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Appendix S4: The Ornaments of Indian Music


Indian music is not dull. Few notes arranged in fancy ways do not make music. Ragas are personalities, not just mere melodies. These notes have descended from the spiritual skies into a form of sound. Even though there are twelve notes, seven suddha and five vikrta, there are more to them than that. This chapter will describe the elements an ornamentation of music.




A mind (pronounced as meend) is the connection of two notes without a breaking. This is different from a legato in Western music, because a legato considers when the two notes are playing without consideration to microtones. A microtone is a subtle note between a half-step. There are an infinite number of microtones between a half-step.


The mind covers all of the microtones from the starting note to the finishing note. In Raga Bhairava, there is a mind from Shuddha Ni to komal dha. The mind would slide from Shuddha Ni down to komal dha, hitting every single microtone from Shuddha Ni to komal dha. Every microtone is hit, yet it is not noticeable. This is the actual trick about the mind. From Shuddha Ni to komal dha, the range of komal ni and Shuddha Dha will pass through, yet it should not be distinctly heard. This method is used in Western music instruments like the violin. The closest equivalent of the mind is called a glissando.




An andolan is a simple shaking of a note. Its like a vibrato but in slow motion. A vibrato is oscillation around the note few microtones above and beneath the note. The andolan will do the same action, except in a very slow speed, such that itll sound like a shake. Raga Darbari, which was studied in Chapter 12, has andolans on komal ga and komal dha. We didnt discuss andolans much in that chapter, as it was not the primary focus. In actuality, komal ga and komal dha are flatter than usual, in addition to both notes bearing required andolans.




The kana is when notes are jerked really quickly giving hints of notes yet to come. It can be thought of as a fast andolan, but not as smooth and much sharper.




A special type of mind where between two notes, the flow will hit other distinct notes. It can go in a zig-zag form. For instance, from Shuddha Ga to shuddha dha to shuddha pa, a good murki would probably from G to m to P to d to P. This happens without breaking the flow.




It is a mix between kana and murki. A kana has the jerky feeling which the murki element includes the use of many other notes attached to it.




The gamak is when a note is being heavily shakened in such a way that it will either go higher than or below the desired note. This is commonly heard as a description of Indian music, where singers are heard going aa really quickly.




The harmonium is not the most perfect instrument in Indian music. While it is true that it can produce more melodies than some folk instruments, there are many mishaps that forces harmonium to be, in effect, a poor choice for Indian music.


These are the most common ornaments in Indian music. It is these ornaments that enliven and sweeten up the taste in Indian music. The harmonium, being a fixed keyboarded instrument, will have inevitably have problems. For minds, it does not have a mechanism to travel between microtones. Even if you divided the keyboard into more keys to account for microtones, some error will be there. Andolans will be just as difficult to do, because andolans require ever-so lightly shaking a note. Shaking notes between few microtones requires more keys. Even if keys were divided further, the smooth flow will not be there. Murkis will be a sad task if done on harmoniums, as it wont do sweet minds.


Kanas are easily reproduced on harmonium. For instance, if you were playing Raga Hindol, which has a swar set of S, G, M, D, and N, and you wanted to play G, your best bet is to play G with M and G back again really quickly. Its a jerky sound, but it hints pending notes coming up in an upward direction. For G, you cannot do G to S to G.


Lastly, gamaks cannot really be reproduced at all as it very shaking and jerking notes to the point that they may even sound like different notes. Harmonium can never even think to attempt that.




Last biggest mistake of the harmonium is that it cannot reproduce most of the notes of the sargam correctly. The only note it can ever produce correctly is Sa, because the frequency or the tone of Sa can change, as we found out in Chapter 13. The following notes will depend on the tone of the Sa. As a recurring theme throughout most of the guide, Indian musicians never learned by textbooks or note-taking. Instead, they learned by ear. Because of this, they were able to sing all of the notes of the sargam accurately. This is also true for instrumentalists. When sitar players tune, except for choosing a good Sa, they dont use any type of auto tuners. They tune by ear. Thus, their intonation factors, due to their training, will be in such a way that it will attract audiences. Indian musicians, theoretically, use the harmonically tempered scale, also known as purely tempered scale.


Traditionally, all of the music around the world was harmonically tempered. In early 1800s, an American musician took this to another level and tried to measure frequency differences amongst all of the notes, and redefined the scale. The scale now looks at the frequency distance between Sa and Sa and divide them into twelve sections. Thus, each half-step has an equal distance. Hence, this scale is known as equally tempered scale, or artificially tempered scale. Today, Western music, or world music which fuses with Western music, uses the equally tempered scale. Because of the artificial feel of the equally tempered scale, the use of chords, or simultaneous usage of three or more notes at a time, becomes heavily used. Indian music has enough strength in the melody using the harmonic scale that it does not need chords.


The harmonium is a Western instrument, by origin. Therefore, it will have that equally tempered scale. This is one of the biggest reasons why harmonium remains as it is today: an accompanying instrument. Here is a table to show the inaccuracies of the harmonium further.


Indian Note

Western Note using Sa = C

Accumulating Value (Indian)

Difference in cents

Indian Western

















































Figure S4.1


The last column measures the difference between the all the notes from the Indian Sa and the Western C, if Sa equals C. The unit of measure is cents. A cent describes the microtonal position between one half step. There are 25 cents per half step. Notice how Db is ten cents flatter than komal re. To the trained ear, this is something to consider. The biggest change is with notes like ga and komal ni, where there is a huge difference in intonation. Only two notes closest to each other are ma and Pa. This only make it sound like a good sruti-peti.


There have been attempts to convert this to the pure scale. Harmoniums which have become tuned to pure scales are known as samvadinis. The problem is that the harmonium becomes Sa-specific. If the harmonium was to be pure on the key of C, only songs can be played on the key of C. You cannot change its aspects. If you were really insistent on changing the tuning, you would have to disassemble the harmonium and retune each and every reed and that becomes a nightmare for the musicians. Sitar players would be able to tune faster than a harmonium player!


So why are we using harmonium if this is such an inaccurate instrument? Even more, we are we spending so much time studying harmonium when it is not accurate? The real answer will be found in the next chapter. The general answer is that the harmonium is divided into keys. Looking at the key of C as having all of the white keys being the suddha swars and the black keys being vikrta swars made the understanding process much easier. You have to admit, trying to map out the notes without an aid like a keyboard would have become a difficult task and we might have spent more chapters on that. Almost all great contemporary musicians have touched a harmonium and played it at least once in their life. A good number of them have learned harmonium and tabla before hitting it big to whichever form of music they went into. Harmonium and the tabla are the most elementary instruments which should be studied in order to succeed in whichever field of music one wishes to go through.

UPDATED: June 18, 2009