I can’t sing.

(Photo by flickr user fofurasfelinas.)

This is a complete surprise to me, actually, since I was in choir in junior high.

Anyway. As part of a 64 Kalas (the 64 skills laid out by the Kamasutra as making up a fine lady/gentleman), I am learning a Hindustani classical song, and it’s going poorly, mainly because:

(a) I can’t sing.

(b) I can’t sing.

Now, these things may seem to  be the same, but they are not. (a) refers to the fact that no matter how many breathing exercises I do, or how hard I concentrate on opening my throat and producing a round, full sound, I sound like I’m six years old. Or maybe twelve (and now that I think about it, that’s just fine for a junior high choir). I suppose this is probably related to the fact that I do not speak loudly and have difficulty shouting unless I think about it. (b) refers to the fact that I’ve only ever sung Western ecclesiastical music, plus what I sing along to in the car and also the Beatles, so there are parts of Hindustani (and by extension the rest of Indian) music that I can’t reproduce. Like the trills and quarter-notes. I sort of sound like I have the hiccups.


I won’t post what I posted to the kalas list, because it’s embarrassing. As a result, the next part of the first kala may be me reproducing tempos and basic modes (this one is Rag Bhairav).

I practiced a long time last night, and now my throat hurts, and I’m really ready to move on to the next bit, which is rhythm and musical instruments. I can do rhythm and musical instruments! That won’t require me to have voice lessons.

I suppose this is a good ego-jolt, and is likely intended to keep me humble. Thanks, God.

(On a more positive note, maybe, I learned that I’m totally obsessed with video blogging, so beware, and also possibly expect a vlog in the future, because I’ve discovered my iSight and PhotoBooth, and also iMovie. Be very afraid.)

About HappyGoth

By day, I'm a graphic designer. By night, I'm a knitter. I'm doing my part to keep Hotlanta stylish. I imagine that if you don't already understand the title of the blog, you're probably confused and perhaps slightly annoyed, but never fear - I do have a reason (and it's a good one). Having gone to hear Stephanie Pearl McPhee, and then having been inspired to blog about knitting, I found myself wondering what to call the blog. I recalled a conversation I had with Mouse and the Chicken Goddess about why it is a Bad Idea to anger knitters - this conversation was following SPM, aka the Yarn Harlot telling the assembled throng about Those Who Do Not Understand Knitting and Therefore Belittle It Much to the Chagrin of Others, or TWDNUKTBMCO, which is not the acronym she used but is the one I'm using because I forgot hers - that is, we are numerous and we all have very pointy sticks, easily transforming into an angry mob. Therefore, knitters = angry mob.
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9 Responses to I can’t sing.

  1. Katie says:

    Totally understand. And it’s a completely different style of singing that our western ears and mouths and throats and everything are used to. And those are just my guesses on what it is.

    I’d love to get together – and I’d love suggestions on music! I was just searching on YouTube for “classical Hindustani songs” or something similar. I love listening to different types of music (as long as it’s not Justin Beiber or Brittany Spears or well, you get the picture).

  2. Sondra says:

    This made me laugh so hard. Mainly because I can see you in your living room try to belt our foreign scales and Sawyer attempting to ignore you in the kitchen. 😉

    It still amazes me you’re so dedicated to this, and makes me want to give up cable, Netflix and working out. I think of all the extra time I’d have to be super productive and cool like you. Alas, I love me some TV. Not tons, but I think of an extra hour or so a day…

    Good to know you can’t sing. I’ll turn up the radio louder when we’re in the car next time. 😀

    • HappyGoth says:

      Well, I’m not tune-deaf! So it’s not unpleasant. Just not terribly GOOD. Oh, well.

      My mother instilled a respect for practice in me, though, and I figure that I can master anything if I just practice enough. So here goes.

      (Sawyer likes to make weird faces in the background when I’m trying to record myself. I think he finds it amusing.)

  3. flawed says:

    Don’t beat yourself up about it; I used to be in chorus at around the same time you were in choir, and I also can’t sing. Think about it – in choir you had a coach who helped you practice at regular intervals, and you, as a young person, had better hearing. If you can hear something better, it makes sense that you could better reproduce the sound, right?

    • HappyGoth says:

      I’m not sure that i could, though; I think I just wasn’t ever told.

      In truth, I’m not bad. Just green (I’ve been practicing and I’ve been improving. Hooray for webcams!)

  4. Katie says:

    If it hurts you are doing something physically wrong. Probably singing more through your throat – it shouldn’t be like shouting at all…it should actually be (sadly enough) more difficult.

    Quarter tones are exceptionally difficult if you’ve spent most of your life in a western tonal system. The best way I’ve learned to practice at it is to pick a note (and actually use some instrument to get a not like a middle C) and over 16 beats raise it. Pick a syllable (doo, moo, or whatever other silly sound you are most comfortable with – “oo” is just a good vowel sound because you can raise your soft palette with it and get more resonance) and repeat it over and over again incrementally raising the pitch. In theory if you start with C on the 16th beat you’ll be at C#. You’ll often find that the last couple of beats you have to raise a bit more than the previous ones. Somewhere in the middle is your quarter tone.

    Don’t feel bad that you aren’t able to do the quarter tones right now. I have a degree in vocal performance and I doubt I could do it without a few months of everyday practice. It has almost nothing to do with your ability to sing and more to do with what your ear is used to hearing. Singing is only about 40% talent in my book – there’s a lot more technique than people realize.

    • HappyGoth says:

      I think the hardest part is that I can’t actually figure out how to do things correctly. I don’t know what “right” feels like, and even though I can feel when I’ve relaxed and I’m not singing from my throat, I still sound the same.

      Argh. So frustrating.

      (Also I am not a soprano, and Hindustani music is way high-pitched.)

      • Katie says:

        Dude, I just saw that you responded to this. For some reason I don’t get notifications in a timely manner. Like 4 months late.


        So, I searched Hindustani classical music on YouTube. I’ve had the privilege of being exposed to non-western music throughout my life, but never knew what the names of anything were…nice to put a name to this style (as opposed to “somewhere east of the middle east). It’s absolutely beautiful.

        The melismas are fast and insane. Maybe they are trills, but they seem to be multi-note, so I’m guessing melismas that are as fast as trills. Dude. That is difficult.

        I think one of the biggest things about getting the quality of sound that I’m observing is learning to sing through your nose, which is the opposite of what we do in western cultures (unless you are a crappy pop singer, then it’s totally in style…or maybe that’s my bias).

        Are you familiar with your soft palette? I think what they are doing is raising the soft palette super high. I’m trying to do it right now and am making a super weird face. However, this is from looking up music on YouTube, so probably mostly useless info from me.

        Hey, you could always take up sitar! I’ve always been told it’s one of the most difficult instruments to play.

        • HappyGoth says:

          I think mine might be a simple breath issue, or maybe a combination of things. I may get us together and sing a little and see what you think, because I’m not trained to hear the subtleties of the voice. I tried singing through my nose, and still sounded breathy, but nasal, which wasn’t exactly what I was going for. All help is appreciated! The notes and carrying a tune are things I can do, but if I can’t get volume and tone, well, you get the idea.

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