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Vocal chord anatomy and music

The voice is the portal to the soul, but what is the vocal chords antatomy and how doest it work.

The voice is the portal to the soul. For thousands of years, we have used our voices to express joy and love, to mourn our loved ones, to celebrate our successes and lament our defeats. Today our voices are used to express ourselves, to get our point across, to communicate, to connect with others, to speak our mind and argue our point. Most of us take our voice for granted. We open our mouth and out comes sound. But how does it happen? What creates the words we say and the songs we sing?

The larynx is located in the throat and contains the vocal chords and glottis. With the exhalation of breath, the diaphragm forces air up through cartiledge "horn" of the larynx by contracting. The air moves through the vocal chords, which are situated in the muscular vibrating folds of the larynx, and the glottis, the space formed between them. By stretching the vocal chords, adjusting the tension and varying the air pressure through the glottis, the pitch of our voice is adjusting, tuning higher or lower. A lower sound requires a longer column of air and is felt in the chest, a higher sound uses a shorter column of air and is felt in the nose and head.

Throughout the history of music, people have used the voice as an instrument, but few have perfected the art as those proficient at scatting. Scatting is a form of jazz vocalization, where the singer has no melody and no lyrics, improvising sounds and pitches, as if one of the instruments. Artists such as Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday have perfected this form of expression. Singing, using our voice to express our inner most emotions and thoughts, while an intricate process, is mainly a physical act which can be taught by a proficient teacher to almost anyone. So go ahead! Sing your heart out!

Written by Lisa Carattini -

Short Takes: Narayani and Gorakh Kalyan

Rajan P. Parrikar

Rajan P. Parrikar is a recognized expert on Indian Classical music and shares his knowledge freely with those interested in the subject.

He has written a series of articles on Classical Indian Music some of which have been archived on Sawf. Click here to read Rajan's earlier articles.

Rajan P. Parrikar, across the bay from SFO (2005)

Click on the picture to enlarge it


After the feature on Raga Multani at the end of 2002, we turned in and doused the glim. This short revival seeks to illuminate those interstices of the Hindustani ragaspace not considered earlier. While at it, we intend to partake in our fruitful pastimes, of slaying familiar dragons (Banditji, cheej-pijja-chompin' Alubhai) and kicking Bong ass (note that Alu has his toes sticking in both the puddles and is therefore entitled to Platinum level benefits).

Throughout the discussion below, M=shuddha madhyam.

Raga Narayani

An import from Carnatic music, the Hindustani Raga Narayani is a janya of the Khamaj thAT, corresponding to the 28th melakarta Harikambhoji: S R G M P D n. It employs all the swaras of the Khamaj thAT except the gandhar.

In the Carnatic tradition Narayani presents itself in two disparate avatars. The inspiration for the Hindustani Narayani is Tyagaraja's conception, parlayed by his kritis bhajanaseyu margamunu and Rama neevekani. The other version due to Dikshitar, instantiated by his composition Mahishasura mardini, is a janya of the Dheerashankarabharanam melakarta. In Ragas of the Sangita Saramrta (Music Academy, Madras, 1993), the authors T.V. Subbarao and S.R. Janakiraman write that Dikshitar's treatment "had its roots in the description of Narayani as given by Tulaja [also known as Tukkaji, the Maratha ruler of Tanjore from 1729-35]." They further point out that "the raga name 'Narayani' [appears] as early as in the 'Sangit Makaranda' of Narada (7th-9th century AD)."

A brief discussion of Narayani is found in Pandit Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande's monumental work Hindustani Sangeet Paddhati. Bhatkhande's own Dhrupad-anga composition in Sooltal, Narayana ko nita bhaja re, is documented in his Karamika Pustaka Malika and re-printed in Raja Nawab Ali's Marifunnaghmat. But as we shall see, the prevailing structure and lakshaNAs of the Hindustani Narayani follow closely the blueprint imbedded in the two compositions of S.N. Ratanjankar, to wit, the vilambit bamanA re bichAra and the druta bandish sahelariyAN gAvo ri. Let us tease out the main features of the raga.

As noted earlier, the gandhar is varjit (verboten) in Narayani. Since the komal nishAd is alpa in the Arohi passages, an AvirbhAva of Raga Durga (of the Bilawal thAT) obtains and is readily purchased.

S R M R M R S, n' D' M' P' D' S

S R P, M P n D P, D P M R M R S

Notice the lapse into Durga's territory and the subsequent recovery via the komal nishAd.

Consider the cluster: S R P, M P n D P

The avarohi pause on the dhaivat (deergha bahutva) is characteristic, and is followed by a nyAsa on the pancham. The interested reader may, at this juncture, reflect on the distinction of this particular tonal play vis--vis Raga Soor Malhar.

P, M P n D P, D M P (S")D S", n D S"

P D S" R", S" R" M" R" S", S" n D, P

The melodic activity in the uttarAnga proceeds along these lines.

Even women and children know that it is not possible to convey via the written word the nuances of the swara-lagAv so vital to raga-based music. Thanks to the advent of multimedia, we now have access to the crisp and highly cultivated mind of Ramashreya Jha "Ramrang." Jha-sahab extolls Ratanjankar in this sermon recorded over the long-distance telephone line -

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