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Rafiji’s Voice Range

By Santhanakrishnan Srinivasan
I would like to dedicate this article to the uncrowned king amongst playback singers of our times, Rafi ji, on his 89th birth anniversary.

Mohammad Rafi

Human voice has many qualities.  Of these some such as melodious, pleasing, and gaambhirya are unexplainable and not measurable but can only be experienced.  Some qualities such as range are measurable.  What is range of voice – It is basically the range of musical notes  – that is the difference between  lowest note and the highest note that can be sung by a human voice.  Typically a human voice that can reproduce musical notes would cover in the range of 2 octaves.  An octave has 12 notes,  Shadja, Komal Risabh, Shuddha Rishabh, Komal gandhar, shuddh gandhar, shuddha madhyam and teevra madhyam, Pancham, komal dhaivat, shuddha dhaivat, Komal nishad and shuddha nishad. The note above Shuddha nishad, will be the Shadja of higher octave.  Well trained singers can cover more than two octaves. 

While notes can be denoted using western notation C, D, E, F, G, A and B, to cater to the Indian audience, I have chosen to write using Indian scale (sa, re, ga, …. Ni).  Songs  may have notes in three octaves – sthayee.  The lower one is called mandra sthayee, middle one is called Madhya sthayee and the higher is called taara sthayee.  Songs that are within a single octave are rare, but do exist.

Usually playback singers will choose appropriate frequency of their voice to be shadja of Madhya sthayee so that they can cover notes of mandra sthayee and tara sthayee comfortably.  Also playback singers mainly give songs for the actors on screen and hence the notes when sung should be free of strain unlike classical singers who have the liberty to demonstrate their range with whatever syllable that they choose to sing.

How do we find a true range of voice of a singer?  An ideal way would be by making the singer sing the lowest and highest notes possible. Since the singers that we are interested are not alive today, it is not possible.  However, an approximation can be made by the lowest note and highest notes sung by a singer in a song.  If we collect data from a large set of songs we can possibly find out the range.  However, we should also be aware that the natural range of a human voice shifts downward with age – as the readers might have noted that voice of  Rafi in his later years, covered lower range and he did not try to reach very high notes.  With these considerations,  I have taken the following approach.

  1. Get a first approximation of the widest range by finding out the range of notes in a song sung by singers.
  2. Make it more accurate by comparing notes (actual frequencies) across songs sung by the singer around the same period (within 0-3 years).
  3. Check if live recordings are available and see what is the range of notes sung by the singer across songs in the live program.

This article covers only the first step as that itself establishes some well known and expected facts.   Having heard Hindi film songs since my childhood until the demise of Kishoreda, I have registered in my memory many songs that test the range of human voice. Blessed with some musical sense I used to check if I could emulate the range.  Needless to say, repeating some of Rafiji’s songs were the most difficult.

Now, how do we measure the range?  The different songs that a singer has sung gives us an idea of what is the range of the singer, but the singer might have been able to sing more notes than that were covered in the song.   However a comparison of set of songs sung by each singer gives us an approximate idea of the typical range of songs, that were offered to a singer.  Or if song has been composed,  the range requirement of the song helped in the selection of singer who can do justice to the song.

We can measure the range by counting the number of musical notes that are covered between the lowest and highest notes.  For example, if a song’s lowest note and highest note are the same from two subsequent octaves, the range of the song is 13 (12+1) notes, if the song covers two octaves, then it is 25 (12+12+1) notes.  If we have a keyboard, then the range can be found out by counting all the keys (black and white) between the lowest note and highest note including them.

Here is a comparison of songs of Rafiji and his contemporaries  Manna Dey, Mukesh, Talat and Kishore.

As a fan of Rafiji, I happened to register in my memory  a lot of  his songs which cover a vast range of notes. I have validated the range of notes using my keyboard.  There are some songs where the highest note is a khand swar  (a note that is sung for a small fraction of a maatra instead of sustaining in that note for even as short as half a maatra).

I have denoted the notes on the Indian scale assuming a raga.  But some songs are not based on pure raga.  There could be errors in notes referred to – because the song does not have fixed raga structure.  Since they are validated using a musical keyboard, the range measured will still be accurate.

