Increasing swara knowledge for rasikas and dabblers

To teach and learn Indian classical music
bilahari
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#51

Post by bilahari » 15 Sep 2007, 08:41

I agree with what Suji Ram astutely pointed out about swaras: They are themselves sounds. Our labeling each sound is, if you ask me, basically for notation and teaching purposes. Any experiences musician can visualise the exact position of a swara, and while composing an alapanai, are perfectly attuned to the sounds of the swaras, more than the notes themselves. I've only just started learning the violin formally. When I'm trying to play, say, Varnas, from memory, I can form a mental picture of the sound that has to complete the sequence of what I'm playing at the moment, but since my ability to identify with the pitch of each swara is poorly developed, I need to refer to my notes to complete the phrase, even though I know how it should go. I need to know the swara.

Experienced musicians don't need to refer to their notes, and don't need to visualise "sa" or "ga" in lettering, but can relate to the exact sound of the note, and so, they know how to play or sing. I think that as the audiological memory of a musician increases, he is less reliant on visual or textual memory, which is what I would categorise swaras as, but beginners need to rely on textual memory because we learn how to read much earlier than we learn music (generally), and we can read the "sa" and "pa" and understand them more quickly than we can identify these relatively new sounds that are entering our aural vocabulary.

Music really is a language. I think a good analogy would be the composing of an essay, which I liken to an alapanai. When I write an essay, I can easily write sentences without thinking hard about the exact order of the words or composition of the sentences. But sometimes, when I'm in a more creative mood, I do ponder about exact words, and their possible effect in sentences, and similarly, when an artiste is pondering about a certain new phrase, he probably does consider individual swaras, and their potential effect if vocalised, but most of the time, with more familiar ragas and phrases, he probably can just rattle off an alapanai like I would an easy essay. A very weird analogy, god. But I'm leaving it there should anyone see any semblance of sense in it.

(And yes, I'm thinking very hard about word choice in the composition of this message!)

Now, the difference between composing an alapanai and light-music-humming? This is very debatable, but I do think that people who listen to lots of film songs and can reproduce them, possess remarkable aural memory! And because they're able to sing phrases exactly, they must have swara shuddham as well. But if you gave them a song entirely in one raga and asked them to improvise on it? Would they be able to? If you asked them to give a written musical notation of the song they've been humming? Would they be able to? And the "musical" part of musicians' brains is better able to communicate with the "linguistic" part of their brain, since they're able to tag names to sounds when singing kalpana swaras. Light music hummers aren't able to do this. Carnatic musicians, in being able to accomplish all of these tasks, have, simply, a much stronger command over musical language.
Last edited by bilahari on 15 Sep 2007, 08:46, edited 1 time in total.
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Suji Ram
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#52

Post by Suji Ram » 15 Sep 2007, 10:18

Thanks bilahari,
You took the time to elaborate my point.

Another analogy- playing an instrument is like "type writing" if you think the alphabets are individual sounds. When you start to learn you go alphabet by alphabet and then over time can make quick movements to type a word based on the POSITIONS on the key board automatically. The memory is same for playing.


Another exercise I used to do is take a pen and draw a pattern on paper while listening to a complicated sangati.
The picture looks like ups and downs based on sounds ascending and descending. This tells me how to move along the positions in the instrument in that sruti I heard.
And I realised recently that the western notations we see on those 5 lines are just what I have been doing!!
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vasanthakokilam
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#53

Post by vasanthakokilam » 15 Sep 2007, 10:45

Brilliant alapana, ah..hmm, writing, there Bilahari ;) Quite a few things to think about....wrt to calling swaras textual memory, I think it is more like symbolic memory, sa ri ga ma pa are symbols for the sounds as you mentioned and it need not be written down in any textual form. But then is there any substantive difference in playing a song by reading written notes and playing the song by memorizing the swaras? Don't know.

Here is a recent anecdote that is relatable to our discussion here. My friend's young daughter who can play flute very well by reading sheet music, played a Beatles tune out of a song book her dad bought for her. It is a song she has never heard before. He is very emotionally attached to that song and so was quite thrilled that her daughter could play his favorite song. But the daughter did not have any emotional attachment to the song or a 'feel' for the melody, she was simply transcribing from the sheet music on her flute and shrugging her shoulder she went 'what is the big deal?'.
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Suji Ram
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#54

Post by Suji Ram » 15 Sep 2007, 11:06

vasanthakokilam wrote:But then is there any substantive difference in playing a song by reading written notes and playing the song by memorizing the swaras?
good point.

