Increasing swara knowledge for rasikas and dabblers

To teach and learn Indian classical music
vasanthakokilam
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#1

Post by vasanthakokilam » 11 Sep 2007, 22:05

The thread on 'how to shape a violinist' ( http://www.rasikas.org/viewtopic.php?pid=58169 ) led me to think further about a personal project of mine to do something to increase my own swara knowledge.

Though I am not a violinist, some of suggestions bilahari made in the above referred thread are useful for my ever ongoing personal desire to increase my swara gyanam. To be more correct, ability to 'get' the proyogas in chunks including the 'neLivu suLivu asaivu' of the raga in addition to the getting the long kArvai swaras that bilahari mentions.

One idea I have along these lines which I have not put to practise yet is: For a particular raga, there seems to be a characteristic 'color' depending on the four quadrants where the music happens to be. The four quadrants being: low octave uttarAngA, middle octave pUrvangA, middle octave uttarAnga and high octave pUrvanga. By latching on to this 'sound color', we can slot it to a particular quadrant. For example, taking the extreme case, it is easy for most people to say if the song is in the first quadrant or fourth quadrant.

By active listening, if I get the four demarcation swaras: 'lower pa', 'middle sa', 'middle pa' and 'high sa', then the four quadrants can be identified even more methodically rather than using the 'sound color' approach.

Once the quadrant is identified, to get to the actual swaras of the melody, the problem is reduced in complexity to identifying 2 or 3 swaras. For example, for the first and third quadrant, I need to learn to hear 'ni' and 'dha' by ear ( by no means a trivial task for a rapid succession of swaras but one can get started with held notes ).

Of course there is a whole lot of beauty when the prayogas cross these artificial quadrants but that can come later. But I am thinking along these lines to just simplify the approach using the familiar divide and conquer.

msakellaji, do you see any merit for the approach I am thinking of? This is not just for violin but for other instruments as well and also I am mainly thinking of this methodology for amateur dabblers like me and for other interested rasikas. I have not started 'doing' it yet, it is all theory so far. May be you have already experimented with such things in your teaching methods and have some great ideas to help us listen more actively. 'AMS easy methods for rasikas and dabblers'? :)
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vijay
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#2

Post by vijay » 11 Sep 2007, 22:53

Interesting VK, I am in the same boat as you are. Dividing the octaves into quadrants is something that did not strike me at first. What helps me a little is looking out for characteristic phrases and rest notes....identification of the rest notes is in a sense a dissection into quandrants (I would add Antara Gandharam where applicable - I often find it the most easily identifiable note).

A good place to begin is also to identify the constituent swaras in a raga, especially rarer ones whose construction one may not be aware of...in fact listening to Hindustani Music and drawing parallels with CM ragas has helped me a lot!

The most tricky part is measuring the intervals, especially irrengular ones....varja janyas of ragas which have closely spaced intervals like D2N2 or R2G2 pose a lot of problems especially when only the krithi is sung...

Active listening and preferably learning/singing is ultimately the only way to sruthi sense. Learning an instrument in particular, is a failsafe way to hone one's listening - unfortunately by the time the instrument is mastered to a reasonable extent, one is already out of patience so it is perhaps not a very rasika friendly way!

For others, listening to alaapanas closely and trying, no matter how unsuccessfully, to follow it note by note is useful. Also one should try to get a sense of the pure notes by playing a harmonium. You will surprised how different Thodi sounds as compared to what is actually sung in CM! Singing the 12 swaras with a sruthi box also helps fine tune one's musical sense.

As I've also said earlier trying to decode film songs is another great way to develop sruthi. This can also be done with the help of a harmonium, keyboard or any other instrument one is familiar with. I know people who've never heard CM develop a remarkable sruthi sense just by trying to reproduce film songs on a keyboard!