Here are my observations – Rafiji has atleast two songs where he has covered two full octaves with one khand swar – Yeh zindagi ke mele  – lowest note Mandra sthayee komal dhaivat and highest note is taara sthayee komal dhaivat – 25 notes) and Pyar ki raah dikha duniya ko from Lambe haath (mandra shuddha dhaivat to tara shudha dhaivat khandswar 25 notes).  The next highest is Mori vinathi suno bhagwan from the movie Taj – lowest Mandra Komal dhaivat, highest taara pancham – 24 notes and Tune mera yaar na milaya from Shama Parvana Lowest – Mandra Komal Nishad and Highest taara shuddha dhaivat – 24 notes,   The next are Yeh duniya ke rakhwale from Baiju Bavra – Mandra pancham  and  Taara shuddha madhyam – 23 notes,  Kunj Kunj Gunjan bhanvre ka from Anjali – Mandra Pancham and Taara shuddha madhyam  – 23 notes,  Nigahein na Phero from Black Prince Mandra pancham  and  Taara shuddha madhyam – 23 notes  – Dil ho unhe Mubarak from Chandni Raat – Mandra Pancham and Taara shuddha madhyam  – 23 notes.  I could count at least 15 songs that covered 22 notes – Akhiyan sang akhiyan from Bada Admi, Jaan-e-bahaar husn from Pyar kiya to darna kya,  Yehi armaan lekar aaj apne ghar se from Shabab,  Jaane kya doondhthi rahti hai from Shola aur shabnam,  Tu hindu banega na musalman banega from Dhook ka phool, Chand kitne door tha sitare kitne door the from Afsana  and Woh kaunsi muskhil hai from Maa  Beta. There is also one duet of Rafiji and Lataji – Dekho rootha na karo from Tere ghar ke saamne – that also covers 22 notes. Zindagi bhar gham judai ka  from Miss Bombay, Zindagi mujhko dikha de rasta from  Saanj aur savera, Dekho bina savan baras rahi from  Sawan,  Dil ki dil mein hi rahi from  Chakori, jaayega jab yahaan se kuchh bhi na saath hoga from  Moti Mahal,  Ab koi gulshan na ujhade from Mujhe jeen do, Allah teri khair kare from Heer and  Hazaron rang badlega zamana   from Shirin Farhad.   Like wise there are many of Rafi ji that cover 21 notes.  The last one that he sung was Parda hai parda from Amar Akbar Anthony (Mandra Pancham to taara Komal Gandhar) where he had to strain a bit but none of his contemporaries who had also aged were given that song.

I have not registered in my memory all the songs of other singers but here are some which demonstrates their voice range.  I can not claim to have exhausted their songs while trying to find out their voice range.  But songs that demanded a vast range of voice usually drew my attention.  May be some of their fans would be able to single out some songs which show greater range.

Mukesh ji, among the four, considered less gifted with voice capability surprised me with – Mujhe raat din ye khayal hai from Umar Qaid 23 notes (mandra Pancham  to taara shuddha madhyam – khand swar).  Jhoomti chali hawa – from Sangeet Samrat Tansen (Mandra shuddha dhaivat to taara Teevra madhyam) 22 notes – the next song that I found was Jaane kahan gaye woh din – 20 notes.

Talat –Two songs – of  22 notes –  Zindagi denewale sun  ( Mandra pancham  to taara shuddha gaandhar) and Raahi Matwale tu chhed ek baar – 22 notes  ( Mandra pancham  to taara shuddha gaandhar)

Manna Dey  One song of 22 notes – Bhaya Bhanjana vandana sun hamari ( Mandra Komal Nishad and Taara Pancham).  Laga chunri me daag and Phul gendwa na maaro cover 20 notes.

I found two songs of Kishoreda one covering 22 notes (Thandi hava yeh chandni suhani from Jhumroo (mandra pancham to Tara gandhar) and another 21 notes – Koi hota jisko apna from Mere Apne – (Madhya Shadja to Taara komal dhaivat) and one of 20 notes – Matwale hum matwale tum fom jhumroo.

