!!! IMPORTANT – Read this first !!!

Last update: 20 May, 2020

MDR was a true nAdOpAasaka – a worshipper of “nAda“. He gave utmost importance to the way his music sounded. His unique voice and how he modulated it was noteworthy. He also had clear ideas on how the words, swaras and AlApanas should sound. Sometimes, his ideas went against the conventional wisdom, but, at the end, it produced great effects which left his listeners longing for more!

Voice & Voice Modulation

The first and foremost speciality of MDR’s music is his voice. He sung at a very low shruti compared to even other male artists. This gave a natural weight to his music. This strong voice naturally suited some of the rAgas and krutis and these were utilised to the maximum by MDR.

  • For example, when MDR sings gowLa in his weighty voice, the generated effect is very different from most other renditions (Some initial sound checks have been added to show his voice ranges):

His voice was bass-filled and strong in the lower registers and it changed to a pliant soft voice in the upper registers. This huge variation in tone was effectively used by MDR, according to the context. The amount of modulation he could achieve was also high due to this range in tone.

  • Here MDR himself is talking about voice modulation when he sings “sandula” first time – around 1:20:45 (he remarks that the composer is referring to a lane where there is no light, and hence he is modulating accordingly!). This shows the importance he attributed to voice modulation and its use to bring out the sAhitya and rAga bhAva. Also note how he is singing “O” in the initial few rounds.

Enhancing sAhitya

MDR used voice modulation very effectively to bring out the the emotions in the sAhitya. On the other hand, the words were also used a fabric to create beautiful musical phrases by modulating at the appropriate syllables.

  • When MDR sings “varugalAmO“, it will be dripping with so much emotion that you can really visualise Nandanar pleading with the lord!

  • Another super awesome “varugalAmO“. Some notable sections in this rendition are around 3:16:00, and then each repetition of line “paramAnanda…” from 3:16:30 (especially around 3:17:15), softness at 3:17:55, 3:22:22 & 3:23:00 etc. All around, the voice appears “weak and broken”, suiting the situation – out of the world!!!

  • A fine example of usage of modulation for creating musical phrases is this amazing shLoka rendition. (The shLoka starts few minutes before, with the explanation of meaning. This initial part has been skipped here for highlighting the point in discussion, but you may find it worth listening!). Note the way he uses his voice in different Avartanas.

  • In the below “hariharaputram“, note his voice and how he moulds it at different points. His slow pace also helps in enhancing this effect. This is especially evident in the higher pitch. Note when he sings “muraLIbhEri” at around 3:45. I never get tired of listening to this part! (For full concert, refer here)

Enhancing swaras
  • MDR can create unique sound effects by handling the swaras with appropriate microtonal variations and emphasis. Many times, this is subtle, and a listener has to be attentive to catch it. For example check around 4:50 in the below rendering of “sAmi ninne kOri“, where he is singing the chiTTaswara. He sings the same passage two times, and both are slightly different, but beautiful in their own respects. In the second Avartana, note the way he treats “RN”-“PM”-“RGRS” (Hearing the varNam from the beginning will give an idea of voice modulations employed by MDR)

  • Another example of how MDR uses voice modulation and slight microtonal variations can be seen in the below rendition of muktAyiswara (note around between 4:37-4:59) and chiTTaswara (between 7:04-7:33) in “ninnu kOri“. Observe the emphasis and modulation given to the swaras in the first Avartana and how the same swaras are handled differently in the second Avartana.

  • Yet another example of voce modulations enriching the swara rendition is below. Note at different points in the passage, different types of emphasis and modulations are used. During the faster round, check how some swaras are emphasised and others are muted, and generating the intended feel. The laya play also adds to the overall beauty!

Usage of plain notes/swarasthAnas

MDR effectively utilised plain notes very effectively at appropriate points in a rendition.

  • The effects created by using plain notes/swarastAnas during AlApana/swara singing is amazing. Here is an example of a kIravANi AlApana (especially check around 1:11:45 & 1:14:00):

  • Note the effects created at “sarvAsA“, “nityakalyANIm” & “sarvANIm” (kamalAmbaAm bhajare):

Moving between Octaves

  • Some MDR “special effects”!!!

  • Check the “aural effect” created by the movement between octaves during the kalpanAswara:

  • During kalapnAswara, typically artists try to keep the swaras in the kalpanAswara sequence not too far apart (in pitch). The further apart the swaras are in their swarasthAna, more care need to be taken during the transition between them. Sometimes, moving between two octaves is employed effectively as shown in above example. MDR had the conviction and confidence to place the swaras anywhere in the scale, not just one octave apart. See her where he is moving from mandrasthAyi P to madhyasthAyi N around 16:50! The whole rendition is very nice, worth hearing from the beginning 🙂


Each of MDR’s detailed AlApanas is notable for the way he modulates the voice and brings appropriate effects. At times, it could be soft and delicate and at other times, strong and impactful. Another aspect of his AlApana is his use of vowels. Though there is an opinion that “akAra” is the most preferred sound for an AlApana, judicious use of other vowels can enhance the effect of an AlApana considerably.

  • In this bhairavi AlApana, MDR has used almost all “swaras” in the alphabet in addition to all swaras in the raga 😉

More details on MDR’s AlApana are present in other pages.


Occasionally, during AlApana, MDR uses some sounds other than the typical vowel or nasal sound.

  • Here, he is using some different sounds to great effect in between. Of course, he does not over do it and immediately goes back to the standard kharaharapriya phrase after the experiments. (For the full concert, refer here)

  • Another instance of AlApana with special effects. Note around 13:50 🙂

  • Most of the time, MDR takes lot of care when ending a section with the pallavi line. He brings out the beauty of lyrics and bhAva while at other times, he is focussed on generating effect using appropriate voice modulations suiting the raga. In the below instance, the violinist was initially going for the typical way of ending the charaNam, but MDR had different ideas on how it should sound :):

“Flattening” swara/sAhitya

In order to achieve the intended musical impact, MDR used to alter and modulate the pronunciation of sAhitya as well.

  • Note the handling of initial part of muktayi swaras in “viribONi“:

  • See the difference between the first and the second Avartana:

This type of manipulations are generally perceived as lack of respect towards the composer by some, but, if you study MDR’s music, you will realise that he is one of those few who actually understood the sAhitya completely and used this to increase the effectiveness of the rendition. The liberties he took was to provide that extra “oomph” to his interpretation of music and I can only thank him for this!


Many of MDR’s embellishments are subtle, but sometimes, we get to experience some extravaganzas. Here is a rendition where from beginning to end, MDR has just focussed on the “nAdam“! From AlApana to pallavi to charaNam, see how he handles the voice!