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Basics of Voice Culture

by Manjiree Gokhale

The process of bringing the voice under control is known as voice culture. This study includes traditional and scientific methods to improve the quality of voice.

Though voice is used for both speaking and singing, the technique of voice production for singing is more complex. Singing requires a more delicate control over the muscles. Effective control of breath, flexible speech organs, adjustments of resonators, wider range, mental perception, etc. are the features wherein the voice can be trained.

Voice production for singing consists of other features also, in which fields the voice has to be trained. They are like the shape of the mouth, effective pronunciation of the words, adjusting the voice to different tempos or speeds, controlling of volume or amplitude as the background of presentation demands, vowel pronunciation and a very important feature of developing imaginative power to improvise.

The voice has to be trained according to the style and type of singing one chooses, e.g. classical, light, folk, pop, semi-classical, etc. This is because each type of music demands a different style of voice production. The male and female built up of the voice producing organs differs. So, the training style will also differ.

The voice is the only living instrument of music. Every individual is unique, so is every voice. Though there are individual limitations differing from person to person, it is very important to note that this is the only instrument, which can be cultivated, improved and cultured, by variation of pitch, intensity and timbre (tonal quality) and all the above mentioned features.

Four Basic Steps Of Voice Training

  1. Hearing.
  2. Control of Breath.
  3. Practice (Riyaz).
  4. Physical and Mental Fitness.
Imitation is the first step towards learning. This statement applies to voice training, too. Concentrated listening is the basic requirement. By listening more and more, the brain creates and stores a mental image of the music. The notes, the tunes, the rhythm, the speed, the words, the volume, the tonal quality of the voice or instrument, etc. are stored in the brain. When we try to sing, this mental image co-ordinates with the laryngeal muscles to produce the music required. Thus, it can be easily understood that, the more we hear, the more we listen, there will be a better ability of voice production. We should listen with all the aspects of the musical form in our minds - like, tonal quality, phonetic quality, time intervals, the microtones (shrutis), expressional effects of the voice, etc. The more deeply we listen, the better quality of music we will sing. Better the mental and physical co-ordination, better will be the voice production. Though this is the first, basic fundamental and unavoidable step towards learning, we should remember that this is not the only step. It is not enough by itself.

Control Of Breath:
This is also a very important step towards voice culture. If we can master our breath, we can easily master our voice for singing. Breath Control gives fine-ness, clarity, steadiness and confident phonation to the voice. There are 4 types of breathing: Clavicular (shoulder), Costal (chest), Diaphragmatic and Abdominal. Clavicular breathing is useful to sing very shrill notes. Costal breathing is used to sing high-pitched notes. Diaphragmatic breathing is useful for every singer. When a singer cultivates this type of breathing, unnecessary and unwanted wobbling or shaking of voice can be controlled. Abdominal breathing helps to sing the lower notes effectively. Also, this type of breathing helps a singer to reach the subtler heights of singing.

Riyaz (Practice):
Everyone knows - 'Practice makes man perfect'. Practice should be divided in 2 types:
  1. Trying that which we cannot sing but want to sing.
  2. Repeating that which we already know and bring it closer to perfection.
By regular practice of singing, we give physical training to all the muscles and the voice production system on the whole. This training will vary with the type of music chosen for singing. The aspects of the voice, phonation, articulation, pitch control vary with the style of music, so will the factors to be emphasized during practice vary.

The time period that should be given for practice will again vary with the expected time period of the performance. In classical types of music where improvisation is a part of the performance, it is necessary to devote more time, even 2-3 hours at a stretch.

One important factor during practice is that we should, along with singing, hear our own singing, critically. We should listen to our own singing like a third party. This will help us to grow faster. We can thus find out our own mistakes and limitations and work over them. This rules out overconfidence. We should always remember that perfection is a word found only in the dictionary, it is an illusion. If we start thinking that our performance is perfect, then the growing, culturing and cultivating totally stops.

Practice develops the control over the vocal cords. Practice also develops confidence in the singer, which expresses itself in the voice.

Physical and Mental Fitness:
Singing is an activity of physical and mental movements. It is a synchronization of our physical and mental state. So, physical and mental fitness are necessary for good and happy singing.

So that our voice should be rich with harmonics, all the resonators i.e. the air cavities in our body should be clean and healthy. This includes the lung cavities, pharynx and nasal cavities, which are directly related to singing. These resonators should be free from coughs and colds, extra mucus and other infections, for a good voice production.

We experience that overwhelming emotions affect our voice controlling capacity. Negative emotions also affect the tonal quality of our voice. Negative emotions are a hindrance to the growth of voice production. Mental fitness leads to a better synchronization of the singing activities.

Regular exercise, healthy and balanced diet and regular meditation or any tension releasing exercises are a necessity for our fitness.

We see people around us who have reached considerable heights without practicing these four steps. This tends many of us to become lazy or we lose trust of this path.
We should remember that the above steps of culturing the voice help us to reach the higher points of 'our' potential. Even if we do not follow the steps, it will not happen that we will be nowhere, but we will surely miss the highest potential of our own self. The growing of our talents will surely be affected.