I am sure most of the above methods would sound crude (I am already dreading Sharmaji's reprimand!) but I feel that the rasika who does not have the benefit of formal training can still endeavour to acquire a better grasp of sruthi...however, all said and done, there is no substitute for formal training.
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ninjathegreat
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#3

Post by ninjathegreat » 12 Sep 2007, 00:15

What say we take up specific aalapanais or swarams to help us here? like uploading pieces of a song (just aalapanai, just swaram?) Transcribing the music into swarams can help...

Cheers
N.
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Suji Ram
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#4

Post by Suji Ram » 12 Sep 2007, 01:00

Nice topic Vk,
I am also interested in able to identify swaras in especially alapanas. Though I can do it to some extent for the ragas I know, it gets complicated as the alapana progresses.
I hope I will be able to play alapana for 15-30 secs at least some day.

Here a link to a lesson in MMG raga building. Sounds easy but....

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-xTdK7bjWGA
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vasanthakokilam
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#5

Post by vasanthakokilam » 12 Sep 2007, 01:24

Thanks Vijay for your ideas. I will try first the characteristic phrases and rest notes approach.

Thanks Suji for that youtube link. Someone once said while cooking 'Wow, half an hour back these were just ingredients now it is such tasty food'. That is what I was reminded of when his simple swaras became the wonderful mayamalavagowla. It does not take too many swaras to bring out the raga. It is all the gamaka spices that color the swaras to make the raga. We all know that but it is still a startling revelation when you try to map what he does to swaras.

I tried my quadrant approach with that youtube segment and it was a humbling experience. So atleast for me, I need to start even more at a fundamental level to train my ears. In terms of swara chunks, one example I am thinking of is: after having listened so many times to the forceful MMI's ga ma pa. ma ga.. ri ga sa. ri ga.. any where that chunk or sequence is played in an instrument, I know the swaras for those. Same thing with the sequence 'ga ma pa ga ri sa'. May be I need to start with such attractive chunks in each quadrant and then get down to the swara level.

I have a good feeling that msakellaji has some great ideas here and can help us along the same lines as in the above youtube video.
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arunk
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#6

Post by arunk » 12 Sep 2007, 02:39

vk,

I have gotten a tad better but I think it is a combination of
a. learning (vocal)
b. the fact that my teacher is a vainika and so she breaks down the swaras always. This has helped me became more familiar with them particular in combination. Also with my poor memory and bad habit for "approximating" I need the swara breakdown to know what the "right way" is - i.e. when I practice and I don't have access to the recorded class.

I think the first signs of progress was when I could identify dhIrga/long swaras or swaras the musician hovered on (just like what bilahari said) - whether that is during the song or during the alapana. Here I usually rely (or confirm) on the swarasthanas I became familiarized when I was learning. I think you have to know them very well to do this well (which is where learning helps).

I also find that kalpana swaras in slow speed (i.e not mEl kAlam) are very useful to get to know the nature of swaras and their associated movements in a raga. You then are able to see the swara breakdown for "familiar patterns" of the raga. You then apply that to the song to see where they figure . You can get fair success with this.

But breaking down subtle swara combinations (i.e. the nELivu suLivugaL) as in alapanas and krithis is mighty tough I am also finding out that since swaras are not flat notes since they frequently have an associated pitch movement with them, in some cases one could label the "pitch movement" differently and still be valid. A crude example: you could say it is a N3 which has "sa" as anuswara or in some cases you say it is really "s n". I think it doesnt matter as long you associate the right pitch movement (and that swara does have that pitch movement for that raga). IMHO, for too many subtle combinations, labelling a swara for every turn makes it harder to then picture/regroup them easily. Fewer swaras but more gamakas/pitch-movements associated with them seems better. But I confess that this is just my wild guess.

I think based on your level of interest for these things, the best and perhaps easiest way would be to start learning :). It is never too late. I started only a few years back well into my thirties and it was one of the best decisions of my life. I think you will find it constantly satisfying, intriguing and challenging. A little patience at the start may be needed i.e. during varisais and alankarams, and even geethams.

