RMIM Archive Article "124".
From the RMIM Article Archive maintained by Satish Subramanian
# RMIM Archives..
# Subject: Singing -- Technicalities
# Posted by: "S. Narasimhan" (email@example.com)
# Author: S. Narasimhan
From the RMIM Article Archive maintained by Satish Subramanian
Singers -- Technicalities
I received many emails with comments (for and against) regarding
my opinions about singers in my last post about Music Directors.
In the following, I compare various singers and the technicali-
ties involved in singing for movie songs.
Since, typically it is the music director who selects the
singers, we need to look at the requirements from the music
director's point of view. The first and foremost requirement is
that the singer should be able to hit the right notes. Typically,
a filmi singer does not get the opportunity to rehearse a lot in
the studio (as studio time costs money) and also he/she does not
get enough time in the song to warm up. In classical music con-
certs, singers spend about half an hour exercising their throats.
Restricted studio time requires that the singer picks up the
tunes fast (Mukesh is an expensive singer that way). Since
singers who have been classically trained already possess this
ability of hitting notes right, they would be preferred. However,
classical singers come with a handicap. Often, they unconciously
introduce meends (slides between notes) and gamaks (shaking a
note). One prime example is Manna Dey. Manna Dey can take a per-
fectly romantic song and make it into a bhajan by introducing
these meends and shakes. That is why he was quite unsuited for
normal filmi singing (In the new breed of singers, Hariharan has
this problem). He sings the semi-classical songs quite well,
though (Most of his hit songs). Most successful singers in
movies are classically trained but have managed to overcome this
habit -- Lata, Asha, Rafi, Yesudas, Chitra, Vani Jayaram et.al.
Skill in hitting the right note precisely also gives the composer
the freedom to compose songs with innovative chord and note se-
quences without having to worry about whether the singer can
deliver. For instance, in the song "Ededo Ennam Valarthen" (Pun-
nagai Mannan) sung by Chitra, Ilayaraaja has used all the notes
of the 12 note octave (11 in vocal and the extra one in the in-
terlude) in the melody. He couldn't have dared to do that with
S.Janaki singing it. Similarly, RDB could compose the complicated
songs of Ijazzat since Asha is a great singer. Hridayanath and
SDB depended on Lata.
Secondly, since there is almost always an accompanying background
music, the singer should hold a note only as much as required.
Improvisations, delay in entry and exit of notes is not accept-
able for the simple reason that he/she will throw the background
music off-key (unless the background music plays only the chord
sequence as in Jazz) This is very unlike classical music singing
where the singer can play around with the tal, the only require-
ment being that he stick to the rhythm cycle. Hence the singer
should have a keen sense of rhythm and should be precise.
Third requirement is the ability to convey emotions in the song.
Again, since a song lasts only a few minutes, the singer should
be able to convey ups and downs in the emotional content of the
song quickly. Eventhough background music (ascending and descend-
ing strings, for example) enhances the emotional content in the
song, singers have most of the responsibility of conveying these
emotions. In my opinion, Kishore Kumar is the best in this (Eg.
Pal pal dil ke pas and about 100 other songs). In Phoolon Ke Rang
se, note how he conveys the sad moment of "pal pal mujhe tu sata-
ti", and yet in the following lines cheerfully says "lena hoga
janam hame kayi kayi bar". In the verse, note how he says the
word "sanson" (pronounces it very softly, since sans is supposed
to be tender) in "sanson ki sargam, dhadkan ki bina". The song
is full of such subtle singing (Kudos to SDB). Another SDB-KK gem
is Badi sooni sooni hai (Mili). Note how KK conveys the lonely
longingness in his singing. The emotional content is KK's singing
was so much that the music directors could often do with least of
background music and interludes (Eg. Mere Dil me aaj kya hai). KK
himself complained that the music directors exploited him.
