Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The seven of music

I have always loved listening to music but never had the ear to appreciate the nuances. Ever since I took up listening to Carnatic Music I have longed to join that throng of people who listen to the first three notes of the rendition and exclaim knowledgeably, "Ah! Abheri" or some such name of a raga. Sadly for me, all I can manage is "I liked it" thereby labeling myself that most crass of people - the "I know what I like" brigade.

Well - if I could not recognize ragas I could at least get into the math of it. Idle curiosity had always existed about how the seven swaras - Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni - could give rise to multiple sampoorna ragas (meaning ragas containing all the seven notes) particularly when the swaras had also to be sung in the same order. I mean if I had seven things and I also had to arrange all of them in only one order, I could only have one arrangement, right?

It is later I learnt that these seven swaras are actually to be used on a scale of 12 notes. Once you thought of it as arranging seven items in twelve slots according to preset rules, the possibility of multiple arrangements seemed credible.

The first of the twelve had to be Sa and the and the eighth had to be Pa. Either the sixth or the seventh could be used for  Ma. So, between these three swaras you had only two possible arrangements.

The game gets interesting - or boring, depending on where you stand on permutations and combinations - when it comes to Ri and Ga. The four notes after Sa (second to fifth on your scale of 12) can be used for these two swaras and, of course, Ga can only be played on a note subsequent to Ri. Thus, if the second note is used for Ri, you have three options (3rd to 5th) for Ga; if the third note is used for Ri, you have two options (4th and 5th) for Ga and if the fourth note is used for Ri you have only the option of the fifth for Ga. Thus, between Ri and Ga, you have six alternative arrangements.

The same thing applies Dha and Ni with respect to the 9th to 12th notes on your scale. So, you have another six arrangements for these two swaras. Thus, the total possible sampoorna ragas is 2 x 6 x 6 = 72, which is the basis of the Melakarta system of classifying Carnatic Music ragas.

Of course, you do have ragas with six swaras, five swaras etc. (4 and below tend to be rare to non-existent since the output tends more to cacophony than symphony) leading to an infinity of ragas. These ragas are called 'janya ragas' since they are considered to be born of a Melakarta raga (Sampoorna raga as above) from which one or more of the swaras are shorn. In this context, the concerned Melakarta raga is called a 'Janana raga' - the parent raga.

Having dazzled you all with my 'command' over the lexicon of music let me go back to wondering about how one identifies ragas from the singing.

I am taking part in The Write Tribe Festival of Words 1st - 7th September 2013

95 comments:

  1. Even though I love to listen to music I never tried to know about swaras and ragas.

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  2. :-| I would not understand music even if I kept this post open and referred to it trying to figure out the notes!

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  3. saat suro ka hai ye ye milan, geeto se mehka hai sara chaman....Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni Saa :)
    I was thinking to cover this in last day but its done :)

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    1. Don't let that stop you. All of us have different takes.

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  4. A bit too much above my head. Guess I don't have the patience but one thing is that I can differentiate between good and bad music.

    Joy always,
    Susan

    PostScript: Looks like your Sevens are more of a Gyaan trip!

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  5. Beautiful post...such a nice and simple explanation of the finer details.

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    1. Thanks Shaivi! I am thrilled that for once someone did not find it go over her head :)

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  6. I was reluctant as a kid to learn music. Never bothered to learn the Raagas by their names...Several years down the lane, regret sticks with me:
    "Why didn't I listen to Mom when she said I would regret my insouciance in future?"

    Nice post, as always, sir :-)

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    1. Me too - though my mom did not press me too hard :)

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  7. I am completely ignorant about swaras and ragas :( Sorry that I couldn't understand anything from your post too.. As you said in the comment above I should "Enjoy music - no need to understand" works best for me :)

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  8. This post is head-high bouncer! I just enjoy music and dont have the aptitude to understand the theory/science behind it! :)

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    1. I am allowed at least one bouncer per over, am I not? :)

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  9. It is beyond me but I will read your post some five-six times and see if my brain accepts it :D
    I love music, whether carnatic or hindustani or any bhajan. Bu have never attempted to understand it really

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    1. If you like to formally learn carnatic music this can help you at least understand them terms and the background. Otherwise...it has to be only your curiosity :)

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  10. I have no clue about ragas. I can sing reasonably well only with intuition :). Solid bouncer phenka.

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    1. Ek tho allowed hai - aur ek hi phenkunga is baar :) Sometimes I feel the urge to show that I have not maintained a brain totally unsullied by any knowledge :)

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  11. Interesting to know the maths behind the arts!! Even I had thought of covering the 7 musical notes...let's c!!
    Enjoyed this one!