Arun
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Suji Ram
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#7

Post by Suji Ram » 12 Sep 2007, 02:56

In my case I have gotten better at vocal after learning a piece in violin.
Since picking up the violin I have become very conscious of how I am singing, ie., if I am hitting the correct swarastana.
It used to be the opposite when I first started learning years ago. I guess I was a good parrot then..... :)

We can compile all the comment in this thread to CM for dummies I guess :)
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arasi
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#8

Post by arasi » 12 Sep 2007, 03:33

When a complicated sangati appeals to you a lot, trying to learn it by writing it down in swarAs may not work. Internalizing it over a period of time might. 'Listen, listen, listen' to good music is the answer. When it comes to kritis, old school pieces of solid singing are what one should include in the 'learning by listening' lessons. I once learnt an MD kriti from a teacher (the school goes unmentioned) just because he happened to be there and some elder suggested that. While I still remember some 'heavies' of what B. Rajam Iyer taught the older kids in the family when I happened to be in the fringe--the littlest, this experience is a reminder to me that it is not a good idea to learn from someone I consider a practitioner of 'flimsy' music and to this day, I am reluctant to sing that song.
This applies to learning by listening too (kELvi gnAnam).
I would think Akkarai sisters had well-chosen recordings to listen to and practise with, thanks to their father...
Last edited by arasi on 12 Sep 2007, 03:43, edited 1 time in total.
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shadjam
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#9

Post by shadjam » 12 Sep 2007, 05:05

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?
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bilahari
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#10

Post by bilahari » 12 Sep 2007, 06:58

VK,

As a rasika, I, too have been on the steep uphill climb to attain swara gnyanam! And it so happens that the quadrant splitting you describe is the method I've been using lately to try to identify phrases in alapanais. You hit the nail on the head when you say that narrowing a note down to the quadrant also narrows the region in which the swara phrases to follow can be found. This makes the job much easier. And VK, the swara group "GMP,MG...RG-S,RG...SR-S,RG" is one of the, perhaps, two phrases I can identify as well. But it's quite useful since these phrases are used in nearly any elaboration of Sh'bharanam and Kamboji!

Vijay, one of the main problems I encounter is definitely distinction between close swaras like D2N2 and R2G2, N3S, etc. However, when I play these phrases on my violin, I can make an immediate distinction. The more I learn, probably, I'll be better acquainted with the nuances of swaras. You and Arunk are right when you say that learning an instrument or vocal is the best means of acquiring swaragnyanam, layagnyanam, etc... You're not left floundering in an infinitely expansive body of water, looking for the shores! There is definite direction. I took up violin just as a means to learn all these things, but playing it well, somewhere along the way, became a priority, and now I'm hooked to it.

Arunk, I've often wondered about this complicating factor to swara identification: gamakam. It does seem to me that there may not be a singular right answer when reproducing phrases, since if gamaka is applied, the same sound can be produced via more than one route. An understanding of the raga being elaborated is probably pivotal for a violinist or an informed rasika to be able to decode phrases. We need an understanding of which notes are characteristically ornamented and flat in the raga, etc.

And one of the things that's really important, I've found, in following swaras, is the shruti the singer sings in. It is pivotal to know exactly where his "sa" is, before we can go any further! I've been tripped up by this sometimes.

At the end of the day, though, I really think Arasi is correct when she speaks of internalisation of the music. My violin teacher, when he's teaching me any composition, needs to think quite hard when translating it to swaras. Yet, when he accompanies, he can reproduce phrases exactly as the vocalist has sung, in lightning speed. The more you learn carnatic music, the deeper you explore the waters, things like swaras kind of lie shallow on the surface, and you really start identifying the "flow" of the ongoing music, the music as a whole rather than its various components, and I think this level of identification is where professional artistes must be. It is really what separates "boys from men," the "music-maker" from the "swara-maker," so to speak.
Last edited by bilahari on 12 Sep 2007, 07:06, edited 1 time in total.
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arasi
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#11