I have not collated the songs by lady singers of that era – Geeta, Lata and Asha.

Some inferences which can be drawn are  – songs that require range of 22 notes seem to be within the reach of all of them.  Mukesh did reach up to 23 notes in a song with a khandswar. But the number of songs by Manna Dey, Mukesh, Talat and Kishore that demanded a vast range are very few.  But Rafiji is in a class of his own.  The difference in singing songs that have more than 23 notes is this.  Beyond 22 notes, the strain on the voice starts showing.

Now the question is, if a singer did not get songs that cover a wide range, could we be mistaken to say that he/she had a limited range.  Yes, but the sheer number of songs that Rafiji has sung with range of 22 notes are more far out numbers other singers songs, hence I would conclude – that possibly Rafiji’s voice range was the widest.   And his songs have been composed by a variety of composers, some well established composers and some who did  very few films.  Some of the lesser known composers were instrumentalists in the orchestras and were probably inspired by Rafi’s voice and range to take to composing music. Rafiji was also generous in not charging them much, and secondly encouraged them.

The list of music directors who gave songs to Rafi of 22 notes or more are Anil Biswas, Chitragupta,  Dulal Sen, GS Kohli, Hansraj Behl, Hemanat Kumar, Husnlal Bhagatram, Jaidev, Khayyam, N Datta, Naushad, Ravi, SD Burman, Shankar Jaikishan and SS Mohinder –  which is a true acknowledgement by all the music directors of Rafi’s voice range.   Some other reasons could be that Rafi could sing any syllable at a high pitch. One can hum a high pitch than singing an open syllable at higher pitch  which is difficult.  Rafiji seems to reach high pitches effortlessly.  This fact is also mentioned by one fan of Rafi ji (Swaminathan), who has observed many singers at close range.

But how does one find his true range – by listening to songs that were recorded around the same time (same movie, same year, etc.) during which the lowest and highest frequencies from the collection of songs can be compared to find out the range.

There are recordings of a live programs of Rafiji singing Naushadji’s compositions available in youtube.  I know for sure that in that live program, Rafiji sang one extra higher note in the song Yeh duniya ke rakhwale making the range to 25 notes.  May be when time permits I will listen to all the songs sung in that program and come out with a more authentic information on Rafiji’s voice range.  Till then thanks for reading.

My thanks are also due to the individuals who have loaded on youtube the Hindi film songs that are listed here.  And also due apologies to the readers for any mistakes and omissions that might have occurred without intent.  I also welcome mails from readers who would like to discuss this further! Jai Hind!

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57 Blog Comments to “Rafiji’s Voice Range”

  1. Sangam says:

    Shrivasatava ji

    Balamuralikrishna is perhaps the greatest classical exponent of the 21st Century. He was peerless and was admired by competent talents like bade gulam ali khan, bhimsen joshi etc. from the hindusthani music. An era of a born musician comes to end with his leaving. Eminent music director Illayaraja stated on this demise : Such person will not be found in future.

  2. Rafifan says:

    Sandeep Shrivastav ji

    Thanks for your post. Read the news. A sad day for musical world. An era of musical genius ends with M. Balamuralikrishna, the Great Carnatic musician wo was a child prodigy in music from 6th year and also has a credit of inventing new Ragas in music. Artists like him, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Pt. Jasraj, Pt. Ravi Shankar, M S Subbulakshmi – They are incarnations of music, Born in this world to see that Music Lives in the hearts of countless souls. These greats are far above all the filmy playback singers, despite that they have great admirations for the filmy singers. Right from Rafi, Ghantasala, Lata, K J Yesudas, Manna dey etc. etc. all were great admirers of Mr. Balamuralikrishna. He has carved for himself a special place in music world. Many expectations were there for Bharat Ratna for this carnatic genius during the past few years, but that has not been materialised. Lata Mangeshkar calls him as her guru and she tweeted on Nov. 22nd – Mahan Shastriya Gayak Balamurali ji ab hamare beech nahi rahe”. Balamuralikrishna is also famous for some of his film songs in telugu and tamil and it was said that when he recorded a song Music Directors simply used to OK that song saying that Whatever Balamuralikrishna sings that is music and no body can comment on that, in fact no body becomes eligible to comment on his rendition. That was Mr. Balamuralikrishna. As a true music lover, my great admirations for this great carnatic & hindusthani musician.

