Vocal vs Instrument


  1. The voice (gatra vina) is a free gift to us from God and it is up to everyone to make the full use of it. The voice is intended not only for speaking but also for singing. Singing is an art which is within the easy reach of everyone. But a musical instrument has to be acquired and the art of playing it, learnt.
  2. Ability to sing sometimes comes by mere imitation: but this is not the case with instrumental music. The art of playing an instrument has to be actually learnt from a master.
  3. The unseen instrument of the voice is carried by a person unnoticed wherever he goes; but a musical instrument cannot be carried without being noticed. Some instruments are so big and heavy that they have to be carried by a disciple or servant.
  4. A singer can straightaway start singing but in the case of an instrumentalist, he has to tune the instrument beforehand and play, unless it is wind instrument like the flute.
  5. In singing, there is the continuity of tone but is picked instruments like the vina, this is not the case.
  6. The special merit of vocal music is that the sahitya or the words of a composition can be heard; but in instrumental music only the dhatu or the music alone can be heard.
  7. Songs wherein the sahitya has a special value as in the case of compositions belonging to the spheres of sacred music, dance music, operas, dance dramas and folk music, are fully enjoyed through vocal renderings. National songs arouse the national sentiments on account of their inspiring sahityas.
  8. Literary beauties like yamakam, svarakshara, sabdalankara, antya prasa, anuprasa, yati pattern, kondukutti and the raga mudra, tala mudra, kshetra mudra, etc., cleverly interwoven into the texture of the sahitya cannot be made explicit in instrumental renderings.
  9. The sahitya bhava sangatis are enjoyed in full in vocal renderings. Niravals in kritis and pallavis are effective in vocal renderings.
  10. The sahityas help to identify the tunes and fix them in our mind.
  11. Medieval times, when the art of rendering songs in notation was not cultivated, the tunes of songs were indicated as "set in the tune of Ratisukja sare or to be sung like Rati sukha sare" ie., the 11th Ashtapadi of jayadeva and so on.
  12. Songs of a lighter nature are enjoyed more through the medium of the voice than through instrumental music.
  13. To appreciate instrumental music more fully, one has to possess a lot of knowledge in music and some knowledge atleast relating to the technique of play on the instrument. But this is not the case with regard to vocal music.
  14. While singing, the vocalist has the advantage of being able to reckon the tala himself, but the instrumentalist has to depend on the services of another musician for this purpose. Flutists sometimes reckon the tala with their legs and Vainikas reckon the tala with the tala strings. But these are not of much use, when compositions and pallavis in long talas like simhanandana and simhavikridita are attempted.
  15. Vocal renderings of passages of jatis are very effective. Tillanas are fully enjoyed when sung.
  16. The aphorism, only emphasises the importance of vocal music.
  17. When an instrumentalist renders a piece whose musical setting is nearly like that of another, it becomes difficult to identify the piece. For example when he renders a piece like Nammi vachchina (Kalyani raga), the listener may get the impression that he is playing the piece "Devi Meenakshi mudam". But when he comes to the anupallavi, the identity of the piece gets established.
  18. Likewise when he plays a kriti in which tune, there are atleast three different sahityas, the listener is left in a state of suspense. Thus when he plays the piece "Naraharini nammaga" (Bhairavi) of Bhadrachala Ramadas, the listener may legitimately conclude that he is playing pasyata pasyata figuring in the is Krishna lila tarangini of Narayana Tirtha or Mugattaik kattiye deham of Papanasa Mudaliar, since all the three sahityas are in the same tune or varna mettu. The vocal rendering of the piece will serve to establish the identity of the sahitya of the song.
  19. Instrumentalists in general do not care to learn the sahityas of the songs they play. They play with the picture of the dhatu in their mind. Their play will be much better and would faithfully reflect the original composition if they have the sahitya in their mind and play.
  20. Very often it happens, that instrumental performers blindly repeat the music of the anupallavi, while playing the lattar part of the charana, even though the music of this latter part may slightly differ on account of an addition or reduction in the number of the sahitya syllables. For example, compare the music of the anupallavi of Sitapate (Khamas raga) and the music of its charana.
  21. Instrumentalists in general desire to provide accompaniment to scholarly vocalists of standing, since such chances help them to enhance their reputation and gives them good training in playing kalpana svaras to themes in intricate eduppus and identify intricate pallavis. Faculties, like alterness and quick response are also developed.
  22. With the advance in age, the teeth may fall off and this will be an impediment in the playing of the flute. Ofcourse articial teeth can be used but this will be of only limited use. But in vocal music there is not such problem.

