Increasing swara knowledge for rasikas and dabblers

To teach and learn Indian classical music
Suji Ram
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#26

Post by Suji Ram » 12 Sep 2007, 22:55

vijay wrote:Sujiram I am still trying to visualize how one can play an instrument without realizing what swaras are being played. This really tests some of my fundamental assumptions about instrumental music! But if I were to take the Akilandeshwari example you mentioned, surely you were able to reproduce it only because of an innate sense of sruthi (whether in your fingers on your head). I mean I could understand if you knew the song but if you were able to reproduce a song in a scale you did not know, it means you have developed the highest sruthi sense there is!
We are discussing about making out swaras and phrases from Alapanas in this thread aren't we? The same applied to the kriti akhilandeshwari. It was trail and error offcourse. I did realise soon it has both G and other swarastanas. I need to hear vocal renditions not even instrumental to learn anything on violin (I listen to 90 % vocal all the time).

Highest Sruti sense ? I do not know.
If I could play hindi film songs as a kid, I guess my fingers already knew music.
Last edited by Suji Ram on 12 Sep 2007, 22:57, edited 1 time in total.
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Suji Ram
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#27

Post by Suji Ram » 12 Sep 2007, 23:08

arunk wrote:vk,

I use the swaras only as a reference and NOT while singing (this also gets near impossible in krithis atleast for me). The moment I start thinking "remember that next word/syllable you are going to sing is dppmgrs-" - its over :). It will come out wrong - flat, probably apaswara.
Arun
Arun,
TRy learning a kriti without swaras. I know I am asking you to be a parrot. I think you are over analyzing while learning itself and that is the problem. Go just by hearing a recording of sahitya. There is always time to analyse the swaras behind it and then offcourse perfect your singing after you know it.
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Suji Ram
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#28

Post by Suji Ram » 12 Sep 2007, 23:16

arunk wrote:But then why do many of us still get all worked up about knowing the swaras? I just think that some people (me, you as starters) are "wired a bit differently" that we think we must know the nuts-and-bolts behind the phrases - otherwise it somehow still remains a enigma, a mystery. We fill we do not know everything there is to know about it and we cannot rest while that possibility lies there - inviting. We are not satisfied in being able to relate to, identify with and even sing/play a phrase without knowing its precise contours in swara form. I guess that's how some of us are - sigh! :)

Arun
Sounds so much like myself. When I cannot play a complicated sangati, my Mom tells me you can skip that, but I cannot give up until I figured it out.

Arun, Learning an instrument might help here.
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arunk
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#29

Post by arunk » 12 Sep 2007, 23:18

suji - i was implying that that is why i don't think of the swaras. I use them a "handy reference if needed" - and I dont use them while singing.

Learning a krithi without swaras - have done that too. But may be it is just me, unless I hear the recorded lesson repeatedly (as a handy reference), I unconciously morph the sangati. So in that respect, the swaras are very useful - atleast to me. I can always resync to what I am supposed to sing without having to hunt down and listen the recording.

Arun
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arunk
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#30

Post by arunk » 12 Sep 2007, 23:19

Suji Ram wrote:Learning an instrument might help here.
:). Actually learning from a teacher who is a instrumentalist works too. I am glad I have that - i.e. given my inclinations here.
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Bhindi
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#31

Post by Bhindi » 12 Sep 2007, 23:39

VK,

In your opening post you mentioned "For a particular raga, there seems to be a characteristic 'color' depending on the four quadrants where the music happens to be."

I love to listen to Carnatic music but cannot differentiate between ragas and complex koruvais etc. Please use the youtube video example of Mayamalawagoula ragam and explain the 4 quadrants you were talking about. It will help me a lot to understand this discussion.
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Bhindi
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#32

Post by Bhindi » 12 Sep 2007, 23:40

By the way could some one please tell me how to quote just a single line of text from a post without having to type or quote the whole post

Thank you in advance.
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Suji Ram
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#33

Post by Suji Ram » 12 Sep 2007, 23:48

Bhindi wrote:By the way could some one please tell me how to quote just a single line of text from a post without having to type or quote the whole post
Thank you in advance.
Hit the quote button on your right to the corresponding post.
You can erase the lines you don't want by using delete or back space, but be sure not to erase the tag "qoute" in brackets on either side of it.

Mod Addition: Another method is: In the reply box, copy and paste the lines you want, select those lines and hit the quote button. It is the right most button in the series of buttons above the emoticons.
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vijay
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#34

Post by vijay » 13 Sep 2007, 00:20

Arun, to the extent we are talking about amateurs/dabblers, I think we are on the same page...

