Indian Classical Carnatic Music. Part 1

author: Tejas BassLG date: 10/14/2008 category: guitar styles
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Music is an extremely subjective, aural experience. Some sounds are perceived by us as pleasant and some others as unpleasant. What is considered pleasant or unpleasant can be quite personal, based on our specific culture, exposure to particular kinds of music and perhaps even on what our parents told us. A song could be a major hit in one country and could be completely disliked and ignored in some other country. Our musical tastes are indeed developed. As we grow up, and discover music from other cultures or newer musical styles, our tastes too change. Sometimes, we even discover a pleasant piece of music purely by accident - because it simply happened to resonate with our inner sensibilities. Oh, nothing like self discovery! So how do we make sense of sound and music? Let us try to answer this by examining some simple concepts first. Our high school physics tells us that sound has several features - such as pitch, intensity, quality and duration. The pitch is just the frequency of the sound vibration - given in hertz or cycles. The musical term for frequency is 'tone'. The audible frequency range extends from about 25 Hz to around eight or ten thousand hertz, although it depends entirely on the individual. Children can hear much higher frequencies. At the lower end of the range, even if we may not 'hear' ultralow frequencies, we may 'feel' the vibrations as a tactile sensation The other attribute of sound - duration - is self-explanatory. It is simply the time during which the specific frequency or 'tone' lasts. The term 'quality' is more difficult to understand. It is simply a signature of the source of the sound. It is a term which explains why a violin sounds like a violin and a drum sounds like a drum. This attribute is precisely the reason you can make out your mother's voice over the phone even if she has a horrible cold. The bottomline is, when you or an instrument produce sound, you not only produce one frequency, but also produce a spectrum consisting of several 'overtones'. This is variously referred to as 'timbre' or 'tone color'. This constitutes the 'Quality' of that sound.

Basics Of Carnatic Music

Unlike western music in carnatic music ther are 22 notes in an octave( as compared to 12 in the west). Using vibratos, you can achive the extra notes on a giutar. We noted that in carnatic music it is not enough to produce just twelve or even twenty two 'tones' in an octave. One ought to produce even the intermediate frequencies. These intermediate frequencies, which do not have any keys to produce them, are called 'microtones'. The Indian word for the 'microtone' is 'gamakam'. (of course, 'gamak' in hindi) It is often very difficult to explain this concept clearly and precisely. If the C key produces 240 Hz and the C# key produces 254 Hz what intermediate frequencies are we talking about? Does Indian music use sounds produced at 247 Hz? Treatises have been written in India about such microtonal apects of music. Suffice it to say that microtones or gamakams tend to be clustered around the primary key frequency, although this need not always be the case. In the Indian system, we do not use alphabets to label notes. Instead, we use short, meaningless (please don't beat me to death on this - I know there are etymological reasons for choosing these set of syllables) syllables which go - Sa ri ga ma pa dha ni. These seven syllables are actually mnemonics to represent the 'notes' or 'Swarams' in Indian music. They are referred to as the 'Saptha Swarams' or 'Seven Swarams'. So, confusing as it may sound, in Indian music, we use the 'notes' to represent the 'tones'. Even in case of Indian music, we can extend our labeling of the keys to other octaves, much like in the Western system. In Indian music, the main octave is called 'Madhya stayi', the octave above it (higher) is called 'tara stayi' and the octave just below the Madhya stayi is called 'Mandra stayi'.(by the way the key of g and g# are the commonly used ones in carnatic music.)
Sa   Ri1 Ri2 Ri3 Ga3 Ma1 Ma2 Pa  Dha1Dha2Dha3Ni3 Sa
        (Ga1 Ga2)                   (Ni1 Ni2)
 1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9  10   11  12   13
 S   R1  R2  R3  G3  M1  M2  P   D1  D2  D3  N3

Scales (ragams)