You can do this exercise.

First write down sahitya for an easy song to begin with (a new one, not b Lakshmi).

Write down the swaras below it.

Now start playing with sahitya in mind occasional peeking at the line below if you are not sure what sound comes next. This way you don't memorize but have it written down as a guide.

Memorizing swaras ruins the purpose. It is like memorizing sahityam except that you are able to associate it with the swarastanas.

Believe me over time you will not need "swara" but only sound.
Last edited by Suji Ram on 15 Sep 2007, 11:06, edited 1 time in total.
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vasanthakokilam
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#55

Post by vasanthakokilam » 15 Sep 2007, 11:10

Suji: Thanks. I will definitely give the techniques you suggest a try. Much appreciated.

>(a new one, not b Lakshmi).
:)
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bilahari
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#56

Post by bilahari » 15 Sep 2007, 11:22

VK,
I agree that thoughtful writing is more like composing, but isn't an alapana a composition itself? The phrases are composed and synthesised to produce a coherent, fluid alapana, which really distinguishes a good musician. I have heard quite a few choppy alapanais with phrases that don't really transit in an aesthetic manner, much as a writer or composer should be able make ideas flow with ease in an essay or song.

I have been taught that different regions of the brain process text and symbols, which has always confused me somewhat since I consider words "symbols" themselves. Symbols for objects, ideas, etc. I recognise the difference between representational art and symbolic art (in the former, the brain processes an image that is straight out of its visual memory and can briskly correlate the two, and in the latter, the brain processes an image and correlates it to ANOTHER image in its memory, and is therefore a more complex process).

This idea of symbolism vs. representation is where Suji Ram's other creative idea, of assigning a certain proportional elevation to each note on paper, comes into discussion. My friend, who learns Western music, has always wondered how Carnatic musicians or students can simply read notes structured in a straight line, and understand where the music is going, and anticipate the next "move." It seems to me that Western music, by actually positioning the notes differently, is making the musician's job slightly less complex, less symbolic, and more representational (though not quite as directly as I described above). The Carnatic musician is much more challenged, since he is more or less forced to develop a symbolic-aural image in his mind about each swara, and I would think, either (a) catalyses the learning of musical language, or (b) frustrates the beginner (especially the vocalist) and drives him away from carnatic music, though perseverance pays rich dividends in sharpening the student's mind.

What do you guys think?
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vijay
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#57

Post by vijay » 15 Sep 2007, 11:43

bilahari wrote:Music really is a language. I think a good analogy would be the composing of an essay, which I liken to an alapanai. When I write an essay, I can easily write sentences without thinking hard about the exact order of the words or composition of the sentences. But sometimes, when I'm in a more creative mood, I do ponder about exact words, and their possible effect in sentences, and similarly, when an artiste is pondering about a certain new phrase, he probably does consider individual swaras, and their potential effect if vocalised, but most of the time, with more familiar ragas and phrases, he probably can just rattle off an alapanai like I would an easy essay. A very weird analogy, god. But I'm leaving it there should anyone see any semblance of sense in it.
Not weird at all Bilahari - pretty much sums up my own thoughts. When you are into an alaapana, a large part of it has to flow and it would not help if you keep thinking about swaras. At the same time, the thinking singer pauses occasioanly of think about new/novel swara combinations - just like you would pause to find the right word or phrase.

Thus while swara knowledge is vital, it is not necessary or advisable to be thinking about them constantly....besides a higher level of swara gnanam would help you subconsciously to 1) avoid mistakes and 2) be more creative....
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vijay
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#58

Post by vijay » 15 Sep 2007, 11:54

VK, your analysis of western v carnatic music (or HM) is on the ball. I am not too sure about the nuances of representation or symbolism but the diff between WM (or for that matter Indian light music) and CM lies in the separation of composing and performing and the consequent demands on the mental resources of the performer.