  3. Sandeep Shrivastava says:

    Legendary Carnatic Musician – Mangalampalli Balamuralikrishna – an artist of a speical class of his own passes away at 86. Mile sur Mera Tumhara, the Hindi Composition – a bit was rendered by him. He was a icon/guru for all the famed musicians (hindustani and carnatic) across the country. Perhaps one of the rare singers who had a voice which could cross the three octave range in music – a range which is not present on instruments. Such was his gifted voice. Southern legendary Singer Ghantasala Venkateswara Rao, Hindi Legendary singer Lata Mangeshkar were his favourites in film playback singing. He had jugalbandis with Pandit Bhimsen Joshi and other reputed hindusthani musicians. Only musician to give 25000 concerts world wide. Was awarded with Padma Vibhushan – second highest civilian honour. (bharat ratna is small for him). His colossal contribution to music was for 80 years (his first concert was at six years). The music world remembers him on this day.

  4. m n kannan unni says:

    Dear Mr Srinivasan-I came across this site recently. I am delighted for having seen this site. To be in the company of other RAFI crazies. Like all of the people here, I consider RAFI Sahab, to be the cultural icon of our country. Feel lucky to be a part of his lifetime. The Range that you have mentioned, is something that we all have felt. But you put clarity to it, a definity to it. Thanx for the same. What I have felt that even when touching the highest note, there was letting up on the emotion/feelings at that note. That emotion/feelings were profound and hit our hearts strongly. An artist like that comes only once in 100’s of years. I can go on…..

  5. Venkat Krishnan says:

    Hi Santhana krishnan,

    Thanks for a truly educating and thought provoking article. I am not trained in music but am an ardent devotee of Rafi Sahab and have experienced all that you have outlined above, when I have tried to sing some of these songs. Your article has put the issue of voice range in a good perspective, that can be understood and independently verified even by untrained people who are singers.

    Some of the songs you have mentioned do not ring a bell readily, and I am excited at the opportunity of listening to these.

    But of the flip side I do have immediate experiences of songs such as ” Mohabbat Zinda Rehti hai”…which I am sure fit into one of the highest ranges amongst Rafi Sahab’s songs. Also some songs have ending alaaps that go into a very high note in the hishest octave. ( ex: Nain LAd Jai hain, Chal Ud jaa re Panchii etc).

    I would also like to humbly submit that more than the number of notes over the octaves, the degree of sustenance on a high note on a high octave accompanied by the nature of syllable on that note makes a song relatively easy or difficult. For instance ” Jaane Kya Doondhti Rehti hai” ( 22 notes as per your analysis) is a far more difficult song than others of say 23 or 24 notes. So is ” Yehi Armaan…”. Therein lies the beauty of Rafi Sahab ‘s voice…it perched comfortably in a sustained manner on some of these notes…in a manner that is at once breath taking and pleasing to the ear !

    In conclusion, I would also urge you to extend your analysis to more of Manna Da s songs.. he being a master of classical surely had many songs in wide ranges …such as ” Sur Na Saje..kya gaoon main”. I revere Manna Da very much too..also for his own unabashed reverence for Rafi Sahab !

    Warm regards…

  6. Arshad says:

    You have done a great job. Thanks. please carry on doing so.

  7. Santhanakrishnan says:

    Dear HugorHill, I agree with you observations. I just heard ‘pyar hamein kis mod pe’ and it does cover 23 notes. Thanks for your bringing this to my notice.
    I also heard ‘Mere pyare Bindu’, the song covers a range of 22 notes. And as you have compared the absolute range by notes on the western scale, it is possible Kishoreda’s range also may come out to be 23 notes or more. However, I have not done a similar comparison for Rafiji’s range across songs. But if we consider the fact, Rafi has exhibited a similar range even in duets where he has to sing with singers having different ranges – with Lata – Dekho rootha na karo (23 notes), Ajahun aaye with Suman, 22 notes, Rafi seems to be the preferred singer when a lot of range needs to be covered.
    I also agree to the fact that the voice range becomes lower as one ages. As I had mentioned in the article, if we look at songs which were recorded around the same time, we can possibly get more data to assess the voice range. Mohd Rafi has sung in one live concert of Naushad, ’Duniya ke rakhwale’ where he sings the high note of pancham (G) singing ‘Rakhwale’ and stays there long enough (25 notes).
    It was also nice to converse with someone like you who is also technically knowledgeable!
    Thanks and regards.

