Finding Vocal Range and Correct Shruti to Sing Flawlessly
22 Jun 2021
Every human being has an instrument in their body, the Voice! The voice is used not only for speaking, but also for singing. It is imperative that this inbuilt musical instrument is looked after with great care. For a singer, choosing the right Shruti or pitch is of paramount importance. This article guides you on the concepts of shruti, identifying your vocal range, how to choose and sing in the right shruti. Before that, let us understand what shruti is, in detail.
What is shruti?
Shruti is the minute note of pitch which is identifiable by a trained and refined ear. It can also be expressed as the smallest audible difference in pitch. The swara Sa or Shadja, forms the base or foundation. The subsequent swaras i.e. Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Da, Ni are positioned with reference to this base, in definite intervals of frequencies.
The values of shruti can be measured or expressed in terms of vibrations per second.
What is a shruti box?
A traditional shruti box, or also called surpeti, is a keyless variant of the harmonium that was in vogue during the last century. A drone instrument offers a continuous monophonic sound that serves as pitch reference. The shruti box, which works on the principle of bellows, similar to a harmonium, was used to provide this drone accompaniment. In place of the harmonium keys, the shruti box had the controls on top or the sides of the instrument to control the pitch.
With technological advent came variants of tambura and drone instruments like the electronic shruti box, Tanpura Droid and iTanpura application in mobile phones. However, the shruti box is still used as drone accompaniment for Nadaswaram.
Choosing the Right Shruti
The first step in finding one’s vocal range is to identify the base swara Sa or Shadja. From here, the singer can identify the other swaras in that octave, so that one complete range is reachable in this step.
Once the base Sa and tara sthayi Sa or the Shadja in the higher octave are identified, going to the next octave will be an easier task. Similarly, once the base Sa is identified, going one octave below that will be convenient. Hence, the identification of the base swara becomes crucial to identify your vocal range.
How to Identify Your Vocal Range?
Most singers can traverse between 1.5 and 2 octaves using their natural voice. However, extraordinary vocalists may have more than 3 octaves. With practice, you can increase your vocal range. But before that, let’s understand how to find a vocal range and sing in the correct shruti.
Calculating Vocal Range: A good range is more than 2 octaves, which is calculated from the lowest to the highest swara that a singer can sing, without strain.
To find a vocal range, sing the lowest swara Sa first and then move on to sing all the swaras sequentially and go up to the highest swara you can. Notice how many octaves you could sing and what the number of swaras above that octave was. This method will help you calculate and understand how many swaras lower or higher you can sing from your Sa. There are three steps to find your vocal range:
Step 1: Find Your Lowest Swaras
The easiest way to find your lowest range is through a tuned musical instrument, such as a shruti box. If you do not have it, you can also try an online application that aids in shruti alignment. Now, you could try this:
Start by taking a deep breath and holding onto the foundational swara Sa, for as long as possible. While singing this, see that the swara does not waver. Hold onto it as steadily as possible. In this process, the sound has to come from the stomach (naabhi) region and not directly from the throat or upper region of the face. If the voice production process is done in a correct manner, the vibrations are experienced in the body while singing.
After singing the base Sa for a couple of times, in tune with Shruti, try going a swara below Sa, i.e. Ni in the mandra sthayi. Hold onto it for as long as possible, steadily. Now continue the same process for Da, Pa, Ga, or as low as one’s voice can reach. Sustaining each swara and repeating this process helps in making the voice stronger and steady. This is also a great way to increase the vocal range, especially in the higher octave.
Step 2: Find your Highest Swaras
To find the highest vocal ranges, follow these steps:
Once the voice is warmed up and can comfortably reach the higher octave, hold onto the tara sthayi Sa or the Sa in the higher octave.. With this reference, sing Sa, Ri, Ga Ma in the higher octave sequentially and understand how many swaras can be reached, without straining the voice.
Once the highest swara in the higher octave is established, try reaching the next higher swara. Take care to see that the vocal cords are relaxed and try modulating the voice. Modulating the voice doesn't go on to emphasize the use of false voice, but the emphasis is on softening the natural voice to reduce the strain. A Guru will be able to demonstrate the right usage of voice, especially in the higher octave, to avoid any damage to the vocal cords.
Step 3: Identify Your Vocal Range
The ability to traverse smoothly through the middle octave (from base Sa to higher Sa in that octave) is one range, anything above the higher Sa, which is the higher octave, is usually half octave for vocalists, as the number of swaras reachable are limited to Pa. Similarly, in the lower octave, the swaras reachable could be till Ma, generally. With practice, the vocal range can be improved to reach higher and lower respectively. It is advisable to do these exercises under the guidance of a Guru to avoid permanent damage to the vocal cords.