Voice is an instrument , an integral part of the body, which can also be trained and tuned. It is probably one of the most beautiful and versatile god given instruments. The most important aspect of a good voice production is the ability to bring out the purity and richness of sound. I would say that a single sustained note given with utmost purity and fullness , filled with ‘nadham’ can produce an effect not even equal to a complex bhriga laden phrase.
Every voice is unique and has specific characteristics. Some aspects of the voice can be trained such as stamina, breath control, speed etc but others cannot be changed.
And..it should not be changed. Many great musicians have succeeded by understanding their voices, with their strengths and limitations and have managed to evolve their own unique style around it.
Voice is an instrument or a conduit through which we express our musical thoughts. If there are imperfections, this cannot be done effectively.
My opinion is that if the voice is imperfect in some way and does not have certain essential characteristics like melody and richness, it might be a better option to choose an instrument to help express the musical thoughts more effectively.
What are some techniques that students of Carnatic music can adopt to improve their singing? (Such as tone, breath control etc)
This is something that everybody probably knows but seldom practice. One can get up early in the morning, tune the tanpura and sing along with it. I have also heard that the mind tends to imitate the instrument that it is most exposed to. This is a magical experience and I would strongly recommend training with the tanpura early in the mornings.
It is also important to focus on Akaara exercises. One can also practice holding or sustaining on a single note and observe closely with the mind’s eye for waverings or imperfections. The effect can be compared that of oil being poured smoothly in a continuous flow as opposed to a gush of water spurting forth. This exercise works on voice stamina, improves breath control and helps to iron out all the creases.
‘Shruti shuddham’ or alignment to shruti is of utmost importance. We can practice many existing exercises such as ‘varishais’ but we can also improvise and create our own exercises. For example, we can practice difficult phrases, practice a phrase in different speeds, practice the varishais in different raagas [demonstrates] We should also attempt to sing these exercises with clarity and punch which will help improve the gamaka clarity and flexibility.
Question: How does Carnatic music training address specific voice culture techniques?
I feel that our system does not have anything specific to voice training. Thanks to Purandara Dasa, we have a system to help train students on learning Carnatic music in general but it cannot address the voice aspects. Students usually learn only by instinct and try to learn by imitation of their guru’s voice production. It should not be so, we should make an effort to change this. Although there are numerous voice culture techniques in other forms of music such as Hindusthani and Western, we cannot adopt them to our complex system of Carnatic music, involving intricate ragas and melodies. I however look forward to the evolution of systematic treatise of Voice Culture in Carnatic music which would have the ability to address specific voice production aspects such as tonal purity, shruti shuddham and other areas.
It is important to breathe from the ‘nabhi’ or abdomen area. The sound would have a richer and fuller quality . Adopt an open throat style and open voice production. Avoid stylistic mannerisms, nasality and vibrato. Sustaining on a note in the higher octave is difficult but we must train ourselves to do that correctly and boldly without any compromises. Let the music be honest and sincere. These aspects must be cultivated from a very young age.