As far as professionals are concerned, I am afraid I do have high expectations of swara gyanam. I am not insistent that every swara in an alaapanai needs to be reproduced on demand (although there are many musicians for whom this is child's play) but there should be a certain minimum standard (which I admit is subjective)

Taking your example of Abheri - I cannot bring myself to think much of a musician who can rattle off phrases in the raga without an understanding of its swaras. For me there is little that differentiates such a person from a playback singer except perhaps greater vocal dexterity (but often at the cost of sruthi). But I will admit that that is just my viewpoint and I do not wish to impose it on anyone else.

What attracted me to CM, more than anything else was its intellectual content. That's the element I look for more than anything else and it's what I believe really differentiates CM (and to a lesser extent HM) from other forms of music. As a consequence, it is intellectually curious artistes that I am drawn towards (which I suppose explains my fascination for TNS, TRS, Sanjay, GNB, Voleti among many others).

In any case, it is quite impossible for a professional carnatic musician of any standing not to have basic proficiency in swaras gyaanam (although as I have noted above, in many cases it appears to me as grossly inadequate) - singing swaras for example is hardly possible without a basic level of knowledge...

Anyway, to cut a long (and potentially diversionary) story short, it is certainly OK for dabblers not be swara aware but for professionals, in my opinion at least, it ought to be a central part of one's artistic quest....
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vasanthakokilam
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#35

Post by vasanthakokilam » 13 Sep 2007, 00:56

Suji: That is a great gift you have, to go from melody to finger movements & techniques without using the swaras as an in between. That is where I want to get to, not necessarily the lowest level swara breakdown. Incidentally, if I can do what you can do, the swara break down is then a simple exercise of noting what I am playing and writing it down. I have a feeling that those who can do it naturally are born with it. But then I hope it may be possible for someone who does not have it like me to get there. In the context of this discussion, 'swara gyanam' includes both of the above kinds of gyanam.

Arun: I agree with you on our propensity to know clearly and without any obfuscation at a lower level of detail. On the music front, I am trying to move away from intellecutalizing it too much to the 'understand and enjoy' level. But it is a grey area between the two.

Bhindi: I assume you understood what I meant by the four quadrants( low ga to sa first Quadrant, sa to pa second quadrant, pa to high SA third quadrant and high SA to high PA fourth quadrant ). I am grasping at straws at all this so I am not the right person to map that youtube MMG to the quadrants. If the the vidwan vocalized the swaras while playing that, then it would be easy and a good starting point. Others correct me on this but I think most songs stay in the second and third quadrant for a majority of the time. If it goes decisively to the first or fourth, you will readily notice. Another one that is probably easy to notice is the song beginning. Song beginnings tend to be in the second quadrant through there are some sparkling exceptions. Saroja Dhala Nethri ( sankarabaranam ) starts high and I would tentatively slot it in the 3rd quadrant. kAru bAru ( mukhari ) starts very high and I would tentatively slot it in the fourth quadrant. SS Bhairavi Swarajathi 'amba kamakshi' starts really low and I would slot that in the first quadrant.

While I am at it, here is a tip regarding 'playing along'. What Akkarai Subbulakshmi's dad taught her to do ( playing along to recordings ) is possible with the violin since the sruthi can be changed at a finer level of granularity. For a fixed sruthi instrument like flute, modern technology comes to rescue by doing the opposite. If the recording is in mp3 form, load it into a program like audacity and adjust the pitch of the recording. It does a good job without distorting the music much. It would not sound like the original recording but that is OK for this purpose. ( even if someone has multiple flutes with various sruthis, it still may not match the sruthi of the recording ). I have tried that with one or two songs as a way to wire the brain to the fingers directly ( like what Suji does.). (I am a long way from getting there.) This trick/technique may be useful for vocalists as well.

One pleasant gift was, a recording of MSS's Swara Raga Sudha I have is already at the exact pitch I wanted and it was a pleasant experience to just play along with her to the extent I can, especially the long held notes Sa, Ga and Pa.
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Suji Ram
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#36

Post by Suji Ram » 13 Sep 2007, 01:28

VK,
Noting down swaras as you play is a good idea of understanding music. I often do this in my bus commute while listening to artist's renditions especially alapanas or certain sangatis. Ocassionally my fingers seem to move as if playing a virtual violin. I write down the swaras and go home and check on the instrument to see if I guessed them right.
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arunk
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#37

Post by arunk » 13 Sep 2007, 01:31

I may be mistaken and this is no way trivializing what suji has, but I think that for (decent, amateur) instrumentalists to reproduce a phrase that they just heard - there need not be a breakdown of swaras stage. In other words, many do it the way suji does. I definitely used to think that this required swara knowledge so that they know the positions etc. - but I have heard people say "I just know where to play and how much to slide/bend to get that sound" or "(smile) I just play it".

Its like that the brain remembers how much bend is required on this fret/position to get that sound in that raga etc. - and so it all becomes sub-concious, and so they skip the active part of swara breakdown. It is possible that they remember in terms of "for this sound, this action is required".

