Carnatic music practice- if you are a singer of Carnatic music, here are some useful basics of music practice.
Practice early in the morning. This is useful because you're on an empty stomach and not sleepy. It's also a time when it's quiet and you won't be distracted by duties and random sounds all over the place.
You will first want to turn on a tambura or sruti box. Your teacher can teach you how to tune it - make sure you learn properly, and learn what pitch you usually sing to. If you don't have either of these, record the tambura sound or sruti box on a tape and play it while you sing, on both sides (so you can just play the other side of the tape when one side is done).
Listen to the tambura, sruti box, or a tape of the tambura or shruti box for three to five minutes. This will help get you in the music mood and will help calm you, too. Just sit and listen and breathe with the notes.
Watch your posture. You should be sitting with legs crossed and arms at your thighs, preferably. Sit up - no slumping or slouching, keep your chin up (but don't look up), and look straight ahead. Don't hold your breath but take deep breaths, pushing your diaphragm (and stomach) OUTWARD when you breathe in and letting it sink back when you exhale thoroughly.
Your singing can begin with Sa. It's useful to begin singing in a raaga like maayamaaLava gowLa or shankaraabharaNam. Hold the sa for as long as you can. If you run out of breath, try again. With practice you'll be able to hold your breath longer. It helps to push your stomach outward when you are trying to hold the sa to push more air out of your lungs. Use your breath sparingly, and don't exhale all the air at once, but DO sing loudly and freely. As teachers say, you must really "sing from your stomach," which lets the vibrations come from your stomach to your chest, then your throat and finally your mouth, giving a rounded, rich tone to your voice.
Your mouth and neck should also be straight. When you sing, avoid shaking your head too much. When you sing gamakas, they should not REQUIRE shaking of your head, so hold your head upright. Keep your chin back towards your neck and not sticking out (like a duck), with your shoulders back. Imagine the sound coming from the back of your throat, not the front of your mouth. Sing in front of a mirror or get someone to watch you and point out what you're doing wrong occasionally.
After you sing sa, you can vary around the sa, as in sn.srssn.n.p.n.n.srrsnrs This practice of varying around a note will allow you to extend your range lower. After varying around sa, you can vary around low ni, etc. Slowly sing sa, and work your way up to singing ri next. From there go to ga, ma, pa, da, and ni, and finally high sa, holding each note as long as possible. At first you may only be able to hold the notes for 10 seconds, but eventually you should be able to hold notes for an entire minute, clearly and strongly without gasping for breath.
From here you can sing the sarali varisais, janta varisais, daaTu varisais and the other beginners' lessons, found here.Sing the lessons at different speeds: one note per beat, then two, then four, then finally (when you can) eight notes per beat. These exercises will improve your ability to say the swaras, improve your breath, extend your range, and most importantly, understand the swarastaanas - that is, sing the proper, steady pitch for each note at whatever speed.
You should also split the swaras properly. Thus srgsrgsr should not be sung as just a string of swaras. It is made of small phrases: srg - srg - sr. Pay attention to these, because they make the difference between just singing what is written and bringing out the composer's (or singer's) knowledge of music.
These exercises include various forms of gamakas, and you can see them in the swaras you sing. To improve your gamaka, you can also sing the phrases next with the sound aaa... instead of the swaras. Then try other syllables, like eee..., ooo..., ayyyyy...., aii...., mmm...., ohhhh.... etc.
Add the taaLam when you are proficient at the early lessons. This will be useful especially when singing in the four speeds. Concentrate on keeping the taaLam on your lap, not beating too hard but lightly and lifting the palm at each beat, even on the laghu. Do not get lazy with you taaLam!
When you have a particular song you are going to practice, it's useful to do this practice of the early phrases in the raaga. If it is not a sampoorna raaga (with some swaras missing), you can adjust the phrases accordingly. For example, with a raagam like mOhanam you can sing:
srsrsrgp | srgpddS, || SdSdSdpg | Sdpgrrs, ||
ssrrgsrg | ssrrggpp || rrggprgp | rrggppdd ||...
srgpdSS, | S,,,S,,, || pdSRSdpg | Sdpgrss, ||...
When you have a raaga now firmly based in your head, you can go on to sing songs. Keep in mind that the splitting of phrases you do with the swaras of a song may be very different from those of the words. Learn the meaning, composer, and raaga of every song you learn in addition to just the words. Know the proper splitting of words, so you won't accidentally take a breath in the middle of a word and maybe even offend some people!
If you are singing a song, pay special attention to the words or lyrics of the song. You should pronounce them properly and clearly, without splitting words in half. Find out from your teacher, a friend, or on this site the complete lyrics and full meaning of the song so that you understand each word as well as the complete meaning of the song. Try to keep the meaning of the song in mind - the composer has created it with such feeling, and you must convey that to your audience to make the music melodious and true to its creator.
Proper practice is vital to good voice cultivation and knowledgeable and beautiful singing. Don't get disheartened - small amounts of daily practice whenever you can add up, and you will improve every day!