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Vocal Scales & Finding Your Natural Scale

Vocal Scale or Shruti is an important concept in Indian Classical Music (both Hindustani Classical Music & Carnatic Classical Music) .

Vocal Scale refers to range of notes within which a singer can sing comfortably without any vocal stress.

Every person has a range in which he or she can sing. For e.g. some can sing in high range while some can sing in low range.

What is a Good Vocal Scale to sing in?

Always remember that there is no good scale and bad scale and you should not try to sing in a scale which is not natural for you.

If you try to sing in a vocal scale higher or lower than your own natural scale your range of songs will reduce and hence it is very important to sing in your natural scale.

You must have heard famous singer Sukhvinder Singh or Daler Mehndi. They have a high range (or scale). It may not be possible for everyone to sing in that range. Ghazal singers, like Jagjit Singh sing in lower range. Both sound good as long as they are singing in their natural scale.

In that sense, your natural scale is the good scale to sing in. Later in this blog we will see how to find your own scale.

In classical music singers generally have a fixed vocal scale in which they sing.

However, in light music, the vocal scale varies according to the song. If the song has high notes, one may sing in lower than usual scale and if songs has lower notes then one may sing in higher than usual scale.

With Riyaz we can increase our scale to some extent.

What are Octaves?

Understanding concept of Octave is very important before understanding Scale.

It is easier to understand if we understand it with respect to notes on keyboard or harmonium. The same concept applies to vocal notes that we sing.

There are three types of Octaves – Lower Octave or Mandra Saptak, Middle Octave or Madhya Saptak and Higher Octave or Taar Saptak. Every scale has all the three Octaves.

Image depicting Octaves on a Keyboard
Image depicting Octaves on a Keyboard

Middle Octave starts at Sa ends at Ni i.e. Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dh Ni.

The Swaras below the Sa of middle Octave or towards the left of Sa of middle Octave are the lower Octave of that particular Scale.

Higher Octave starts after Ni of middle octave. Higher Octave of the scale again starts with Sa. This means that Sa of Higher Octave starts from the right of Ni .

How many scales are there in Indian Classical Music?

There are 12 commonly used scales – Black 1,2,3,4,5 and White 1,2,3,4,5,6,7.

Image depicting different vocal scales on Harmonium/Keyboard
Image depicting different scales on Harmonium/Keyboard

The starting note of every scale is the Sa of middle octave of that scale. Scale on a harmonium is identified by position of this Sa of middle octave from where the scale begins.

For example, image above shows the notes (denoted by S R G m P D N on the white keys) for scale Safed 1 or C.

If the same image was for Kali 2 or D# (see the top side of the image for this scale) the Sa would have started from the black key numbered 4 in the image. All other notes for the scale would have accordingly moved 4 keys to the right.

Higher the scale, more towards right the Sa of the scale starts and the notes sound shriller (i.e. notes are high pitched) . This is because higher scale means notes are of higher pitch or frequency and lower scale means notes are lower in frequency.

Male scales generally range from C going upwards. Female scale generally ranges from Black 4 or Ab (A flat) going upwards i.e. towards right. The same has been depicted in the image above.

You can follow the video and have a clear picture of all the 12 scales and their position on a Harmonium.

Video by Aditi Jha explaining 12 scales and technique to find one’s own scale

A demonstration of scale C# is discussed showing its notes and all the Octaves.

As discussed before scales vary for light music while remain almost constant for classical music.

How to find out one’s own vocal scale for singing?

Before deciding our scale we must keep in mind that our scale should be such so that we can sing maximum number of songs.

Maximum songs are sung in between Lower Octave’s Dh to Higher Octave Ma.

So we should always keep 2 things before deciding our scale

1. We should be able to sing Middle Octave comfortably.

2. We should be able to sing at least 3 notes from lower Octave and 3 notes from Higher Octave. There should always be balance between Lower and Higher Octave.

If a singer chooses a scale such that he is able to sing five notes of lower Octave, all notes of middle octave and sings one note of higher octave that means he can sing songs of lower range but he won’t be able to sing songs of higher range.

Most likely the singer has chosen a lower scale and can go up two to three scales in order to sing at an appropriate scale.

Video by Aditi Jha Showing How to select one’s own scale

To find one’s appropriate scale the singer should take help of harmonium and follow the following steps (Watch the video above to get a clear idea of these steps):

  1. The singer can start from the lowest male or female scale , as the case may be.
  2. Then he or she should try to sing the highest three notes of lower octave (Pa, Dh, Ni) , all notes of middle octave and lowest three notes (Sa, Re, Ga) of upper octave.
  3. If he is comfortably able to sing the notes, then one should try one scale higher and repeat the step in point 2 till the voice starts cracking while singing lowest three notes of upper octave.
  4. If the singer is not able to sing the notes properly in upper or lower octave, then he should lower or increase the scale in order to find a scale where he is able to achieve the task mentioned in point 2.

Finding out one’s natural scale is first step in starting the singing journey and therefore one must master the concept and make sure you find out your natural scale before you delve any deeper into singing lessons.

If you are not able to do it on your own you may always take help of a vocal trainer.

I hope you liked the post and video. You may check out my Youtube channel for more practical tips on Hindustani Classical Music. You may also follow me on my FaceBook page to post any questions that you may have regarding singing.

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