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How to Sing better: Vocal Flexibility

Everyone dreams of having a flexible body that can be twisted, turned anyway around. Well, this is possible with regular exercises in the gym and practicing yoga. Then why not aim for vocal flexibility similarly, so that one is able to sing a song of any genre melodiously and attractively? This is possible by developing a flexible voice that is agile enough to render any kind of a song that has complicated passages, with good tonal quality, control and command over the voice.

Ability to have command over the voice and singing with ease is developed by systematic voice training. Once the learner is comfortable with singing in pitch and has obtained sufficient control over the swarasthanas/notes, voice agility training must begin. The earlier, the better. This kind of a training must be tailor-made for each individual, keeping in mind the nature of the voice, tonal quality, range limitations and weight of the voice.

Initially, such a training begins with rendering brief agile phrases that can be sung in a comfortable low-middle range. The velocity or the speed at which these phrases can be rendered depends on the individual. Usually, lighter voices can traverse through these phrases faster than heavyweight voices by nature of their agility abilities. However, this must not deter one from mastering the rendition of these exercises at maximum speed, with clarity and adherence to shruti/tune. Developing agility enables the singer to render melodically complicated phrases with good control and ease in all octaves.

What are some common mistakes singers make?

  1. Pushing more breath than required: This method of singing tires the voice sooner, leaving behind a painful throat. Carrying a lot of breath while singing may lead to permanent damage to the vocal chords.
  2. Singing like speaking: This may appear harsh or heavy and becomes hard on ears. While traversing the higher octaves, make sure to modulate the voice, keeping intact the weight of the tone. Try to thin out the tone in the higher octaves, instead of singing full-throated, however, this should not compromise on the pitch and effectiveness aspects. The voice must be trained flexibly to modulate when required.
  3. Neglecting to train the ears while singing: A good singer must develop a good ear first. Develop a sensitive ear to your singing in order to quickly recognize the right and erroneous tones. Listen to yourself before others listen to you!!
  4. Wrong vocal exercises: Identify your voice quality, the range it can traverse across and then do the appropriate vocal exercises. This will aid in the betterment of the tonal quality else you might end up losing the natural voice.

Techniques to overcome the shortcomings

Voice training methods vary across different styles of music because the ornamentation pertaining to one style is different from the other. Voice has to be trained specifically to produce the required ornamentation of that genre of music. It also varies across individuals.

Breath Control

The whole technique of singing is mainly based on breath control. So the breath control technique plays a very important role here. Always use open-throated singing. Avoid murmuring, or half-opened mouth singing, or nasal singing as these become vocal impurities. Following are the principles to overcome these. The lower jaw, neck and the tongue are the main contributors to the singing process. They have to be free from tension. Hence, relax the lower jaw muscles by opening and closing the mouth. Turn the head left and right to relax the neck muscles. The tongue can be relaxed by rolling it clockwise and anti clockwise by keeping the mouth closed. 

Agility

 

Voice flexibility is very important to able to sing a song of any genre melodiously and attractively. Following are the tips to develop an agile voice that can traverse various octaves at different speeds.

  • Practice the basic patterns like sarale varase or palte in aakaara (with aaa sound), eekaara (with eee sound), uukaara, ookaara etc. Pay heed to the placement of the tongue while singing each vowel. They must be produced from the different places on the tongue palate and not from the lips alone.
  • Hold on to each note for a long duration. Deep breathing is important in this process. Breathe from the naabhi i.e. abdomen. This gives the required stamina and flexibility and power to the voice. Iron out the crease or cracks in the voice.
  • Practice the basic lessons in different tempos, keeping in mind the purity of notes and shruti shuddham. This helps in making the voice flexible and increases the range suitably.
  • Avoid nasal singing. Keep your music sincere and honest. Vibrato production hides the natural sound of the voice and is basically produced due to the fear of sustenance. Stand on a note with power aligning to shruti.
  • Practice the lower octave swaras (mandara sthaayi) and hold on to each of them for as long as possible. This helps in expanding the higher octave range.

Here’s an interesting educative tutorial by Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna where he explains the techniques of effective voice culture with demonstration.

SCAT singing

Scat singing is a vocal improvisation in world music where you sing nonsense syllables and sounds as if an instrument. It is a creative spontaneous improvisation expression technique for a vocalist, allowing them to render unplanned melodies and solos without predefined lyrics. This is one sure way of testing the voice’s flexibility and control over it. For one to render scat singing effectively, perfect voice control and vocal flexibility play a very important role. The choice of scat syllables can be used to reflect various instruments. Elvis Presley added growl-scat technique in a couple of his songs. Scat singing technique is also used by many hip-hop artists and rappers to come up with rhythm. This technique makes us realize that the human voice and instrument are very close in timbre and sound almost indistinguishable.

Here is one video of scat singing by Ella Fitzgerald who is considered to be the greatest scat singers.

There are many other ways to test one’s voice flexibility in various genres. All it requires is focused voice training and proper breathing techniques.

Be stubborn about your goals, and flexible about your methods”

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