Voice Culture


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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 is 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, pop, semi-classical, etc. This is because each type of music demands a different style of voice production. The male and female built up 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).

Voice Culture starts with the ear and ends with the voice, involving many parts of the body: ear, respiratory organs, organs of phonation, brain and the mind. Voice is a motor system of the body. The related sense organ of the voice is the ear. Hence, unless we hear well we can never sing or speak well.

All the steps of basic voice training are applicable to any musical form, be it vocal or instrumental. It also applies to rhythm instrumentalists and to any other artists. Voice is an organ of expression, speaking and singing are expressions. So are all the musical instruments including rhythm instruments and all the art forms pieces of expression.

Basic Steps Of Voice Training 1. Hearing: Hearing, Listening, Perceiving 2. Breath.Control: Lung Capacity and Control of Lung Pressure 3. Practice (Riyaz) 4. Physical and Mental Fitness

Hearing: When we use the word hearing it implies all the three aspects of hearing. Hearing - Process of physical hearing of sound by the ‘ear’ Listening - Process of filteration of sound depending on the likes and dislikes, needs, level of acceptance, environment, etc. by the brain. Perceiving - Analysing i.e. grading, understanding, grouping, labeling, etc. the filtered sound with reference to our total knowledge of sound and all other subjects. This process is also handled by the brain.

Imitation is the first step towards learning. This statement applies to voice training, too. Concentrated hearing is the basic requirement. By hearing 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 all stored in the brain separately. When we try to sing, this mental image co-ordinates with the laryngeal muscles to produce the music required. So, 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 hear with respect to all the aspects of sound like, tonal quality, phonetic quality, time intervals, tempo, the microtones (shrutis), expressional effects of the voice, intensity, etc. The more analytically and 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. This can only develop a good potential.

Breath Control: This is also a very important step towards voice culture. Breath goes hand-in-hand with singing/speaking. 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. Clavicular breathing is used to high-pitched notes and fast tempo, Costal for medium pitched notes and medium tempo and abdominal breathing is used for lower notes and slow tempo. Diaphragmatic breathing is useful for every singer. When a singer cultivates these types of breathing, unnecessary and unwanted wobbling or shaking of voice can be controlled. These breathing types also help in a similar way for improving and cultivating the timbre (tonal quality).

Riyaz (Practice): Everyone knows - 'Practice makes man perfect'. Practice is required for the grooming and tuning of all the required body parts for the necessary singing/speaking. As we need proper food and rest to keep the body fit and fine, so also we need proper and daily practice to keep the body always fit for singing/speaking.

Practice should be divided in 2 types: 1)Trying that which we cannot sing but want to or need 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 vary with the required time of the performance. In classical types of music where improvisation is a part of the performance, it is necessary to devote more time than required for light music, 7-8 hours a day with 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. At any point of growth there is always ample more to learn. This applies to any and every musician from an amateurs to excellent musicians.

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. Our mental image of the music piece co-ordinates and synchronizes with the actual singing. So that this coordination is possible, both physical and mental fitness are necessary for good and happy singing.

So that our voice is 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.