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  12. Imagine the science behind our goold old carnatic music ... amazing rt!

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    1. Thanks Mina! That is what I sought to do with this post - give a sense of amazement about the richness that our ancestors have left for us.

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  13. My abject apologies, Padmanabha! My hand slipped while clicking and your comment got deleted instead of getting published. Thanks for the comment.

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  14. I learnt a bit about raags when I learned Kathak but distinguishing one from other is a tough one...

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  15. I'm going to give you good reason to visit us whenever you are in Delhi next, Ustad Suresh ji. My husband is a trained classical singer and musician. Although he barely gets time or opportunity to practise/play, he has experimented with Indian Classical on his saxophone. Even though I am illiterate-tone-deaf, we have together named our son Nishad - as you may be aware, it is the full-form of the highest note of the octave 'Ni'. (PS - He would love to meet you he says, considering I have been the only company his music has enjoyed for a while!)

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    1. Maybe he will help me recognize a raga or two :)

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  16. Nice to read your post, I always wanted to learn music, I learnt hindustani vocal for two years and I gave up, Now again I feel inclined to learn carnatic.... hope i will succeed one day ...

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  17. Like Shilpa, this was a bouncer for me too. I just enjoy music and not worry about the notes.

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    1. Well, I hope i at least created that sense of amazement at what the ancients managed to do.

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  18. I actually regret that I didn't continue my music lessons when I was a child. There was a teacher who used to teach me all these classical notes and ragas on her harmonium but at that age I was more interested in learning filmy music. So, I made her teach me 'Pardesi Pardesi' (was a hit number that time) on my little keyboard. And also, she got married in mid-course... and my music lessons remain unfinished till date. Though, I do recognize a few ragas like Yaman and Malhar which are still carved in my sub-conscious :D

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    1. I regret never having started, Ashish! You are one up on me.

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  19. I can't sing. I am bad. But I listen and if I like it, I just like it; never even tried to know about ragas and I don't think I'll ever be able to understand them.

    P.S. Intersting url. Does it has some special meaning?

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    1. Jambudweepam? It is one of the seven islands that the vedas claim comprise our world/universe - and the island on which our country is supposed to be situated. You can check Wiki for Jambudvipa for details.

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    2. Silly? Not at all. If I have a taste for esoteric information does not mean that not knowing it makes someone silly :)

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  20. It's all gone above my head. I've never really gone into detail about ragas. I just enjoy any kind of music which is melodious.

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    1. I have a lot of company apparently in the "I know what I like" brigade :)

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  21. I see some numbers here. Even music involves math? That's bad!!! I hated that subject all my life.

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    1. Just number between 1 and 12 - nothing too taxing :)

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  22. Very technical and over my head but interesting just the same. I think I'll stick with the Western scale of A, B, C, D, E, F, G or do re mi fa so la ti do. I'd love to hear some of that music you describe though, just out of interest. So different from what I'm used to. I had my first choir practice last night so I'm happy! We're singing Christmas music already. Do you sing Christmas carols in India at all? Just curious.

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    1. It is on the same keyboard where each octave is on 12 notes. Indian music uses a scale of seven and those seven are played on the 12 notes as in the piece. Not that THAT makes it any clearer i suppose.

      Of course, Cathy! There is a strong Christian presence in India so, yes, Christmas carols do get sung here.

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    2. BTW, you should point out to Cathy that do re mi fa so la ti do is a one-to-one match to Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Da Ni Sa :)

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  23. Wow, that was quite an interesting post highlighting the math of the various swaras and the raagas.

    Now I know why I suck at singing, coz I suck at math as well :(

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    1. Hmm! The vice versa, unfortunately, does not necessarily hold true :) Being good at Math is no guarantee of being a good musician :)

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  24. Appa! What a mathematical explanation. :-)
    I love music. Period.
    Ragas...not my cup of tea.
    Whatever soothes my mind and suits my mood is music to me. :-)

    You sure must be Aryabatta's disciple. :-P

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    1. Ragas not your cup of tea or understanding ragas not your cup of tea? A lot of poppular Indian music is raga-based - Ilaiyaraja's music comes instantly to mind.

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  25. I have an advertising enquiry, kindly email intan.alwi@unrulymedia.com. Thanks!

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    1. Maybe she is looking for a hair model :) So what is this about? She wants to put Ads on ur Blog? I think the recent flurry of activity must have brought ur blog to her attention :)

      Delete
  26. Music is good for my ears.It seems you understand music.
    All I know is,there is music which people like and another one,they don't like.

