Indian Classical Music and Sikh Kirtan


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Chapter 6: Vocal Music

Vocal Music

The true poets-they who are seers-seek to express the universe in terms of music. (Rabindranath Tagore)

1.Human Voice
It is worthwhile to compare the human vocal organ to the reeds of the harmonium. In the human organ there are two vocal chords. There is a gap in between. One end of the gullet opens into the sound-box. The other end leads to the lungs. As the breath comes up from the lungs, the edges of the membranes begin top throb like the reeds of a harmonium which give rise to dhavni (sound). These membranes are connected with a muscle and according to need, their throbbing and tension can be modulated or regulated to produce a change in the voice.

2.Madhur Dhavni
Dhavni, as explained above, is the result of the throbbing and vibration of the vocal chords. Dhavani is of two kinds: (a) dhavni without prolongation, which becomes silent immediately, (b) the dhavni which continues, and slowly and steadily comes to an end. The second type of dhavni is appropriate to music. The musician should practice dhavni to make it melodious. If he has control over the dhavni, he can improvise the musical embellishments and grace-notes according to his desire. Some musicians have a good voice, but on account of lack of practice and improper manner,
their singing is not impressive. Such musicians should modulate their dhavni and practise the technique of raga. However, the musician is not a blind follower. He is a creative artist in his own right. He must show his originality in creating new permutations and sequences possible within the framework of the particular raga he is playing.

3. Voice Training
Particular breath-control exercise may not be necessary for voice training. The alaap exercises are intended to secure both poise and resonance of the voice. What is needed is the capacity of sustaining the breath over a slow vocalisation. The nom-tom exercise are meant to give practice in the reproduction of vowel and consonant sounds (found in the wording of the song). The breath throws the vocal chords into action and when it passes through the mouth cavity, it resonates according to the opening or closing of the teeth and lips. The strain on the 'vocal chords can be reduced to a minimum by the judicious use of mouth cavities and proper control and adjustment of the tongue, the teeth and lips' [1] The vowel sounds can be easily sustained while the voiced consonants require some effort. The alaap exercises apart from voice training are also meant to regulate the pitch and the time. Subsequently tan exercises regulate the voice in equal steps. The parts of the alaap (ascending and descending) acquaint the student with the different groups of notes in a raga. Finally in the meend, the continuous glide, the performer gets relief by a return to the tonic note and thus contains the aesthetic relish of the raga.

In India, vocal music is rated higher than instrumental; music. As such, ancient writers laid emphasis on the cultivation of the voice. Control over the voice is the key to the art of singing. A cultivated voice is the result of great discipline. Bharata mentioned five qualities which a singer must cultivate in order to build up a musical voice:

a) Volume of voice: It should be audible from a distance of about 60 feet. Perhaps this requirement is not
necessary now an account of acoustic arrangements in concert hall.
b) Steadiness of tone: It should be cultivated so as to improve the tonal quality.
c) Mellowness of voice: The voice must be trained to be able to produce different notes without any effort.
d) Production of several notes to the basic or fundamental note: Such notes would include similar notes,
consonant notes and side notes. The singer must know the composite nature of musical notes and be able to
reproduce them at will.
e) Range of voice: It should be comprehensive. He should be able to use the notes of the three saptaks: the
lower, the middle and upper octaves.

Sarang Deva the musicologist added the following qualifications for a good vocal singer. He is one who:


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