Post by arasi » 12 Sep 2007, 08:12

Bilahari,
As I am typing, by coincidence, NSG started singing bilahari!
I am listening to Introducing Ragas Through Pallavis by Neyveli Santhanagopalan. Seventy five short sketches--from the Sangeethapriya site. My spouse gave the recording to me a short while ago--may be after reading this thread! It is like taking short walks into the rAgA world--we are the true vidyaarthis, anyway...
Last edited by arasi on 12 Sep 2007, 08:47, edited 1 time in total.
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ignoramus
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#12

Post by ignoramus » 12 Sep 2007, 08:44

arasi, do u have the URL for the NSG sketches of pallavis you have mentioned above?
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vasanthakokilam
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#13

Post by vasanthakokilam » 12 Sep 2007, 09:20

arunk wrote
I also find that kalpana swaras in slow speed (i.e not mEl kAlam) are very useful to get to know the nature of swaras and their associated movements in a raga. You then are able to see the swara breakdown for "familiar patterns" of the raga. You then apply that to the song to see where they figure . You can get fair success with this.
Excellent suggestion Arun. I will give this a shot. After I read this suggestion, I listened to a Dhanyasi krithi and you may have something here!!

With respect to learning to get this gyanam, I learnt flute for 2+ years 25 years back. It was all swara based. Now I want to transcend the swaras. But I lack the skill/gyanam to reproduce a song without thinking of the notes. So, my end goal is really not to transcribe the melody to notes but to have the ability to connect with the melody directly so I can play it on the flute just by listening. Even if it is not very good, it is still a great feeling when I have accidentally managed to reproduce a line or two of a famous krithi that I never learnt.

So here is the dilemma or conundrum. For the song I know by swaras, I want to transcend the swaras and think the 'sahitya' and play. It is much more fun but I can not do it. It is quite amazing to me that others who know the words to the krithi, hear the words from the sounds I make but I can't hear them since I am so focussed on the swaras in my mind. One amusing little story is: Long time back, while relaxing after lunch at a wedding, one distant relative aunt asked me to play bhagyadha lakshmi baramma. Not that I know to play it well but I know the swaras by heart, so I played. The charanams are all the same swaras, so for me it is all the same. I stopped after 3 repetitions of the charanam. She said, why did you stop, next one is 'sankhye illAda bhAgyava koTTu' and sang a little bit to prod me along. I always played it only three times as taught and now this aunt is throwing a new challenge at me now. It is head-scratching time but quickly recovering, I went 'Ah, right right..' and I played the charanam in swara form again. She was quite happy 'see you know it' and gave me the words for the next charanam 'sakkare tuppada kAluve harisi' which I dutifully obliged again. Of course, I could have played 15 charanams :lol:

Getting back to the conundrum, on the other hand, I am quite lost with a song for which I do not know the swaras at all. I do not necessarily want to get into the same mode of transcribing them to swaras but without swaras I am lost.

May be both of these are two sides of the same gyanam which is what I want to acquire methodically over time.

Just to be sure, my interest is not formal learning for a public performance or giving concerts etc. The word 'Dabbling' may trivialize this but essentially that is what it is. But there is quite a bit of personal enjoyment, satisfaction, joy and fun to do this, so it is not for trivial purposes.

I am afraid it will be hard to find a teacher who will work with me on this basis, that is why I want to do this myself methodically, slowly, deliberately over time. As Suji said, vocally reproducing a simple alapana line is something I can do (to a limited degree of course) but I am not sure if that will help with my objective with the flute. I also know at some level that what Arasi wrote is what matters eventually ( internalization) and I am trying to follow a baby step methodology to train myself.
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bilahari
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#14

Post by bilahari » 12 Sep 2007, 09:50

I do notice that quite a few patterns used in an alapanai are composed in metered form in the kalpanaswaras! That would indeed be a good way to acquaint oneself with swara patterns...

