Most of my students at first tend to sing like they speak – kind of curving off the high notes as well as the very low notes to somehow fall into the notes that they can comfortably reach. This makes them sound extremely out of tune and some of them don’t even realise this.
Then there are few who will repeat after me in tune. But when left to sing on their own often don’t exactly hit the note and just graze over it somehow.
They all are able to hit the high notes individually. After some hours of practice sessions with them, they can even sustain those notes for a while. But when we encounter the same high notes in a song, they still tend to round off and not quite hit them.
It used to be extremely frustrating when I would spend hours getting them to remember the tune and at the end of it they got it all wrong.
I sometimes thought they were just being insincere or didn’t remember because they didn’t practice well.
But after many frustrating moments and trying different things to help them get it right, I can proudly say that I have finally managed to get them to sing in tune, even at the higher notes.
If I were divide this into steps:
Step 1: get them to understand each note and how to produce that particular frequency by sustaining those notes for as long as they can. (This I always did)
Step 2: Make them quickly sing 3 or 4 notes of a scale at a time. I used to go slow because I thought may be they are starting off so they need time to speed up. But it’s actually easier to quickly hit notes than slowly hit them. Keep repeating step 2 till they hit all notes correctly.
step 3: Increase the number of notes hit at a time till they are able to sing the entire scale together both up and down. This actually gives them a sense of scales, and helps them to understand on their own when they are out of scale.
Step 4: now help them control the speed by making them pace through a few notes and sustain a few notes while doing scales.
Eg. Sa-Re Gaaaaaaaa, Re-Ga Maaaaaaaa, Ga-Ma Paaaaaaaa and so on
Step 4: Change the scale to a higher Sa, like go from Kaali 4 to Kaali 5 (G sharp to A sharp). Helps them to understand scale changes.
Since I have made this a part of their warm up vocal exercises I have seen a remarkable improvement in their music sense while singing a song. Even if they don’t always hit the note while singing I can at least now see an attempt to hit the note.
I think adding step 4, quickly going up and down scales while hitting all notes made all the difference to their music sense. Earlier they were just mechanically following me. Now they are able to sense when the note they sang is not part of those seven notes.
The mistake I made earlier was never making them sing all the notes at a time. I kept taking three or maximum four notes at a time at a slow pace. Because the pace was slow, any more than four notes was very difficult of them to manage at a time and they would inevitably start singing out of tune. And because they only sang three or four notes at a time, they never got the music sense to understand what out of tune meant.
So if I have to summarise, if we want to develop the ability to intuitively sing in tune, without even knowing the song too well, then learning to hit all the notes in the scale in one go will help.
If the song is in Kalyaan Thaat, then go up and down a few times in the Kalyan Thaat scale. Do it as quick as you can , you don’t even have to be loud. Then start learning. You will find it much more easy to hit the right notes intuitively. It will also help you to improvise your own alaaps while staying within the scale.
Sometimes we take our own ability to sing something easily for granted. There were so many things my gurus would make me sing in class that seemed boring and meaningless at that time. I didn’t even realise it was shaping my ability to sing. And there are some people who are gifted with the ability to intuitively understand some music concepts without being taught. May be because they have it in their genes or they grew up in a household where they heard others doing music practice or talk about a song.
But teaching people at different levels of proficiency in singing and music is helping me understand the importance of some things I learnt as a child. And focusing on these things is actually helping me improve too. I am actually re-learning everything with a new understanding!