  8. HugorHill says:

    Kishore Kumar’s “pyaar humein kis mod pe le aaya” has 23 notes (G2# to F4#).

    If we adopt a different methodology, of finding the highest and lowest notes that a singer has ever sung, even if they are in different songs (so that the limitation in the range of a song is not held against the singer), I would guess Rafi’s and Kishore’s ranges would come out to be similar. Kishore da had hit an A4 in “meri pyari Bindu” and an A4# in “paanch rupaiyya barah aana”.
    Of course, these high notes were sung by a young Kishore Kumar. To my (admittedly limited) knowledge, he stopped singing beyond G4 after the 1960s.

    I believe that it would be fair to say that Kishore da’s very low notes were out of reach for Rafi sahab and Rafi sahab’s high notes out of Kishore da’s range.

  9. Satyanarayana Rao says:

    Dear Santa,

    Though I don’t know much about the intricacies of music, I can say this article clearly re-demonstrates how great is Rafiji. Music has power to enthrall all those who knows and doesn’t know about it’s fundamentals. Rafi will be in hearts of all music lovers forever. Thanks a lot for doing a good research and coming up with a nice and authentic article. Wish your work continues further on the subject and similar.


  10. Anonymous says:

    I came across a Rafiji’s song that covers a note more than two octaves – i.e 26 notes. ‘Teri taqdeer ka sitara’ from the movie Zabak. (Mandra Pncham to Tara komal dhaivat). It is a duet sung along with Asha and Mahendra Kapur. There is a song of of Manna De ji which covers 22 notes (Mandra Pancham to Tara shuddja gandhara) – ‘Roop tumhara aankhonse pee loon from the movie Sapera.

  11. Nazim Shirur says:

    Hats off to the writer, Sir I feel extremely lucky to have listened to Rafi Sahab, He was a Gods gift to us all. And you sir you deserve great honor for bringing these un known facts about the Greatest singer ever

  12. Sadanandan P.N. Ahmedabad says:

    Dear Mr. Srinivasan,

    Elaborately written about different raagas and other components contained in each song. I now wish if I could learn music. Your write-up has been very much informative to an individual like me who doesn’t know the fundamentals of music but to enjoy the songs. I am also a great fan of Rafi Saheb keeping a collection of his many selective songs. Thanks for your endeavour in highlighting the songs and its variations.

  13. khadym Meer says:

    a comparison can be done in the song Yaadon ki baarat by Rafi and Kishore Where Mohd. Rafi sang higher than Kishore Kumar.

  14. Asad says:

    Mr. Shrinivisan,

    Thank you, and may hats off to you for researching, and dedicating you time energy effort, to the king, to the one and only one Rafi Sb..cannot write enough how much and how big Rafi is in my life, but stating this is enough. But keeping him alive in our lives, is the tribute we can give him..

    Yes, if you can, can you also research and write on his voice training?

    Many thanks

  15. saqlain jwalapuri says:

    Shri S.Shrinivasan ji Aap ko dher sara namaskar

    Achha laga aap ka knowlagable article padhkar.We have no knowledge about octaves but i can say in my style that Rafi sb used to use every SUR through its centre. Further 2 songs are there for this list 1. Sadke tere heer hum faqeer sadqe( Mera naam joker ) 2. Mai to rahon me pada pathher hoon (title song of film),please write about these songs. Thanks a lot
    Sayyed Mohd Saqlain
    0999747733 (HARIDWAR)