A composer in WM/Pop/Film Music (their aesthetic merits notwithstanding) have the luxury of time in designing their music. Nor, are they bound by complex grammar - their only limitation is their own aesthetic sensibility and creative prowess. The demands on the perfomer are still less. The only requirement is a mastery of the voice/instrument.

The Indian classical musician on the other hand is largely both the performer and the composer, has almost no time to ponder over the merits of his "compositions" and is tightly bound by grammar. In CM he/she is further challenged by the need to have a large repertoire of complex compositions and pay particular attention to laya! The worst placed is the poor violinist who also has additional millstone of the vocalist's musical direction around her neck! The challenges are of a different order from any other form of music I know...

Yes this does intimidate the beginner but the curious student is also addicted for life.
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Suji Ram
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#59

Post by Suji Ram » 15 Sep 2007, 12:01

My friend, who learns Western music, has always wondered how Carnatic musicians or students can simply read notes structured in a straight line, and understand where the music is going, and anticipate the next "move."
I'm asked on almost daily basis how I learn with my eyes closed :)
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vasanthakokilam
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#60

Post by vasanthakokilam » 15 Sep 2007, 12:13

Vijay: When I first read bilahari's paragraph that you quoted, I figured you will grab on to that ;)

The crux of the issue is: Can creativity come from non-spontaneous pondering ( swaras or words ).

I am not convinced on both counts: Whether the singer should think in terms of swaras that hard during an alapana or the writer should think in terms of words.

On the writing front, the modern western thinking is definitely along the lines Bilahari and you feel is the way to go. Meaning, it is a cyclical process, ideas come first, you put them into words and sentences and then tinker with them, rearrange them until the aesthetics and clarity of presentation are improved while retaining the original idea. I was indeed surprised when I heard that first but then I caught myself doing pretty much the same thing. But I am not convinced if that is the method that brings forth the maximum creativity in writing. There is some romaticism associated with spontaneity that is lost.

The defense for this approach is: What is central to creativity are the "ideas" and not the representation or presentation of that idea. It takes some effort to make that representation match as closely as possible to the idea. That is a trial and error process which requires some critical and analytical thinking. That is why it is justified to bring in thinking at the word, phrase and sentence level as long as it helps to present the same original idea.

On the music side, I am a bit more biassed towards spontaneity of ideas and presentation. But that is just personal opinion and taste. Thinking is actually a deterrant to creativity in some cases. I agree it is a bit odd to state it this way since we are encouraged to think all the time. I am willing to take a bit of disorganized presentation if there is a chance that manodharma music can emanate from the non-thinking musical brain.

The analogy for manodharma sangeetham that works for me is some aspects of public speaking since I can relate to it a litle bit more. You go prepared and you are strong in the substance of the material you want to present. But once you get going with the presentation, when you are in that undefinable zone, the exact form of presentation of the same ideas just flows and is derived on the spot. The audience's body language also feeds into that on the spot creative process. So the same speech given on different occasions will be completely different in 'color'. Preparation and pondering comes first followed by the spontaneity which rides on that pre-determined and prepared stuff as the base.
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vijay
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#61

Post by vijay » 15 Sep 2007, 14:22

Pubilc speaking is a good example, VK...similarly in carnatic music, quality and innovative ideas should flow spontaneously...of course this is next to impossible to achieve unless one is immersed in swara gnana, laya gnana among other things...thus the innovation is not borne out of a vacuum of knowledge, thought or analysis although these need not be overt elements during the presentation...

Let me take another example - a korvai for example - you can either churn out a mugged up korvai (no harm done - most artistes do)...or you can do some quick calculations based on patterns you are familiar with and construct it on the spot - the seasoned musician (say a TNS and most percussionists) really does not have to give this too much thought - it just flows on the strength of his immense knowledge - a quick mental check's enough - of course these complicated things can flop at times - but that is the challenge!
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bilahari
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#62

Post by bilahari » 15 Sep 2007, 16:47

VK,

You ask:
"The crux of the issue is: Can creativity come from non-spontaneous pondering ( swaras or words )?"