Arasi, I'm surprised Bilahari isn't taken up for RTP that often. To me, it is a raga that can be well demonstrated by thanam. The only pallavi I've heard is a concise one by TMK.
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arasi
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#15

Post by arasi » 12 Sep 2007, 10:00

VK,
I have been a veteran 'dabbler' all my life. By the way, it is not a trivial thing. It is a true rasikA trait!
Yes, Arun has a point there. Even if it is a fast sangati and you can get the drift of it, sing it/play it in slow motion to know its content. That way, it would stick.
By sticking it would become part of you in due course. But the best part of it is, it keeps you happy.
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shadjam
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#16

Post by shadjam » 12 Sep 2007, 10:03

Bilahari,

There is also a sweet Bilahari RTP sung by Shri.T.R.Subramaniam in kanda tiriputa talam. I heard him sing in an AIR program.

Discussed here: http://rasikas.org/viewtopic.php?pid=44045
Last edited by shadjam on 12 Sep 2007, 10:06, edited 1 time in total.
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bilahari
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#17

Post by bilahari » 12 Sep 2007, 10:15

Thank you, Shadjam.
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Suji Ram
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#18

Post by Suji Ram » 12 Sep 2007, 10:33

VK,
Im sure with practice your fingers will automatically take you to sahitya playing. You will have to give up swara playing though. I can never play a kriti with swara in mind. May be a sangati or two-the swaras of which actually get fixed in my mind forever and I cannot switch them back to sahitya. I think I mentioned this in an earlier thread.
In my experience I feel the fingers do carry some kind of sound memory (i'm not sure how to explain). Something translates from mind to fingers. They just move to the next word in the sahitya automatically. I was recently trying to play akhilAnDESwari in Dwijawanti and I almost got it-I did not know the scale of this raga to begin with and I'm pleased with myself with the progress. Like you, I learn for personal satisfaction and the joy Yes ! when you get the few lines figured out is immense.

And your method of quadrant analysis is good. But there could be some confusion in pUrvAnga or uttaranga of 2 ragas which share either of these.
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ninjathegreat
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#19

Post by ninjathegreat » 12 Sep 2007, 11:40

ah! bilahari - MDR's dorakuna, accompanied by MSG, has a short, mesmerizing alapanai.... there is also one by Nedunuri, in which I think Lalgudi's section of the aalaapanai is amazing... brings tears to your eyes... (It's a long, more than an hour rendition...) [iff the moderators agree, I can post JUST the alapanai]
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bilahari
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#20

Post by bilahari » 12 Sep 2007, 15:47

Ninja, I'd LOVE that alaapanai (but sendspace and rapidshare don't agree with my connection)... if you could upload it. MDR's Bilahari is one of my favourites. From how frequently he sang it, I guess he must've like it too.
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vijay
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#21

Post by vijay » 12 Sep 2007, 16:04

Suji Ram very interesting!
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arunk
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#22

Post by arunk » 12 Sep 2007, 20:04

vk,

:) about that bhAgyada lakshmi anecdote.

I do share some of your conundrum. For songs I know the swaras, I am able to transcend to words - albeit not all the time, and I am sure my teacher would say not cleanly ;).

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.

When I refer to swaras, it is when I am taking my own sweet time in practice. I take a step back from the whole line and look at the sangati/phrase just in isolation. I sing the swaras (or listen to the class recording) - and then words - enough times so that the sahitya with the music gets registered in my mind (but at my age, it doesnt stick well for long - but that is a different problem ;)). I also have a good reference point of how to transcend in such cases because my teacher showed it in class. But as I mention my problem is that I get confused between sangatis, create hybrids of 1st and 2nd unconsciously, "approximate" pmgrsn` to pmgrs- (e.g.). In other words over time (say a week of practice), I may have drifted a sangati away from what my teacher taught. It will still be in the raga, and so I would not realize it wrong - until I sing it in front of my teacher. So during my practice time, i sometimes double-check against the swara-breakdown and class recording to make sure I am still good.

