"I felt like quitting learning music, but I hung on..."

Written by Snigdha Kar, Student of SMA on 11 January 2021

I am close to 40 years of age – a working professional, a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother and a lot more like any other person of my age. In the current COVID scenario, I am also the maid and cook for my house. But it was this COVID “work from home” situation that drove me towards learning classical music.


Needless to say, I love music. I have been trying to learn to sing simple songs from various teachers and institutions for the past 7 years. I have performed in chorus in various shows typically during Durga Puja (a festival in India) celebrations. 

But in all these years, I never felt that I was learning. Believe me, I was working really hard to be able to match my voice with others, I knew there was some problem in my voice but never knew what it was and how to rectify that. Sadly, nobody ever told me my weakness despite me asking and insisting that I really want to learn.

Sorry, if it was too much information about me, but a background is needed for you to understand my learning journey with the Shankar Mahadevan Academy (SMA). In April, I enrolled for a self-study Hindi Movie Song course, the content of which was really well designed and that motivated me to try learning classical music. On 17th May, I enrolled myself for the HV101 (a beginner-level Hindustani vocal course) at the Academy. And a new journey began. 

I really feel blessed to have Mr Mohit Malhotra as my Guru – a wonderful teacher who explains things very clearly, motivates me, understands my weakness, and repeats points multiple times. Every week, I looked forward to the class, and the excitement to learn something new was really driving me into this vast sea of understanding music. 

These weekly classes became my dose of meditation. I started with regular riyaaz (practice ritual) that in turn made me more organised in my after-work schedule too. The evening now in our home looked different with me and my 5-year-old child singing together. Also, my child has seen me working on the same Alankar (a sequence of musical phrases) and Bandish (a kind of music composition) each day that motivated her to practise more for her school activities. I completed HV101, I was happy to see the evaluation. Moreover, I was witnessing a change in my perspective on how I look into any song now. 

Without any gap, I enrolled for HV102.

So far my favourite class was the second class of HV102 where we did swar mapping (identifying the musical notes of a melody) of the National Anthem. I was doing wild guesses for the words of the Anthem and Mohit Sir was singing it with my guessed swars (musical notes) to make me understand if that is the case, how it would sound – rather than saying I am wrong or this is the right note. I still can’t get over that class…

But by the end of October, the year-end work pressure on the professional front started growing. Despite regular practice, I was unable to perform. I couldn’t figure out what was missing. My commitment, dedication was the same as before. I was totally confused and was on the verge of quitting. 

Two things that I surely knew at this point of time were; first – if I couldn’t learn from Mohit Sir and SMA, I could never learn music, and second – if I quit now, I will not be able to even hum a song all alone in the bathroom. I was absolutely certain about these two things and thus logged into my class anyway. 

I am so glad that I did log into my class – the conversation with my teacher was the game changer. Mohit Sir explained to me that even if the passion and dedication is the same as before, my situation is not the same. The riyaaz was not giving me the result because perhaps my mind was preoccupied with other thoughts, unknowingly… Further, he reminded me of the negative impact that my child will have if I give up like this…

Mohit Sir reminded me of a wonderful prayer – Hum Ko Man Ki Shakti Dena. He told me that when we pray for our own strength and wisdom, the magic is bound to happen. This prayer has given me strength to finish my professional task within tight deadlines. My riyaaz during this period started with listening to this prayer and humming it along to engross its meaning.

Being an environmentalist, I can only explain using examples from nature. If you observe closely, it takes time for any flower to become a ripe fruit and the time required for this is different for different plants – some are fast whereas some may take months. In addition, there are various external factors that influence this transformation such as temperature, availability of light, moisture, etc. In my case, even though I was trying to train my vocals through regular riyaaz (ripening of fruit), the unfavourable external factors (increased workload and responsibilities, mental stress due to pandemic, managing things at home, etc.) played their role and thus, I was unable to perform.

In nature, when conditions become unfavourable – both plants and animals go into a dormant state or hibernation. I am so grateful that Mohit Sir suggested that I take a break because learning new things will only add pressure. He motivated me to continue with my riyaaz, the revision of HV101 and what we learnt so far in HV102.  

I re-joined the classes in the first week of December 2020. During the gap period, I did miss the regular interaction with my teacher, I also missed many days of practices but whenever I could for whatever time duration but I was still hoping to catch up. 

With support from my teacher Mohit Sir and the SMA team, I am back on the regular learning track…slow but steady…I hope to be able to learn. Like any art form, with learning music also, the journey itself is the destination, and I really wish to enjoy every part of this learning journey.

Now is the time to let the fruit to ripe and ripe further to become sweet to the ears and then it will be time to preserve this ripe fruit so that it doesn’t get rotten – a lifelong process indeed...

And I must say, the joy of getting Sa right as soon as you play the tanpura is out of the world.