  16. Samuel George says:

    Rafi sab is the all time greatest singer world had ever produced

  17. Santhanakrishnan Srinivasan says:

    Dear Shrivastavaji,
    Thank you for your mail. Your observation is indeed good. Ghantashala, the great singer he is has covered Komal dhaivata of mandra sthayee to komal dhaivat of tara sthayee (25 notes). The highest note he covers as a khand svar.
    As for the classical artistes, they have the liberty to cover more notes without any restrictions is from the composers or producer during their concerts. Also when they dwell in a sthayee for a long time, the voice opens up to cover more notes. Balamuralikrishna transcends to a falceto voice with a smooth transition. I have heard Madurai Somasundaram cover 32 notes in a concert.
    My analysis was limited to Hindi film songs.
    Thanks for your mail again.
    Regards .. Santhanakrishnan Srinivasan

  18. All Rafi Lovers would like to study this useful and informative article as a very authenticated document for the ages to come. I came accross with this article after a long period of two years. That’s my bad luck. Anyway, the writer of the article has thorough knowledge of musical ABCD of notes. He has aptly given full understandable narration in respect of what is SINGING. It is not that much easy to sound out the exact note what the music directore has composed and what is required in particular RAAG construction. Having read out my this reaction, if anybody wants to send me his comment, he can send it to-

  19. Sandeep Shrivastava says:

    Dear Srinivasan

    O duniya ke rakhwale – 25 notes – by rafi – may be correct.

    Heard the song siva sankari of Ghantasala of south – a clear 27 notes without any strain and technically very strong song with great voice- regarded as the toughest ever in indian playback singing. said to have been recorded in only one take by the south singer who was quite comfortable in all the 3 octaves.

    However, I am not comparing here – only wanted to just inform you about other greats who existed in that era.

    Sonu nigam – in the current era has a good range.

    If you go to classical greats, film singers, K J Yesudas of south had good 3 octave range. M balamuralikrishna, southern doyen of Carnatic music is said to have range of 32 plus notes. He has sung few film songs as well.

  20. S Tanweer says:

    Its truly amazing to read this in depth article on Rafi Sahab. I have been a Rafi Sahab fan since my childhood and know that he has the widest of the ranges among all the playback singers of the country but was not able to assess this extraordinary ability/god gift. Mr Srinivasan provided something new and I am truly impressed with his work. Its a very well searched and compiled article and only a musical mind like him illustrate this clearly. Congrats to him and all Rafians for this wonderful article.

    S Tanweer
    A Rafian like you

  21. Dr.Sasikumar P. Nair says:

    I read your exhaustive article with keen interest and thank you for the same. Can you please analyze the songs of K.J.Yesudas in the same way ? Especially the songs : Shadajne paaya (film:Tansen) and Harimuraleeravam (film : Aaaraam Thamburaan). Eagerly waiting for your comments !

  22. Mercy Daven says:

    Santhanakrishnan Srinivasan, thank you for the very exhaustive study on Rafi’s voice range. I came across this article only a few days ago and hope you are still active on this thread. As a lover of classical (and other music,) I enjoy most of the songs sung by Rafi. In some of the songs he seems to hit extremely high notes. I do not have the musical background that you have but it does sound like it is beyond the 25th note. I wonder if you have done any study on how high he could go. I have created a collection on You Tube called “Rafi’s voice in stratosphere”. It is neither scientific nor all inclusive, but just from my impression by listening to these songs. It has 9 songs for the time being. I wonder if you will take a look at it and see if any of these songs hits a note beyond the 25th and make a comment on that song. I would appreciate it very much and am sure other music lovers too would. Thank you.

  23. Ashwin Bhandarkar says:

    Paintaking and excellent analysis based on a simple concept!

    I don’t think the ranges of the Mangeshkar sisters during their primes were any less than Rafi’s, though I cannot think of any song off the top of my head in either of their oeuvres in which they have covered a range of more than two saptaks but here is a link to an excellent article on some songs where they have hit impossibly high notes:

  24. […] last article I wrote on Rafi ji  was on a single aspect of his voice, his exceptional range over his […]

  25. R Vasudevan says:

    A very fine piece of writing by Mr Santhanakrishnan Srinivasan and he has
    done enormous research before putting it up with nice words.

