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. 

But what special warm-up vocal exercises should you do to aspire to reach such levels? How do you train your voice for Carnatic music? We are about to reveal all you wanted to know about improving your Carnatic singing voice and how to make your vocal cords more flexible and fluid so you can give your best performance!

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!


How to do it


Here, you will actively use the thumb and ring finger to close your right and left nostrils respectively – alternately.

1. Sit on a mat or on a chair with your spine erect.  
2. Rest your left palm on your knee. Or you can keep it in chin mudra, i.e. with the tips of your left thumb and index finger touching each other while your palm is facing upwards.
3. Fold the tips of the index and middle fingers of the right hand inward until they touch the right palm.
4. With your right thumb, press your right nostril and breathe in for 4 counts from your left nostril.
5. Now, close your left nostril also with your ring finger, and hold your breath for 10 counts or as many as you are comfortable with. 
6. Release your right thumb, and exhale from your right nostril for a count of 8.
7. Now, inhale from your right nostril for 4 counts, close your right nostril and hold your breath for as long as you can, say, 10 counts, then, release your ring finger and exhale from your left nostril for 8 counts.
8. This completes one cycle. You can do this for 3 cycles, to begin with, and slowly increase it as per your comfort levels.

The inhalation, holding, and exhalation should be gentle, and not forced. Enjoy the smooth flow of air in and out of your breathing tract. This will help your passageway clear up and enable you to sing without obstruction.

Benefits 

This pranayama infuses your body with oxygen, purifies your energy channels, clears your breathing tract, and enables a smooth vocal performance. It also calms you and helps you focus better. 

B. Chant A-U-M

The sound ‘Om’ actually consists of the syllables A-U-M. Here, you bring out your voice from your abdomen, from where it travels to the heart muscles and then culminates at the throat. 

carnatic music exercises

How to do it

Sit on a mat or a chair with your spine erect, your hands in chin mudra, and sing Aaaaa… from the pit of your stomach, then produce Oooo…sound from your lungs, and then Mmmm…sound from your lips. Enjoy the vibrations and feel the clarity in your voice.

Benefits

This will clear your passageway as well as make you calmer and more peaceful from within. A steady voice is more possible this way. It helps singers produce a deep tone. The vibrations that this sound evokes also help you feel relaxed. In this state, your voice is strong and steady. It’s like the sentry who clears the path for a dignitary, in this case, your voice!

C.  Lion’s Breath                   Estimated Time: 5 mins

How to do it

1. Sit on your heels with your knees bent. (You can also sit cross-legged if that is more comfortable for you.)

2. Now lean forward, and come to a table-top position resting on all fours. 

3. Inhale deeply. 

4. Next, open your mouth wide, stick out your tongue, stretching it down to your chin.

5. Exhale forcefully, from your abdomen, making a ‘ha’ sound; carry your breath to the tip of your tongue.

6. Repeat five times.

Benefits

  • Strengthens your vocal cords and diaphragm
  • Helps relax your facial muscles

2) Hum                                                        Estimated Time: 8-10 mins

Humming is a good vocal exercise to train your vocal range. You can hum your song at different pitches – loudly, softly, and also explore the space in between.  Enjoy the vibrations as you hum. Hum different octaves. This will also make you aware of your breath control so you can practise holding and letting it go effectively. 

Benefits

  • Humming will improve the quality of your tone and deepen your voice. 
  • It helps you exercise your vocal cords without putting strain on it.
  • Over time, it will give you a better sense and control over raga (tune) as you internalize it.
  • Humming massages your throat muscles warming your insides.

You can also try the Bhramari Pranayama – Humming Bee Breath. Here, you place your thumbs just outside your ears. Place your index finger on your eyebrows and your other three fingers over your eyes. Now, with your mouth closed, take a deep breath and say ‘Om’ as you exhale. Experience the vibrations you produce. It will fill you with calmness and relaxation, a ‘sound’ place to produce music from. 

3) Sarali Varisai & Janti Varisai     Estimated Time: 15-20 mins

Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start… Even established singers start their practice with the basics. It is an effective voice training technique for singing as it eases you into your routine. And over time these go a long way towards building your confidence in your voice. Right from getting the swarasthana to refreshing your knowledge of the basics of a song, sarali varisai and janti varisai will help you get warmed up well. Here are a few to start you off…

Note: 

Arohana (Ascending Notes): S  RGM1 P D2 N3

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

These vocal exercises give you an introduction to the Shankarabharanam raga, a popular raga in Carnatic music (corresponding to the Major Scale in Western music) and this is practised in Adi Tala. Sing these at different speeds to get fluidity in your performance.

Sarali Varisai Exercises:

1.

S  R  G  M  | P  D  | N  Ṡ | |

Ṡ  N  D  P   | M G  | R  S | |

2.

S  R  S   R  | S  R  |  G  M | |

S  R  G  M | P  D |   N  Ṡ  | |

Ṡ  N  Ṡ   N  | Ṡ  N |  D  P  | |

Ṡ  N  D  P   | M G |  R  S  | |

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. 
carnatic music exercises

3. Make sure you match the tambura, which must be your constant companion through your Carnatic music vocal exercises and songs.

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. 

carnatic music exercises

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.

carnatic music exercises

5)  Staircase warmup exercise for singers    Estimated Time: 5-10 mins

This is a fun warmup exercise that will help you take off into singing with melody and harmony – seamlessly. This also helps tone and culture your voice. 

S R S

S R G R S

S R G M G R S

S R G M P M G R S

S R G M P D P M G R S

S R G M P D N D P M G R S

S R G M P D N Ṡ Ṡ  N D P M G R S

carnatic music exercises

Sing this at different speeds and with aakaaras.

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.

Would you like to learn Carnatic vocal singing lessons at your own pace? Explore here

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).

carnatic music exercises

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!

How can I improve my Carnatic voice?

Violinist, and trained Carnatic vocalist, Ambi Subramaniam says, “On days when I don’t have time to do everything, I ensure that I practise scales.” This is good advice for vocalists also. Even if you cannot do everything, ensure that you do a couple of breathing techniques, scale exercises, basic songs, and then you are set to sing to your heart’s content! 
If you would like to hop on to an exciting Carnatic journey with our expert teachers, welcome to the SaPa family!

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