Do you enjoy listening to Carnatic songs? Beautiful aren’t they? Perhaps you were moved enough to learn Carnatic music in some form – Carnatic vocals or instrumentals? So much technique, practice, and technical understanding go into a Carnatic performance.
Are there some specific practice techniques that singers follow? Like – When is the best time to practise? Does food affect your voice? How long should you practise? How do you know if you are singing in the right raga (tune)? It definitely helps to get a few pointers on practising the right way and under the right guidance. Here are some practice tips for carnatic vocalists that can help you improve your Carnatic singing voice and style.
1. Maintain the right posture.
Avoid slouching. Keep your spine erect so that your voice can travel from your abdomen to your throat, allowing clear passage of your breath.
2. Keep your head upright.
Ensure that you do not put any strain on your neck or vocal cords. Try to avoid lifting your head up for higher octaves or tilting it downwards for lower octaves.
3. 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!)
4. Always practise with a tambura or shruti box.
Having an ear for music is very important to be able to produce the musical tones you need. The tambura and shruti box ensure that you always maintain the right pitch throughout a song. So, it is the perfect accompaniment for Carnatic vocalists. (Hindustani vocalists use the tanpura.) You would have seen tambura players in Carnatic concerts. The continuous plucking of strings creates a harmonious atmosphere which helps keep the singer stay in tune and scale.
5. Take breaths at the appropriate time.
Breath is the basis for singing. It determines your range, pitch, steadiness, smoothness, melody, and any other aspect you can think of, of your singing voice. Singers should know when to take a breath, how much breath to take, when to pause, and when to go ‘breathless’. When so much control of your breath is required, it is important that singers practise breathing exercises. Pranayamas to improve singing voice can help you control your breath for Carnatic singing.
6. Practise different octaves.
Every singer has a range where they are comfortable singing. To go beyond that range requires some effort and training. You could sing notes from one octave lower and one higher to gradually increase your range. You may not be able to cover the whole octave but having a good understanding of your own abilities and polishing up on it can boost the strength and steadiness of your singing voice.
7. Practise in the morning.
- 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.
- 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
8. 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.
- Also, sit for practice at the same time every day. This will give you greater control and confidence in your voice.
9. Test your voice to see if you are exercising correctly.
- Record yourself so you get an idea of how you really sound as opposed to how you think you sound 😉
- 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.
10. Listen to music & understand the song.
One important point to keep in mind as you learn Carnatic music is to listen to music actively – discerning the ragas (tunes) and keeping talas (beats) alongside. It is also important that you understand the lyrics of the song you are singing and enunciate properly. So, knowledge of different languages of Carnatic songs improves diction, adding dimension and feeling to your Carnatic singing.
“It is helpful for vocalists to have some training in the veena or violin, to get a complete understanding of swarasthanams (position of notes).”
– Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Carnatic vocalist, The Hindu
Caveats for Carnatic singers
- Do not sing after a meal as a full stomach does not allow you to sing from your abdomen.
- Do not overstrain your voice with continuous hours of practice. If you are uncomfortable, you need to change something about your Carnatic vocal practice. Consult a teacher for better clarity and direction.
- Learn which foods help or harm you. It is different for each individual. For some dairy products are a no-no. For others, anything cold can be detrimental to their vocal cords. 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! Most people drink water to hydrate themselves – some prefer warm water or beverages.
There is no substitute for learning from a trained teacher. So, delve into the wonderful world of Carnatic music with its marvellous range and subtle nuances and enjoy the various ragas under the friendly and able guidance of SaPa’s teachers. Join a class now!
Do you feel like you don’t have time for a class? No worries. We have sessions by our educators for you to learn at your own pace.
Did you find these tips for Carnatic singing useful? You can read more tips for improving your singing voice for music in general.