But doesn't creativity, and creation, invariably emanate from a pre-existing condition? We still don't know when time started, or when the universe, what we presume is the first creation, was made. As far as we know, things are born from others. I definitely agree with you that preparation must serve as the base of creativity, and I also agree that spontaneity is a very romantic concept, and the offspring of the process, whether flawed or awe-inspiring, should be appreciated. I'm a painter, and my last art teacher always used to encourage spontaneous, creative art. On the spur of the moment, I once painted a self-portrait, where my nose was way too crooked, and my face hideously long, and my teacher loved it! I hated it for these fatal flaws, but she insisted that anything creative, flaws and all, is at least interesting and new. With plenty of preparation, I could've painted a pretty accurate self-portrait, but what would be so interesting about it? It might be a wonderful accomplishment, it might've taken lot of talent and effort, but at the end of the day, it would be rather mundane (I kind of relate this to KVN's recordings -- I'm a big fan -- which demonstrate his remarkable shruti shuddham, and his ability to weave a beautiful alapanai and an evocative neraval, etc, but he rarely elevated(?) his music by introducing novelties.)

I definitely appreciate creativity, but the cost (the flaws) cannot outweigh the profit (or even break even). In sum, I still remain somewhat of a traditionalist (an open-minded one, I like to think!).

I'm certain of something though. For a commercial musician, a vast body of knowledge is a necessary condition conducive to creativity. A musician might not have listened to others, or might not know phrases used by them, or the phrases used in compositions he does not know, and he might outdo himself in a concert by introducing a phrase he thinks is novel, but for a knowledgeable audience, is really not... (Quoting Vijay, who attributes the flow of TNS's creativity to "the strength of his immense knowledge").

Really, if one wants to be creative, if one wants to stretch the boundaries of something, one must first be fully cognisant of these boundaries!
Last edited by bilahari on 15 Sep 2007, 16:49, edited 1 time in total.
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arasi
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#63

Post by arasi » 15 Sep 2007, 21:12

Very interesting, Bilahari, VK and Vijay!
I hope CML feels better and starts taking part in this discussion.

You speak both of music and writing. Since I am a dabbler in both genres, though not that organized in my thoughts as you as a scientist are, VK, I see how all the three of you touch upon my own experiences!
Ah, experiences is very much the basis of it all. The formal kind and of one's own creative learning of it. Then comes the performance or presentation. We all agree a performance is somewhat artificial ( staged). Yet, why do we get immersed in a concert? Why do we get excited about the music? It is not the perfect rendering of a rAgA and kriti that draws us in. Of course, we are impressed by the vidwat there.
It is the creativity which takes us to another plane--the very plane that the performer has reached. I do not know cricket. I can say it with a baseball twist: the seasoned player knows every rule in the book. He knows the boundaries of the field. He knows how to hit the right way, how to run the bases. However, while he is out there, these are not the things that occupy his being (I avoid the word mind because it is not that alone). Hitting a home run cannot be a calcualted thing. It just happens.
Even more so, in a performance. So, to me, if the foundation is solid, what springs out of it--given the fact that the artiste is highly creative and challenges himself or herself constantly, it happens. Vijay, I think we agree on this.

Bilahari,
You said it well: I am traditional with an open mind!
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bilahari
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#64

Post by bilahari » 15 Sep 2007, 21:44

The variegated anecdotes and analogies springing up on this thread are very intriguing!

Now that we're on the process of concert presentation (right from preparation to on-stage presentation), could members of the forum who actively engage in concerts tell us a bit about how they prepare for a concert? What is it like on stage? How conscious are you of your improvisation, of swara vs. sound, what affects your performance (in terms of other performers on stage, audience, etc)? In short, what is the kutchery-presenting experience like?

I would be especially interested in hearing msakella sir's accounts about accompanying...
Last edited by bilahari on 15 Sep 2007, 21:44, edited 1 time in total.
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Suji Ram
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#65

Post by Suji Ram » 15 Sep 2007, 22:00

bilahari wrote:Now that we're on the process of concert presentation (right from preparation to on-stage presentation), could members of the forum who actively engage in concerts tell us a bit about how they prepare for a concert? What is it like on stage? How conscious are you of your improvisation, of swara vs. sound, what affects your performance (in terms of other performers on stage, audience, etc)?
I was thinking about this and avoided writing the same in the begining since this a dabblers ground. We needed as much babbling(to borrow arun's word) from inexperienced folks(including me). Now is the time to ask....

