday activity, upon the completion of which I earned my glass of milk.

– Aruna Sairam, Carnatic singer, The Hindu

4) Technical Exercises                            Estimated Time: 5-10 mins

Raga: Shankarabharanam

Arohanam (Ascending Notes): S  RGM1 P D2 N3

Avarohanam (Descending Notes): Ṡ  N3 DP M1 GR2 S

A.

S , RSS ,     |  R, GRR ,  |  G , MGG ,  |

M , PMM ,  | P , DPP ,   |  D , NDD , |

N,   ṠNN ,    | Ṡ , ṘṠṠ  ,  |   Ṡ , ṘṠ Ṡ  , |

N,   ṠNN ,    | D , NDD , |  P , DPP ,  | 

M , PMM ,  | G , MGG ,  |  R, GRR ,  |  S , RSS ,  |

B.

S , RSSṆ     |  R , GRRS  |  G , MGGR  |

M , PMMG |  P , DPPM  | D, NDDP     |

N, ṠNND    |  Ṡ , ṘṠṠN   | Ṡ , ṘṠṠN     |

N , ṠNND  |   D, NDDP   | P, DPPM     |

M, PMMG  |  G , MGGR  | R , GRRS   | S , RSSṆ

Protip#3: Practise diligently every day.

Practise for at least 20 minutes to ensure your voice is warmed up, so it does not break when you hold swaras (notes) for some length of time or when you attempt high octaves and pitches.

All these exercises help singers get a thorough practice in swarasthana. For more diversified practice, it would be a good idea to practice these swaras (notes) in various ragas (tunes) so you get a better hold of the variations in the notes.

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Protip#4: Test your voice to see if you are exercising correctly.

1. Record yourself so you get an idea of how you really sound as opposed to how you think you sound 😉

2. Practise under the guidance of a trained teacher. This is the best way to know if you are practising correctly. Connect with a Carnatic vocal teacher

6) Jaw exercises                        Estimated Time: 2-3 mins

This is a simple exercise that will give your face some relaxation as well as flexibility. Open and close your jaws 20 times to exercise the facial muscles. This will help the vocal cords to vibrate properly and help you with gamakas (oscillations).

Protip# 5: Caveats for Carnatic singers:

1. Do not sing after a meal. A full stomach is not conducive to singing!

2. Do not overstrain your voice with continuous hours of practice.

3. Learn which foods help or harm you. It is different for each individual. Singer and songwriter, Bindu Subramaniam, reveals, “SPB used to eat icecreams and have no issues. My mom, on the other hand, if she even looks at ice cream, it’s not going to be a good thing for her!” So find your food friends and foes!

Which of these voice exercises for Carnatic music work for you? Write in to tell us at enquiry@sapaindia.com

Remember that each person’s voice is different. Learn to customise your exercises according to your needs. It is possible that some exercises work better than some others for you. And also keep in mind that just as Rome was not built in a day, neither will your voice be. But keep at it and the effect on your Carnatic singing will be palpable – to you and your audience!

hop on to an exciting Carnatic journey with our expert teachers, welcome to the SaPa family!