    By listening to a song
    “meri awaaz suno pyar ka raag suno’ from the film Naunihal.
    It is as if a plane is taking off when he sings the first line
    and as the plane go up and up so goes his voice.

    A great composition and a masterly rendering which only Rafi
    and only Rafi can do it.

    I am a fan of Rafi right from my childhood days and not a day
    pass on without hearing his golden voice. I came to know about
    this website very recently.

  26. C K VASUDEVAN says:

    Wonderful in-depth analysis and excellent research, keep it up, Sir

  27. hi pleas some one tell me rafi foundation website ad says:

    hi please send me address and website of rafi academy in bombay , i am living in USA

    having trouble finding website or phone number please post that info thanks

  28. Harimadhavan says:

    Good work! One suggestion. Instead of counting all 12 notes of an octave the basic 7 notes could have been taken for this as it would serve the purpose since no composition touches all the notes and the idea is to find out the lowest and highest notes covered by the singer.

    Now about the singer; Rafi Saheb was and is the best of all the play back singers not only for his range but also for the quality and melody of the voice and above all the expression he gave to his songs. He had a unique way of pronouncing each word like hum, jab, mohabbat etc. In several songs he had floored me with his stylish pronunciation, eg; Zindagi bhar nahin bhoolegi. As the great singer Mannada once told “when ever I sing with Rafi Saheb, I used to feel he has got that something extra” he is gifted with that ability to out sing co singers. Songs like Tu hai mera prem devta, Kaisi Haseen Raat illustrate this clearly.

  29. sudesh says:

    Hello sir
    I salute you and your music sense to discuss Shrutis and range. Indeed RAFI SAHIB was or it is IS GREAT SINGER. THANKS

  30. Faiz says:

    the most authoritative article I ever read on Rafi sahab. This article will be bookmarked. You should write a book my good sir. I havent read a more detailed technical analysis ever.
    No words to thank you sir. Just bows and kudos.

  31. Santhanakrishnan says:

    Dear Bhushan ji,

    Thanks for your comment. I must admit that I have not listened to much of the songs that are sung by Sonu Nigam. But to the extent that I have heard, I did not come across songs that cover two octaves.
    I am still looking at songs of Lata and Asha to see if there are songs that cover 2 octaves or just short of two octaves. I have not found any so far.
    It would be nice if you could suggest some songs of today’s singers that I should listen to.

    Santhanakrishnan Srinivasan

  32. Bhushan says:

    Dear Mr Srinivasan

    This article largely is reasonable as far as rafi ji’s talent with his contemporary singers is compared in hindi film industry in his era. A good write up and analysis. However, I think in current generation singers even sonu nigam is having a good wide range.

    However, if discussed from view point of indian playback singing, there are other very distinguished playback singers who had a wonderful voice and even wider range as far as notes are concerned, which however, does not matter here in this blog.

  33. Wah..!Kya baaten kahi Rafiji ke baare me.Subanallah..!!I expect more from you,Thanks.

  34. Excellent work and many congratulations in analyzing “God’s own voice”. Nobody before Rafi Saab or so many years after his demise has been born or blessed with such a voice and as Lata Mangeshkar has said that for another 100 years a singer like Rafi Saab will emerge. We are really fortunate to have lived in his era.

  35. Anwar-ul-Haque says:

    Dear Santhanakrishnan Srinavasin ji,

    Truly awesome article, hat’s off to you!

    I always wanted to have some measurable / quantifiable facts to conclude that Rafi Sahab is the best, but my minimal musical knowledge didn’t allow it. I couldn’t even envisaged what you have presented here. I am speechless!

    It should be just the beginning. We want many more such analysis from your side. May I expect a series like “The Number Game” at

    Anyway thanks for sharing this analysis.

    Thanks and best regards,


  36. Anonymous says:

    La jawab research. Thank you brother

  37. Lax says:

    This is brilliant work Santa

  38. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for taking the time to study rafi sahab in this manner. i have been saying this for a long time hearing rafi,s voice for the first time., now i have some information regarding the subject. good, thanks again…..Akhtar

  39. t p gopalakrishnan says:

    well researched!! great efforts!!!!!!!!!remembering so many songs of rafiji and the composers. The songs viz.,jahan daal dal per soney ki… and chal udja re pannchi ke were missing . Likewise the music directors O.P.Nayyar and Chitragupt require mentioning. Indeed a marathon effort tangappa!!!keep it up.