Perhaps instrumentalists can confirm or refute this. Is this true (perhaps after a certain level of expertise - and that level is not like way above average)?

BTW, we know already this is true for vocal. Many people can simply repeat a phrase - even internalize it without knowing the constituent swaras. In fact, many kELvi gnyAnam rasikas can do a "decent" (for their level) job at doing arbitrary raga sketches - even without understanding anything. Now, in reality they may be subconciously pulling stuff from memory and piecing together. But I think that may be true even for pros during stage (i.e. pulling stuff from memory and piecing togethet on the fly but subconsciously).

Arun
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Suji Ram
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#38

Post by Suji Ram » 13 Sep 2007, 01:43

Arun , you are right.
I think most of us discussing in this thread already have the knowledge of swaras(vocal and instruments). It does happen subconsciously. It's that unknown depths of CM we are all searching for.
Practice is the only key.

BTW I am still a dabbler..
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arasi
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#39

Post by arasi » 13 Sep 2007, 01:45

Ignoramus,
You asked for the URL of Neyveli's RagAs Through Pallavi. Hope this works: http://www.sangeethapriya.org/~sridharan
In his index, it is the 11th bullet.
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arunk
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#40

Post by arunk » 13 Sep 2007, 01:57

I am a dabbler and a babbler ;)
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Suji Ram
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#41

Post by Suji Ram » 13 Sep 2007, 02:26

Now what are swaras? sa ri ga ma ....are they not sounds. For an instrumentalist that is the sound emanating from the instrument itself at the correct positions. Everytime a note is played it tell us what swara that is.

We don't need to learn a sahitya in swaras at all. Infact that is an additional exercise learning swaras first and then play sahitya. I won't have that patience if I really had to do it.
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vasanthakokilam
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#42

Post by vasanthakokilam » 13 Sep 2007, 04:11

Suji: Are you offering a new way to think about playing instruments? Meaning, once you learn the mechanics of the instument for how each sound is produced, don't think about swaras but learn how to produce a sequence of sounds that matches the sahithya based melody?

As a second item, I have got to modify the 'born with it' theory I wrote before. I am taking it as a given that many people are born with 'musical gyanam'. But that does not necessarily translate to the 'finger memory' that you talk about. Somehow during the learning of the instruments that gyanam got wired to the mechanics of playing the instrument. To be specific, do you think if you just learn how to play the 7 swaras on the flute, that 'wiring' you have will translate to flute as well? May be keyboard is one instrument where you can test that possibility readily ( hope the difficulty with producing gamakams does not stand in the way of this experiment ).
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Suji Ram
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#43

Post by Suji Ram » 13 Sep 2007, 04:44

vasanthakokilam wrote:Suji: Are you offering a new way to think about playing instruments? Meaning, once you learn the mechanics of the instument for how each sound is produced, don't think about swaras but learn how to produce a sequence of sounds that matches the sahithya based melody?
This isn't a new way I think.
After learning geetham and varnams one is already familiar with swaras and its position. So while transitioning to sahitya just think about the sound and offcourse which raga and its scale. Soon the phrases in the raga will come alive. Subconsciously you will have the swara gyanam no matter what.

Even when I try alapana on violin my mind says tana nana, aaa ta da ri etc and I go automatically to play the phrases in that raga. The fingers know the swaras.

The facts I mentioned can be applied to any instruments even key board. When I started playing key board I did not know anything about music. Just moved my fingers to the melody. One immediately will know sounds going up and down with practice.

My teacher never taught underlying swaras (vocal and instrument) for kritis. If I made a mistake she would just say antara gandaram or shudda rishabam etc.. at that position that's all.

Now offcourse I am learmning on my own at my own snail pace.
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Suji Ram
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#44

Post by Suji Ram » 13 Sep 2007, 06:30

vasanthakokilam wrote:Suji: To be specific, do you think if you just learn how to play the 7 swaras on the flute, that 'wiring' you have will translate to flute as well? ).
Yes, if I can learn to blow the swaras with proper gamakams, I will be able to translate that wiring to flute as well.
However, I will have to teach my right hand fingers. I can play keyboard with left hand only-maybe playing bulbul tara-that typewriter like instrument wired me that way :)
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mohan
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#45

Post by mohan » 13 Sep 2007, 09:26

A few points (some of which have been raised already):
- Swara knowledge is essential for effective kalpana swara singing.
- Most of the vocal music teachers I know don't teach krithis swara by swara. If there is a difficulat sangati then the teacher may sing that sangati in swara form.
- for instrumentalists, accompanying other artistes reall helps develop their swara knowledge
- the lack of a perfect system of notation for Carnatic music has resulted in knowledge transfer to be based on an oral tradition. Over time this has resulted in sangatis for krithis being varied
- for vocalists and instrumentalists alike, learning varnams and practicing kalpana swaram will greatly enhance swara knowledge
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vijay
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#46

Post by vijay » 13 Sep 2007, 10:21

arunk wrote:I definitely used to think that this required swara knowledge so that they know the positions etc. - but I have heard people say "I just know where to play and how much to slide/bend to get that sound" or "(smile) I just play it".

