Indian Classical is very different from western classical music. Training in Indian classical music requires us to sing with a harmonium or a tanpura and make ourselves familiar with the various notes associated with it. The initial stages would have us pressing a single key at a particular scale and singing that particular note, elongating it to master the usage and to create a familiarity with that sound. With gradual practice of various notes, we shift our focus to the various rhythms or taals. Practising with different rhythms helps us to master the control of our pitch. The same practice when done using the basic ‘Aa’ sound rather than the traditional sargam, helps us to develop murkiyan. Dexterous Indian classical vocalists have tremendous vocal control and their pitch is near perfect. I trained in it from a slender age and like many teenagers, I started listening to many western songs and western vocal techniques. One specific technique which fascinated me was the vibrato.
Luciano Pavarotti was one of the greatest operatic singers of all time. He was associated with a deep masculine vocal tone and an outstanding vibrato which enthralled the concert halls. So what exactly is a vibrato? A person executes a quick rhythmic fluctuation of his pitch wherein his voice tone remains the same and this is through no particular force of the larynx. The vibrato is often something that a person is born with. It adds to the vocal quality and timbre of the vocal tone. The pitch variance remains centred on the actual written pitch, and the listener automatically hears the average of the pitches being sung. A free flowing vibrato is natural, adds a warm tinge to the sound and has a protective influence on the vocalist’s performance. The oscillations that occur in vibrato are the body’s reflexive response to mounting tension, and are believed to be the result of the healthy function of the vocal folds. The tension of the vocal folds is varied rhythmically, creating movement in pitch.
Scientific aspects aside what excites me about vibrato is the ease with which the western singers can do it. Years of Indian classical music had taught me to remain on pitch and not to stray off on any note. Hence it can be said that my basic instinct was never to learn how to use the vibrato and it was only after watching the numerous American reality shows (The voice, X-factor) that I realised how amazing that technique was. It is a well-known fact that vibrato is intrinsic to the singer’s voice. Some people have it and some people don’t. However for the past six months I have been trying to develop it by using certain techniques which I have learnt by reading various blogs and watching various YouTube videos. Needless to say I cannot control it but I have developed it in the scale I am most comfortable in, the lower register of my voice. These are certain tips you can use to develop a vibrato.
The most important step in producing a vibrato is to release the tension in the throat and to loosen the tongue. A tensed tongue or a strained throat makes it difficult to produce a vibrato. There are certain exercises to release the tension in your tongue. One of it to stretch your tongue out for some time and to produce an elongated ‘aa’ sound. This loosens your tongue which is important for producing clean natural vibrato.The next important step in producing vibrato is breath control. Indian Classical music stresses on the importance of producing the sound from the stomach area to induce proper vocal control during murkiya and to ensure the longevity of one’s voice quality. Throaty sound often leads to disintegration of the tonal quality and should be avoided. Sound is produced majorly by the breath that one releases during singing. It should be released from the base of the diaphragm and it should be even. Any attempt to produce vibrato-like sound from the throat can cause damage to the throat.
When I tried to produce vibrato in the initial stages, I tried to do so in my comfortable vocal range. Singing in your comfort level helps you sing the pitch variations forcefully. Some people do it in their higher range due to the major gush of air. Try to oscillate your pitch with a consistent frequency. It can be done slowly at first and then can be increased as you grow more comfortable with it. An external source can be used to regulate your pitch variations. You can tap on a table or regularly tap your feet to keep count. This is a long process and one shouldn’t be impatient. An impatient or forcefully produced artificial pitch variation can possibly adversely affect your voice. When vibrato is correctly produced, one’s larynx should not move or do so only slightly, and one should not feel much movement within the throat. Vibrato actually occurs within the vocal cords/folds, and extensive amounts of movement within the throat, jaw, or diaphragm are improper and can cause damage. The tapping motion should be stopped after a few days.
This method, if practised regularly, can help in unleashing one’s vibrato. I have been doing this for the past few months and I can produced a semi-controlled vibrato in my comfort register. Vibrato is used by a flurry of musicians all over the world. I remember Sonu Nigam’s powerful vibrato which wonderfully suited his performance of Kal Ho Na Ho in his edition of MTV unplugged. It’s an intrinsic quality of a vocalist but that does not mean that a person who does not possess it cannot develop it. It’s a wonderful skill that can ornate any song and any vocalist wonderfully.