Now, in carntic music the scales, I.e.ragams are infinite in number(though only some 279 are actually used ). Out of these the most prominant ragams are the Melakarta ragams, which are exactly 72 in number, and have infiite sub- ragams.(sub ragams are generally ones in which a few notes are xlded completely, though normally atlest 5 notes are there, some are played differently while coming up I.e aroham and coming down ie avroham) The melakarta ragams are dveloped according to the following method:
  • Rule 1: always select The 'Sa'.
  • Rule 2: always select the Pa . This is a convenient midpoint of the octave, sort of.
  • Rule 3: select one of the two Ma keys (Ma1 or Ma2 )- Once selected, this key is your 'Ma'.
  • Rule 4: select any two out of the four notes in the lower tetrachord. (From notes 2, 3, 4 and 5) Once selected, the first of these two notes will be your 'Ri' and the second your 'ga'.
  • Rule 5: select any two notes out of the four notes in the upper tetrachord. (From notes 9, 10,11 and 12) Once selected, the first of the two notes will be your 'dha' and the second will be your 'ni'. This rule is exactly like Rule 4. Thus they are:
     #  Name                   Ri ga Dha ni #  Name                Ri ga Dha ni
        Suddha Madhyamam (M1)                  Prati Madhyamam (M2)
      1 Kanakanki              R1 G1 D1 N1  37 Salagam             R1 G1 D1 N1
      2 Ratnangi               R1 G1 D1 N2  38 Jalarnavam          R1 G1 D1 N2
      3 Ganamurti              R1 G1 D1 N3  39 Jhalavarali         R1 G1 D1 N3
      4 Vanaspati              R1 G1 D2 N2  40 Navaneetam          R1 G1 D2 N2
      5 Manavati               R1 G1 D2 N3  41 Pavani              R1 G1 D2 N3
      6 Tanarupi               R1 G1 D3 N3  42 Raghupriya          R1 G1 D3 N3
      7 Senavati               R1 G2 D1 N1  43 Gavambodhi          R1 G2 D1 N1
      8 Hanumatodi             R1 G2 D1 N2  44 Bhavapriya          R1 G2 D1 N2
      9 Dhenuka                R1 G2 D1 N3  45 Subhapantuvarali    R1 G2 D1 N3
     10 Natakapriya            R1 G2 D2 N2  46 Shadvigamargini     R1 G2 D2 N2
     11 Kokilapriya            R1 G2 D2 N3  47 Suvarnangi          R1 G2 D2 N3
     12 Rupavati               R1 G2 D3 N3  48 Divyamani           R1 G2 D3 N3
     13 Gayakapriya            R1 G3 D1 N1  49 Dhavalambari        R1 G3 D1 N1
     14 Vakulabharanam         R1 G3 D1 N2  50 Namanarayani        R1 G3 D1 N2
     15 Mayamalavagoulai       R1 G3 D1 N3  51 Kamavardhini        R1 G3 D1 N3
     16 Chakravaham            R1 G3 D2 N2  52 Ramapriya           R1 G3 D2 N2
     17 Suryakantam            R1 G3 D2 N3  53 Gamanasrama         R1 G3 D2 N3
     18 Hatakambhari           R1 G3 D3 N3  54 Viswambhari         R1 G3 D3 N3
     19 Jhankaradhwani         R2 G2 D1 N1  55 Syamalangi          R2 G2 D1 N1
     20 Natabhairavi           R2 G2 D1 N2  56 Shanmukhapriya      R2 G2 D1 N2
     21 Keeravani              R2 G2 D1 N3  57 Simhendramadhyamam  R2 G2 D1 N3
     22 Kharaharapriya         R2 G2 D2 N2  58 Hemavati            R2 G2 D2 N2
     23 Gourimanohari          R2 G2 D2 N3  59 Dharamavai          R2 G2 D2 N3
     24 Varunapriya            R2 G2 D3 N3  60 Nitimati            R2 G2 D3 N3
     25 Mararanjani            R2 G3 D1 N1  61 Kantamani           R2 G3 D1 N1
     26 Charukesi              R2 G3 D1 N2  62 Rishabhapriya       R2 G3 D1 N2
     27 Sarasangi              R2 G3 D1 N3  63 Latangi             R2 G3 D1 N3
     28 Harikambhoji           R2 G3 D2 N2  64 Vachaspati          R2 G3 D2 N2
     29 Dheerasankarabharanam  R2 G3 D2 N3  65 Mechakalyani        R2 G3 D2 N3
     30 Naganandini            R2 G3 D3 N3  66 Chitrambhari        R2 G3 D3 N3
     31 Yagapriya              R3 G3 D1 N1  67 Sucharitra          R3 G3 D1 N1
     32 Ragavardhini           R3 G3 D1 N2  68 Jyotiswarupini      R3 G3 D1 N2
     33 Gangeyabhusani         R3 G3 D1 N3  69 Dhatuvardhini       R3 G3 D1 N3
     34 Vagadheeswari          R3 G3 D2 N2  70 Nasikabhusani       R3 G3 D2 N2
     35 Sulini                 R3 G3 D2 N3  71 Kosalam             R3 G3 D2 N3
     36 Chalanattai            R3 G3 D3 N3  72 Rasikapriya         R3 G3 D3 N3
    And finally here is a confusing possibility. There can be two Ragams(sub ragams) which have identical Arohanams and Avarohanams, but different microtonal associations or Gamakams! The only way to tell these two Ragams apart is to sensitize your ears to the differences to the Gamakams. So now choose a ragam you like and improvise on it. More later. Till then here is a song.

    Sree Gananatha (lambodara)

    Ragam: Malahari 
    AROHAM: S R1 M1 P D1 S||
    AVAROHAM:     S D1 P M1 G3 R1 S||
    Composer: Purandaradasa
    Arohanam : S R1 M1 PD1 SAvarohanam: S D1 PM1 G2 R1 S
    In this ragam Ma ,Dha and the higher Sa are played with a vibrato.(very aggressive). Also the tempo will be about 90bpm. (f- full beat, h-half beat ,d- double beat) Also in most carnatic music the root note of the ragam( i.e. sa) is echoed by another instrument called tanpura. so wherever sa is played, let it ring.
     f f f f  f f f f  f f f f  f f f f  f f f f  f f f f
     d f f f f  f f f f f
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