How to Sing Better: Voice Culture

How to Sing Better: Voice Culture

“Human voice is the most beautiful instrument of all, but it is the most difficult to play” – Richard Strauss.

What is voice culture?

Voice culture primarily refers to the methodology adopted to train or control the voice to sing effectively. Many musicologists and voice experts have accepted it as science. According to one of the voice experts Dr. T. Unnikrishnan, the technique of voice culture is a branch of knowledge, which deals with the techniques of right voice production.

Fundamentally, it is the coming together of an understanding of science with the physical feel of the voice. Culturing or nurturing the voice is essential for a singer of any level-be it is a beginner learning to sing or a seasoned artist. Voice culturing is a vocal training method of training the voice to project it effectively, using the whole body as a musical instrument with voice modulation, breath control techniques, effective pronunciation etc. The voice needs to be understood and taken care of as a child and has to be nourished to strengthen it by reducing shortcomings and enhancing impressive traits.

When a musician sings in the correct tone, the whole environment becomes spiritual and soothing. For the tone to touch the hearts of the listeners, the primary medium is the voice, which is the amalgam of sound and mechanics. Two important factors for a good musician are a good voice and sound musical knowledge. A vocal musician has to exercise his/her vocal cords to bring them under the command of musical impulses of the brain. The practice of such singing exercises to make the vocal cords music worthy is called saadhana or riyaz. A beginner would be more focused on singing in tune, understanding the concept of pitch, being able to sustain notes in adherence to shruti without wavering, ability to render gamakas with control and mastering the speed, ability to traverse various octaves, correct articulation of sahitya and so on. The voice-building exercise is similar to a bodybuilding exercise. The voice has to be nurtured carefully to maintain its dexterity until it becomes supple enough to reproduce what is intended to sing as the voice is the amalgamation of sound and mechanics.

What are the factors that affect singing?

  • Flexibility – The vocal mechanism and speech organ must be flexible enough to enunciate the words and to produce different musical phrases
  • The shape of the mouth – Important for correct pronunciation
  • Vocal range – Varies from person to person, however, the range is limited for speech than singing. The minimum traversable range for an individual is two and a half octaves.
  • Speed – Agility of the vocal cords to produce musical phrases in any tempo influences the quality of singing
  • Volume – Appropriate loudness to reach the audience, without compromising on the tonal quality and the bhava aspects
  • Imagination – Mental perception of the words and tone are important to render a note or word effectively. Creativity in musical phrases plays a very important role.

Why are vocal exercises important?

  • It warms up the voice to extend the vocal range
  • It trains you to sing wide intervals comfortably
  • It helps in correcting vocal faults
  • It influences effective breath control
  • It helps make your speech organs more flexible
  • It widens your vocal range
  • It helps you in controlling the volume as the context of the presentation demands
  • It helps in enhancing your Vowel pronunciation

It may be stated here that language, culture and civilization have a direct influence on the quality of the voice. Language and speech affect the way a vowel or consonant is pronounced. Some use more of the nasal tone when speaking, like in the Malayalam language, while others use rounded consonants and tone, like in the Bengali language.

What affects the sound of your voice?

  • The physical condition of the body – which may affect the tonal quality and strength
  • Articulation, rate of speech, intonation and pauses
  • Breathing pattern
  • Emotional condition
  • External factors like air quality, humidity, noise
  • Speaker-listener distance
  • Hormonal changes
  • Fatigue and stress
  • Age and any medications

Several factors affect voice quality when singing. One should be cautious of them and pay deliberate attention, especially during the time leading up to a performance.

How to maintain voice quality?

  • Breath control
    • Control of breath offers clarity, steadiness and confident phonation to the voice. It is recommended to sing using abdominal breathing while singing lower notes to make the base swaras weighty. The intensity of the voice depends on the force given to the breath while singing.
    • Key to controlling the volume while singing is controlling the breathing. The diaphragm beneath the lungs helps in controlling the amount of air that is exhaled when singing.
  • Understanding the production of tones across the range and understanding the breathing pattern.
  • Efficient usage of the tongue for correct pronunciation.
  • Exercising regularly to maintain fitness and developing the ability to hold onto a swara or phrase for a longer duration without shaking it.
  • Choosing the correct shruti/pitch suitable to the voice. This plays a major role in vocal health to avoid strain over a long duration.
  • Open and free voice production is suitable for effective rendition and for the music to touch the heart of the listener.
  • Vocal pedologists say that any musician who adopts the right vocal techniques will find the abdominal muscles around the navel strained rather than the vocal cords.
  • Voice modulation is necessary to reduce the strain on the vocal cords. Modulation does not mean using false voice. Soften the voice to reduce stress. Using a false voice may help in effortless singing but will not create the right impact on the listener.

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