The trouble then is when I look at books for ragas I am reasonably familiar with. I cannot transcend the swaras to the krithis that much. Even the other day, I was looking at a dIkhitar krithi in kIrthanamAlai book - i could not make head of tail. There were "too many swaras" per word and I could not tell how to translate them to Akaram or words of the song (but if I show it to my teacher - she can do it just like that).

Arun
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arunk
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#23

Post by arunk » 12 Sep 2007, 20:09

BTW, I also think a very good start could be to listen to varnams sung in slow speed (e.g. Bombay Sisters' album) and compare it against a book. Although there would be variations, there should be a reasonable match and you may even get some of the variations. Once you get a good handle - then tackle a krithi in the same raga and see how well you do with swaras.

But I also want to point out, that it is quite clear from a lot of evidence that you really need not know the swara breakdown for effective CM
1. You dont need it to identify and appreciate ragas. We all did that. We can tell between nAyaki/durbAr and mAnji/bhairavi without spelling them out.
2. Sing/Play the raga very well - bilahari's example about his teacher needing to pause to breakdown swaras but can innately play more complicated stuff is a good example. There are many teachers who do not teach swara breakdown - and their pupils do very well. They simply register how a sangati should sound like, and can internalize it (i.e. not simply memorize), identify with the bhAvam and deliver it to their satisfaction. They may know the general gist of the swaras but not all of them may know all the subtleties - and it is no hindrance.
3. I also think you do not necessarily need the breakdown in every case to even show differences in raga. I will not be surprised if there are people who can clearly show you the different phrases of allied ragas, but not necessarily breakdown each swaras in that phrase.

Also breakdown of swaras can be misleading. The representation of swaras as notated are still only guidelines as they do not reveal the anuswaras, gamakas. There are of course books that include gamaka indicators, but still there is no single, standard that all of us are used to (i.e. there is no unambiguous "language" for it yet that we are all familiar with).

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
Last edited by arunk on 12 Sep 2007, 20:10, edited 1 time in total.
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vijay
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#24

Post by vijay » 12 Sep 2007, 20:42

Arun, swara ganam may not be required for appreciation but a competent performer certainily needs a reasonable degree of swara gnanam (of course what is reasonable is subjective and there are nuances like anuswarams that can present difficulties). Singing without knowledge of swarams is just rote music (although it can be pleasing) - classical music demands a more intellectual approach (of which you are an example yourself!). All artistes should aspire to the highest level of sruthi sense like, say, an SRJ...of course that is unfortunately not the case - I suspect many artistes get away with a rudimentary understanding of swaras....

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!
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arunk
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#25

Post by arunk » 12 Sep 2007, 21:01

vijay,

First - I was not talking about professionals - only amateurs and dabblers.

Perhaps you misunderstand my point. I was saying you do NOT need to do the breakdown of EVERY swara in an alapana. Nor do you need to break it down on demand otherwise you are useless and "singing rote". That is a premature and a damning conclusion and IMO quite misguided (and if I may say - a bit "high-horsed").

There are people who have a very good idea of the contours, bhava of a raga without knowing every nook and corner to great detail. Not knowing that is not an impediment nor need we take that to be some sort of a handicap. If you ask them "how does AbhEri go?" and they can do it unrehearsed without knowing swaras - then that is proof positive to me :).

Now does that mean they can do anything and everything? No. But why should we judge them? But also why must CM be intellectual when almost all the krithis are emotional ? Tangent alert! Let's avoid that - But I only mention this because I am not a big fan of the idea that some people have that unless you have swara-gnyAnam you dont have real gnyAnam. To me, it is just just an opinion, and comes off jaded the way it is usually delivered. Like I said, I see enough evidence to the contrary (This in spite of me wanting swara gnyAnam ;) )

Arun
Last edited by arunk on 12 Sep 2007, 21:02, edited 1 time in total.
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