  40. Nadeem Sundoo says:

    Dear Santhan,

    What an exellent and refreshingly factual article. We Rafi fans around the world have always known in our hearts the exellence of range of Muhammad Rafi to other singers – thanks for putting numbers on it 🙂

    Also, thanks for reminding me of the fantastic song: Tune mera yaar na milaya from Shama Parvana – impressive that it is one of the few 24 notes songs.

    It could be very interesting to make this analysis between Lata and Rafi – could I persuade you to do that? It would be very much welcomed.

    I for one would like more factual articles regarding the singing ability of Rafi Sahab to be posted on this site and thus I will use this opportunity to request musically endowed Rafi fans like yourself to help with this. I know you are out there – please people, you owe it to Rafi fans and yourselves 🙂

    Thanks again 🙂

  41. R Sundaresan says:

    Dear Thangappa,
    Fantastic research, Rafi is divine singer. Whether he covers 25 or 2500 notes it has mesmerising effect on the listner. Further to the notes he covers the bhava he brings out from the song makes the song such a wonderful experience. Whether it is bhakti, love or naughty the bhava he brings out has no comparision. MS Subbalakshmi bhakti bhavam in carnatic songs similar to Rafi’s

  42. K P Hassan says:

    An excellent article on the singing talent of Rafi Sahab. Really Rafi Sahab had special qualities to handle all technical aspects of music. I know that all songs are based on various ragas etc. but don’t know a detailed knowledge in this regard. From this article I I could understand that a singer has to undergo various hard training/practices to become a perfect and complete singer. Rafi Sahab had achieved this goal and became the most favorite singer of our country.

  43. narayan gautam says:

    It was really very insightful-being a layman I knew he is the best as he touches our heart more often than others (with due respect to all others who are also great in their genre) …..and now I have some more technical reasoning to substantiate it……thanks Ramaswamy for posting such an informative piece…….please keep writing and enrich us.

  44. Dear Santhan,
    Great writing on rafisaab. Yes it is too heavy for a lay man to understand, but so long as it is in appreciation of Rafi saab its great. Really rafi saab’s singing has no match. Every day I just hum one song and my day is made.
    Thank you santhan dor writing such good article. kudos to you. you have made us proud. keep writing.
    I.Venkatakrishnan, pune

  45. Ahamed Kutty says:

    Dear Sreenivasan Sir,

    A very informative and interesting article.While reading
    we feel you have done a good and difficult job.

    Playback singers and Musicians know what a singer and
    what is their capacity to render a song whether it is inside
    the studio or in a live programme.That is the reason almost
    all the singers including the greatest Mannada appreciate
    Rafi Saab.In everything in India no singer dead or alive
    can replace Rafi Saab.

  46. Deepak Rahi says:

    Dear sir

    An excellent article.

    A comparison of male and female singers is now anticipated.

    Thanks and pls keep writing

  47. Venkatakrishnan Ishwaran says:

    Dear santhan
    very good analysis about rafi saabs singing.yes it is too heavy for a lay man to understand but so long as praises for rafi saab I liked it

  48. shammi says:

    Thank you for bringing such an informative article just confirming what millions like myself already know that apart from rendering beautiful songs that there is no one else who can hit the notes or has the vocal range like the legend of all legends Mohd Rafi.
    I know many fans like myself have probably already read the book Mohammed Rafi, My Abba- A Memoir written by his daughter in law Yasmin Khalid Rafi but for all those that haven’t I would highly recommend it as it really is a beautiful insight into the loveable giant and great human being.

  49. Srinivasanji: Excellent analysis. If you listen to his live prog. of London, you may find one more addtion to the song O duniya ke rakhwale viz. mehele udhas aur kaliyan sooni. Effortlessly sung, each word is appreciated and applauded by the audience. Really a saint singer. The difference between Rafi saheb and the other singers is sky and the earth. Keep on writing such wonderful and informative articles.


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