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  27. Music is life, i believe...I love listening to all kinds of music...but the complexities of sur and ragas makes me salute the musicians who really work hard to keep it's original form alive. Informative post....great!

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    1. All the more respect for our classical musicians that they put in so much effort into mastering an art that is not too paying. If they were like the rest of Society and chased easier money, these priceless arts would be long dead.

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  28. That is a quick dose of lot of musical knowledge ..I never get my sa re ga ma straight ...But loved reading about them

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  29. A very good post. I enjoy music , like to sing though I don't do much. But the math behind Ragas is something interesting. It's amazing to really know the richness of Carnatic music.

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    1. Thanks Priya! Good to have succeeded in communicating the richness of Carnatic music to a few at least.

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  30. I love music and found this very interesting. Thank you for the education!!

    Kathy
    http://gigglingtruckerswife.blogspot.com

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    1. It is great to see that at least a few found this one of use :) That makes each such comment invaluable. Thanks Kathy!

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  31. "SARGAM"-i am dumb when it comes to classical music.Though I can play the sargam on piano but that's it & who doesn't like listening to music.As it says..
    "Music is the universal language of mankind"

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    1. I am learning to act as though I am not dumb :)

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  32. Loved this hub cause it made me ponder deep into music esp the ragas.

    Great write up, Suresh

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    1. Thanks Ruchira - glad you found it interesting

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  33. I love music, but I have never truly studied it. But I can appreciate good music when I hear it! Thanks!
    Penny
    http://pennymcdanielspiritualguidance.blogspot.com

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    1. Same here, Penny! It is just that sometimes I get curious about things and try to understand the basis.

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  34. As a trained classical singer your post sounded blasphemous :P but well creativity has no limits right? I wonder which other seven's set are you now going to play with tomorrow :D

    Richa

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    1. Blasphemous, Richa? :) This IS the basis of the Melakarta system of raga classification in Carnatic music.

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  35. I enjoy music and but can never identify any ragas!

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  36. Okay, so when you're talking about notes, are you referring to the fact that ri, gaa etc can have komal swar, teevra swar etc?! If so, then what you said makes a lot of sense though I never thought to do the mathematical calculations!
    I like that you analyze everything! :)

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    1. Yes, exactly, Roshni! The way the ragas differ was more easily explained based on the notes on the Keyboard, which is what I used here.

      That tendency to analyze is what makes me a bore in conversations - sometimes :)

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  37. For me music is more about how it makes me feel. It's more about emotions rather than the technicalities and rarely about the lyrics. Precisely why when I start singing, I have to make up my own lyrics :-)

    And "respect" for taking up this challenge. I can barely manage one post in a week!

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    1. It is the feel that music gives me too, Purba! Lyrics somehow I seem to acquire by osmosis, so much so I know the lyrics to quite a few songs in full.

      The technicalities of music, however, is what makes a musician proficient. So, even if I can't master the music, I thought I could at least share the knowledge :)

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  38. I have learnt classical music for a while when I was a kid. And all I know is that it brings in a lot of peace when we sing the Varnams and Keerthanams. Thanks for sharing this information. I wanted to do this post, but I had no idea how to. :)

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    1. Ah! At last I beat someone to it:) Most of the posts I thought of were already done :)

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  39. i have always been interested in music but never gifted with this talent....u really "dazzled" me with all this complicated musical lexicon :) arre sacchi!! ....i never knew any of this before!

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    1. Hmm! If only I could fathom the ragas as easily as I can fathom the lexicon :)

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  40. i never knew there was so much calculation and mathematics in music...my effort if any, ends here...i'm happy being a novice and enjoying my music

    you can check my post here -
    Karan - Sisters

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    1. All that is a help for someone learning music - to enjoy all you need is ears and a taste to enjoy.

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  41. I never knew music involves such mathematics..but as a part of the junta which just enjoys music..doesnt know much this was a informative read!

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    1. In my brigade then - the 'I know what I like' lot :)

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  42. You completely lost me after the third paragraph.
    I like raga based songs but had no idea about the science behind it.

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    1. Hmm! There goes my illusion that I wrote lucidly :)

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  43. You had my head in a spin with the different permutations and combinations. Can you imagine being unable to identify a raaga in a family of musicians? Oh the shame of it! I belong to the 'I know what I like' category too :)

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  44. Past six months, I have been trying to learn playing the keyboard(carnatic music) and have a weekly class for that. Thanks to that, I could understand what you meant. Had I read this last year, I would have been as baffled as during my 7th std class about differentiation and integration :D

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