Fourth requirement is a decent voice. In my opinion, anyone can
get a good voice. The key to good voice is proper vocalisation
which can be done through training (Melodious singing has nothing
to do with the voice as such. It depends on the ability to hit
the notes and note transitions exactly). Vocalisation refers to
the origin of the sound. Four voice origins are possible:
throat, nose, lungs, stomach (diaphragm) and combinations of
these (Classical musicians say that one can even use their head,
as in skull, for voice origin. I fail to see how this is possi-
ble.) When one is singing from the throat it means he/she is us-
ing only the vocal cords (voice box). This is same as the sound
origin during normal talking (excepting those nasal voices). The
sound is of nasal quality when along with the vocal cords, the
air column in the throat to nose area vibrates. This often hap-
pens when one is sad, since there is a tissue around the throat
which closes the opening to lungs (partially) when one is sad.
This is the reason why Mukesh with his nasal voice could convey
sober emotion very well (Eg. most of his hit songs).
The voice origin is from the lungs when the air column in the
lungs is allowed to resonate with the vocal box. This happens
normally when one shouts. Singing from lungs requires lot of con-
trol so as to prevent noisy rendition. In my opinion, Kishore
Kumar and Rafi sang this way. KK modulated his voice much much
more than Rafi and hence prevented shouting (Nonetheless there
are many singers out there who think KK shouts). I would say it
is Rafi (and of course Mahendra Kapoor) who regularly ends up
shouting instead of singing (Eg. Duniya Ke Rakhwale, Dil Ke
Jharoke mein tujhko). Using lungs often aids in protraying highs
and lows, harsh and soft sound quality quite well. Jagjit Singh
also uses his lungs for voice origin and since he exhales uni-
formly through his mouth while singing, the voice quality is very
soft and rich. However, that is suited only for ghazals. Filmi
songs require more ups and downs (Eg. Khaike paan banarswala).
T.M.Soundararajan in Tamil films, could convey emotion very well
and that was the main reason why he stuck around. Although he was
often nasal, when needed he could use his lungs. He also had this
uncanny ability of changing the quality of his voice for dif-
ferent actors (SPB tried the same for Kamal and Mohan, but didn't
succeed as much) by modulating his voice origin.
The fourth voice origin is from the stomach when the diaphragm is
allowed to regulate the air flow and the air column from the
throat to the stomach. Most hindustani classical music singers
sing this way. Listen to Bhimsen Joshi, Jasraj et.al. They at-
tain extraordinarily good quality voice and voice volume because
of this. This is the main reason why they often don't even need a
microphone to sing. The whole auditorium reverbrates with their
voice. I cannot think of any filmi singer who can do this.
Fifth requirement apparently seems to be the ability to sing in
high pitches. High pitch singing often makes even a bad song
sound better (if not anything atleast it wakes up the listener).
I think this is a bad trend set by the old singers (except Sai-
gal) due to the lack of close range microphones. Lata Mangeshkar
is one person whom I would hold primarily responsible for sus-
taining this trend. You could often hear Kishore Kumar struggling
to sing at her scale in their duets (Hey meine kasam li, kora ka-
gaz tha ye man mera). Rafi could manage that high pitch with Lata
and that's why I think Rafi has many more duets with Lata than
Kishore. (Asha often sang lower than Lata.) The trend is contin-
ued by Kavita Krishnamoorthy (she's screechy at higher notes) and
Alka Yagnik. Chitra is a refreshing change. Her scale is much
lower than Lata and hence sounds normal.
Speaking of singers....
S.P.Balasubramaniam used to do mimicry in his college days. He
seems to have this extraordinary voice and lung control. After
singing in Shankarabaramanam (I hear that he learnt Carnatic
music for singing in that movie), he also acquired the skill of
hitting the notes exactly and a good quality voice. Before that
he used to sound quite nasal (aayiram nilave vaa). Similarly,
P.Susheela and S. Janaki often sound nasal. Same is true for Bhu-
pinder, who does possess a rich male voice but is often nasal and
sounds sleepy. Shailendra was a refreshing young voice (in Bobby)
but after that he found it hard to hit notes right. Udit Narayan
has a great voice quality, but again often goes off-key slightly
(in almost all songs). Nitin Mukesh, Shabir Kumar, Kumar Sanu are
irritating singers who have nothing to offer. Credit should go to
R.D.Burman for making Kumar Sanu sing properly in 1942 ALS.