Its like that the brain remembers how much bend is required on this fret/position to get that sound in that raga etc. - and so it all becomes sub-concious,
Arun
Even I was confused about Suji's statement that he could play something (i.e a piece not heard before) without a swara bbreak-down. Now it does start to make sense...in a sense it is no different from a lay person humming a tune without necessarily comprehending its musical form...

I suspect even artistes who do have a sound swara knowledge would be hindered if they continuously thought about what swaras they were singing, say during an alaapanai...I used to think that instrumentalists were somehow different but what Arun/Suji say makes sense now

SUch sub-conscious internalization is probably a pre-requisite for an effetive presentation but I think it is nevertheless important to keep continual track of where one is going with an alaapana, experiment with some new combinations, take cues from supporting artistes. Sanjay's alaapanas for example give me the impression that his mind is working on exploring possibile phrases even as he is delivering one...I find it very hard to keep track of the swaras in his alaapanas as compared to other artistes - he takes me by surprise very often and this is what makes him such an exhilarating performer..
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Suji Ram
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#47

Post by Suji Ram » 13 Sep 2007, 10:47

Even I was confused about Suji's statement that she could play something (i.e a piece not heard before) without a swara bbreak-down. Now it does start to make sense...in a sense it is no different from a lay person humming a tune without necessarily comprehending its musical form...
But there is a slight difference from layman humming. Once I play it I would know immediately the swaras behind it.

There is a nice lecdem by Vidushi Smt Vedavalli on learning varnams and manodharma.
There are different layers in learning CM.
Learning to play swaras helps alapanas and kalpana swaras, that is the basics.
Sahitya is another dimension where one needs to bring out bhavam which one can get only having sahitya in mind.
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vasanthakokilam
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#48

Post by vasanthakokilam » 13 Sep 2007, 11:16

in a sense it is no different from a lay person humming a tune without necessarily comprehending its musical form...
Vijay, how I wish it is just that way. I know what you are saying that at some level what is going on is 'no different'. May be so, but substantially at different magnitudes. Most people can hum a tune that they hear, nicely or not ( except one chinese colleague of mine she just did not have that ability which was quite strange ). It comes naturally without thinking about it. Using Suji's words, people can be a good parrot. But once you bring an instrument in to the picture and having the same ability is a pretty high achievement in itself. I just can not do it yet. One still have to train their hands, fingers and blowing which are the external counter parts to the vocal chords. It is quite fantastic that in some people that works in the same natural way.

I am not sure if you necessarily need individual swara breakdown for a great and creative alapana. ( though it may be very rare that an established musician may not have the individual swara knowledge.) If one believes that raga came first and then came its analysis into scale, swara etc. then theoretically raga should be describable, playable and demonstratable by directly translating ideas into raga music. Niraval might fall into the same picture. Kalpanaswaram singing by the very definition requires that swara breakdown but that is just the way it is. People will not accept it if you substitute your own solfa symbols or other sounds instead of sa ri ga ma pa...

Going a bit off topic but to illustrate a great exception: One famous example of a great musician who did not know any notes but who just played guitar at the highest level similar to what we are talking about here was Django Reinhardt.( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Django_Reinhardt ). May be because of that lack of established musical 'swara' knowledge, he managed to play in a unique fashion which is now recognized as a distinct bANi. There are many in Pop and Rock world who claim they can not read music ( it is mostly used as a promotional item to their target audience since that conveys an air of born musical genius ) but here is a case of high quality original music that came out of someone who did not know how to read music.
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ignoramus
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#49

Post by ignoramus » 13 Sep 2007, 20:34

arasi, thanks very much.. got it
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Suji Ram
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#50

Post by Suji Ram » 13 Sep 2007, 22:12

There are many in Pop and Rock world who claim they can not read music ( it is mostly used as a promotional item to their target audience since that conveys an air of born musical genius ) but here is a case of high quality original music that came out of someone who did not know how to read music.
One needn't really know how to read music (western notes). Sound gyanam is sufficient. There are numerous scope for developing different styles as in the case of the famous guitarist you mentioned.

Our piano instructor told me that western classical music was once improvisational music before it got written down. I insisted on such lessons and he obliged and I am amazed at how creative the student can get when asked to improvise on C or D major without notes. I even insist on ear training on notes.

But still I am amazed at how they can coordinate left and right hand looking at the notes from the book in front of them. I am always told I can also do it too- just keep one eye on the book and the other on your hands. Now that's being like Mad-eye Moody :D
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