Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything - Plato
Indian classical music is not something you learn overnight or through a few online sessions. In India and the world, Indian classical music is held in high regard and it requires a lot of dedication and perseverance to become a master at it. It tests your mettle as a singer where you must prove your worth and make the grade in order to call yourself an Ustaad or a master of Indian classical music.
It goes without saying that different genres of Indian classical music- Hindustani or Carnatic, will require different abilities. To sing a Hindustani raga will require different skills than singing a traditional folk song in India. And your strength at each of these will be put to test time and again. Ability is nothing unless proven and talent is insignificant unless one can show to which degree they possess it.
In this context, singing exam levels become very important. At the end of the day, almost everyone is a singer in their own rights. Some singers become quite popular even within a narrow repertoire or range of diversity. But that's because they respect the significance of a singing exam and its impact on their professional careers. Some may even go about skipping singing exam levels and take the route of formal singing certifications.
Read on to find out how important and compulsory are singing levels in India.
What is the Purpose of Singing Exam Grades?
The sound of music is beautiful, soothing, and it calms the soul. But this is an outcome that requires a humongous amount of effort on the singer's part. Singing is a multi-faceted skill that requires equal amounts of,
- Physical ability.
- Technical knowledge.
- Progressive development.
Whether it is pop culture or folk music that is your calling, in order to learn new singing skills in university or otherwise, you have to work on developing certain physical abilities like,
- Training your ear
- Practicing breath control
- Differentiating between throat and chest voices
Music is a gift that you have to develop with the help of learning new techniques and using them to produce good music. Not everyone has the gift of absolute pitch which is the rare ability to reproduce any note and recognize any note’s pitch. But the good news is you don't have to have this gift in order to become a singer. You can always develop these skills at university or through online lessons. Technical knowledge may also include learning to play a new instrument like a piano or guitar or the tabla. In fact, western classical music or even Indian classical music emphasizes the importance of learning to play musical instruments as an integral part of your prep for singing exams.
Any good musical university in India or the west will offer you experience-based learning opportunities. This means that the courses offered under boards like ABRSM will provide a proving ground for your singing skills at progressively more complex levels. This encompasses your vocal skills, pitch, notes, scale, technical knowhow and the ability to retain academic knowledge. Such exams will demand that you put all the experience of your music training into practical work. You will be required to display a versatile repertoire and mastery of different genres and your assessment will be based on standards laid out by the examination board.
Prep for Singing Exams
As a student of Indian classical music, you are probably well-versed about the different singing exam levels in India. Which means you know that you have to strive for excellence at each level. Although the levels are structured in a way that help with progressive development, there are some common elements that are standard across all singing levels in India.
Core Elements of A Singing Exam in India
Despite the varying complexities and progressive nature of the singing levels in India, there are some basic elements that are core to any singing exam across all levels.
- Choice of 1-2 songs from a given repertoire with varying difficulty levels.
- At least one traditional Indian folk song without a musical instrument like the tabla or guitar.
- Testing of sight-reading and aural abilities.
- 2-3 songs with musical instruments accompaniment.
- Singing excerpts from songs based on the syllabus for the particular grade.
- Practical musician test.
- Music theory test.
As part of your music course, you will be given ample opportunities to improve your singing skills and scores. Such opportunities will be presented in the form of,
- broken chords
- Vaccai exercises
- viva voce
Needless to say that you will be given a choice from these activities during your singing exam depending on the grade.
What You Should Know About Skipping Singing Exam Levels
India is full of music schools that help you prepare for a successful career in singing by developing your vocal skills and correcting your scale and pitch. For example, in South India, you will have find n number of music schools for Carnatic music. But the pertinent question, given the progressively complex nature of singing levels in India, is this- Is skipping singing exam levels okay? The answer is a resounding YES.
There could be multiple reasons for you wanting to skip one or more singing exam levels. For example, you might miss a deadline or are unable to register on time for an exam. If you are somewhere in between levels, your teacher might feel that you are not quite ready for the next level and may even recommend skipping a grade for that year.
And rest assured that skipping singing exam levels is not that big a deal. In fact, sometimes it's good and gives you time to prepare better for the next level especially if you are pursuing a degree course from a university.
There are, however, certain levels that you should not skip as a beginner. Beyond that point, you may start to think of yourselves as serious musicians and will plan accordingly. When in doubt, talk to your music teacher, vocal coach, or singing tutor. You may even reach out to fellow singers and peers who may have gone through the same experience and will be able to help you out.
When Do You Not Need Singing Exam Grades?
Music has healing power. It has the ability to take people out of themselves for a few hours - Elton John
You may be a student of music, but you may not aspire to become a professional singer after all. After all, not everybody who has vocal skills pictures themselves singing on stage or performing at a concert or in theatre. You may only be taking singing lessons to develop voice modulation skills or build your confidence as a public speaker. Singing lessons could be particularly useful for teachers who need to be able to project their voices into every corner of the classroom. Remember, you have to make yourself heard as a teacher over a bunch of rowdy students. And that too for six to eight hours everyday!
Students of musical colleges and courses with these objectives do not necessarily need to focus on their prep for singing exams. Even some professional singers may not have to be restricted by singing exam grades. For example, singers who perform at weddings or other public gatherings can easily make a living based on their basic vocal skills and a basic knowledge of pitch, scale, and octave. For them skipping singing exam levels is no big deal.
Mind you that such singers may still take singing lessons to develop the technical knowhow like developing breath control and ear turning. These courses also help expand the singer's repertoire as well as give them exposure to practical training and certifications.
So, now you know that you do not have to become a Lata Mangeshkar if you take singing classes. Nor do you have to worry about clearing each singing exam level in order to pursue singing as a profession. For an aspiring singer, dedication and hard work are more important than singing levels in India. But this should in no way give the impression that singing exams are unimportant. They are important in their own rights but have to be supplemented with other important skills. Only then can you hope to become the best vocalist in your neighborhood or even in India or the world.