How Important Is It for an Vocalist to Learn an Instrument?

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Question from Student:
Sir, is it recommended for vocalists to familiarize themselves with instrumental music. A string instrument may be the best, However a piano/keyboard/ harmonium also would give a frame of reference of the various swara sthana. Gamakas would not be possible with reed instruments. What are your thoughts and recommendations in this regard? Thanks.
Answered by Shri Chitravina N Ravikiran
Instrumental music is recommended for vocalists, especially fret-less string instruments which are the most ideal like violin and chitravina. You will have the perspective of the distance between the notes in these family of instruments. I can say honestly like Chitravina complemented my vocal knowledge and vice versa. A good musician will actually be able to see the notes as they sing which will give a perspective of the distances between notes and also clarity in terms of extent of each oscillation that is vital to Carnatic Music. Also one may observe the extent to which a note is sharpened or flattened. When you play an instrument, you will know exactly where your finger or slide is which will help you to sing it more accurately.
These kind of musical nuances can be observed from a good string instrumentalists. Its also good to discuss these aspects with a knowledgable Guru who is aware of all these microscopic details. Next best option is the veena, which has frets but the strings will have to be deflected to get an accurate perspective of shruti values. This is a big subject.
Certainly, instrumental will complement vocal but one has to be clear which is one’s primary and secondary. A primary vocalist would spend about 75 % of their time on vocal and 25%on instrumental.
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