All the while was wondering what the active performers who might read this thread wonder about us. Did they go through the same experience ?
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arunk
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#66

Post by arunk » 17 Sep 2007, 22:18

shadjam wrote:vk,

I second Ninja's idea of uploading bits of music (say 20-25 secs each) and let the rasikas identify the corresponding swarams. This can be made as a quiz. We could take 20-25 such bits for each major raga and could upload these on a daily basis. What do you guys say?
So as a time-pass and show-off (err... expose ;) ) our swara knowledge skills, can we try this?

If so, one possibility is to create 2 threads.
The questions thread: Where we post (or points to) samples and associated questions.
The answers thread: Where people post/discuss/debate answers.

So that way answers are not automatically revealed unless you go to the answers thread. Also no point system, no winner. We are just looking to learn from each other by dabbling and babbling and possibly to the amusement of the knowledgeable.

Note that we do not have to create new threads for every sample. We can simple reuse these two. This means that we need to clearly number the questions thread, and always refer to it in the answrs thread.

Anybody game? If there is good interest, I can post/make-available a first sample (for which I may not know all the answers. So this is not like Drs doing it :)).

Arun
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ninjathegreat
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#67

Post by ninjathegreat » 17 Sep 2007, 22:32

Arun,

Excellent Idea!! I will upload some scintillating bits when I can... We can use this as the discussion thread for the answers (so the Q & A's don't get cluttered up)..

Ninja
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Suji Ram
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#68

Post by Suji Ram » 17 Sep 2007, 22:45

I would be interested (I am being bold)
Nevertheless would learn along the way....

It will be a move from raga identification to swara identification...
Last edited by Suji Ram on 17 Sep 2007, 22:50, edited 1 time in total.
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arunk
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#69

Post by arunk » 17 Sep 2007, 23:51

ok - i will try to initiate it a bit later today. Should we start with an "easy" raga (say pentatonic) or does not matter?

Arun
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cmlover
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#70

Post by cmlover » 18 Sep 2007, 00:05

Let there be two categories: Vocal and Instrumental. As we hone our skills we may gain expertise on both.

Arun you be our quiz master!
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vasanthakokilam
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#71

Post by vasanthakokilam » 18 Sep 2007, 00:06

Easy ones to start with Arun. Pentatonic ragas would be a good start.
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Suji Ram
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#72

Post by Suji Ram » 18 Sep 2007, 00:19

Easy raga, easy parts first.
Then easy raga complicated parts.... in that order.

CML, you can be the final judge with fourier analysis (provided the correct Sruti is used)
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arunk
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#73

Post by arunk » 18 Sep 2007, 00:47

cml - quiz master needs to know the answers. I dont qualify. Instrumental vs Vocal - ok - but we will posting alapanas and so it may not matter. I was thinking any sample can be vocal or instrumental. I am fine either way

Let us not view it like a quiz - let us view it like a group exercise (albeit with individual effort - but we share our efforts).

For the first one, I thought I will keep it a bit generic. I will post a sample and the exercise is to
(a) identify the raga - I think this should be easy.
(b) identify where the different swaras in the raga in all stayis (assuming they figure - all need not in the sample). You can identify as many spots as you want - but if you just pick the place where it is prominent that is fine.
(c) figure out each swara for just one small section (for starters).

I really like (b) as a starting point i.e. as a baby step before we start runnning. - but that means sample could get be a bit long (say 2-3 minutes). So (c) would be for just one (very) small section. Is that ok?

Later we can move to succeeding sections. Also in subsequent exercises the sampe may be short in itself.

Also, I think we should take turns in being "exercise master".

Thoughts? (sample is ready :) )

Arun
Last edited by arunk on 18 Sep 2007, 00:58, edited 1 time in total.
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Suji Ram
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#74

Post by Suji Ram » 18 Sep 2007, 01:11

So in b) do we give time points for each of the swaras?
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vasanthakokilam
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#75

Post by vasanthakokilam » 18 Sep 2007, 01:12

Arun, that sounds fine. Make sure we get the sense of the base sruthi in the sample. If you feel it is not prominent, cut and paste some initial tamboora or held Sa notes from another part of the song. Atleast initially and if the clip is short. Thanks.
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