Instrumental Music

  1. Inspite of its limitations, instrumental music has a charm all its own.
  2. Human genius has evolved a fine and attractive technique of play in concert instruments. It is a delight to watch the Vainika play trikala tanas and chakra bandham.
  3. Instrumental music is absolute music, and emphasises the gana rasa aspect of music pointedly. The Trimurtis: Siva, Vishnu and Brahma (His consort Sarasvati) are associated with musical instruments. Narada Played the vina, Mahati. Anjaneya was Vainika. The episode relating to the Gundakriya raga bears this out.
  4. Most of the lakshanakaras and composers of India like sarangadeva, Ramamatya, Somanatha, Tyagaraja and Muthuswami Dikshitar have been Vainikas.
  5. It was instrumental music that helped man to get a clear grasp of the subtleties of the tone system and the graces and naunces used in ragas.
  6. Instrumentalists are in a better position to render accurately songs in notation.
  7. Possibilities of deriving new scales through the process of modal shift of tonic were revelaed only through the harp and the fretted vina. Knowledge of dvigunatva (doubleness and knowledge of the frequency ratios of the notes used in various ragas were obtained through musical instruments.
  8. Every instrument has a characteristic tone-colour.
  9. Instrumental music is capable of universal appreciation.
  10. In an instrumental rendering of a piece like Nagumomu ganaleni (Abheri raga), we are able to appreciate the musical cast much better, since all the time we listen only to its pure musical setting.
  11. Instrumental music has a wider range extending from 5 to 7 octaves where as the compass of a brilliant and gifted voice is only 3 octaves.
  12. In Vadya brindas (orchestras), men and women can join together and play on their respective instruments. But in Gayaka brindas (choirs) men alone or women have to sing on account of the difference in the pitch of their voices. Of course men and women can sing together by doubling in octaves; but then the effective range of music will be considerably reduced. This limitation in group singing applies only to a melodic system of music. In the harmonic system of music however, men and women can sing together on account of the possibilities of part singing.
  13. Instrumental music can be cultivated by one and all but to be good singer, one should possess a good voice.
  14. Instrumental music answers to the wider needs of the society. Instrumentalists not only perform in Sangita Sabhas but also in temples during services and processions. There are also the martial bands and instruments used for propanganda purposes.
  15. Drums have been used for communicating messages. The Nagara mantapas (drum stations) installed by Tirumal Naik (17th century) of Madurai may be remembered in this connection.
  16. Instrumental accompaniment is absolutely essential in concerts of vocal music, and dance, in operas and dance dramas.
  17. Instrumental forms like vadya prabandhas shine well when performed by bands.
  18. The combinational tone-colour of orchestral music provides a pleasing variety. Orchestral music has an impressive effect.
  19. It should be remembered that an instrumentalist is a vocalist plus an instrumentalist. Every performer on an instrument first learns the piece vocally and then reproduces it on his instrument in a stylish, embellished and artistic manner.
  20. Relatively speaking, an instrumentalist possesses a far higher degree of svarajnanam, compared to the vocalist.
  21. Vocalists sometimes stray away from the pitch causing annoyance to themselves, their accompanists and the attentive listeners. But there is no such problem as far as the instrumentalists are concerned.
  22. When a singer catches cold, he or she cannot sing well. But there is no such problem as far as the instrumentalist is concerned.
  23. For enjoying vocal music in full, one must have a knowledge of the language of the songs, sung. But in instrumental music, there is not such problem. It is the dhatu alone that is played.
  24. The voice is a monophonous instrument but instruments like the vina, gotuvadyam, and the violin are polyphonous instruments and effects like double stops and doubling in octaves can be produced.
  25. With few exceptions, old age has an adverse effect on the voice. The pitch of the voice goes down and its capacity for producing clearly fast phrases also gets reduced. The tone colour bands in the voice also gradually wither away and the voice becomes plain and colourless. But there is no such problem in instrumental music. There are vinas which have been used for more than a hundred years and they still give a delightful tone.
  26. Very high speed is attainable in instrumental music particularly in the flute and jalataranagam. Trikala tanas played on vina are delightful.
  27. Gamakas like Tribhinnam can be played only on instruments like the vina are delightful.
  28. Proficiency in instrumental music is a good accomplishment even in a vocalist.
  29. There are some delightful compositions on love themes. They are not sung on account of their erotic sahityas but instrumentalists can keep them alive by performing them.
  30. Instrumental music is a good vehicle for effecting cures (music therapy).
  31. Instrumental music has been used to announce events on the battle field by blowing conches or by beating the jayabheri (victory drum).
  32. Without an instrumental accompaniment no concert of music can shine.
  33. On account of its richness and volume, instrumental music is capable of being heard by large audience and in big halls. It can reach long distances.
  34. Rising performers of vocal music desire to be accompanied by senior instrumentalists with a view to not only enhance their reputation, but also to develop self-confidence and establish themselves in the professional world.
  35. After all, the larynx or the human voice is also a musical instrument, concealed securely in the throat, it is a wind instrument. The two vocal chords are set in vibration by the rush of air from the lungs. The mouth acts as the resonator.

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