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Chapter 06: Sargam: The Indian Solfege
According to the Srimad Bhagavatam, Lord Brahma, by the order of Lord Krsna, created the material planet. He also created the first sound wave. The sound wave is the mantra “om.” Om is the single syllable that is used to address to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Meditation and recitations took place with three swars or notes. This ancient tritonal system expanded by Brahma’s creation to seven notes which replicate the seven sounds of the nature. The seven sounds of nature are sadaja, rsabha, gandhara, madhyama, pancama, dhaivata and nisada. These notes are commonly called sa, r, ga, ma, pa, dha and ni. “Sadaja” or “sa” is the most important note because from sa, the other notes can be formed. In fact, sadaja is the Sanskrit word for “origin of the six.” The six notes describe the distance from the main sa.
These notes are indeed defined by nature. Sa describes the sound of the peacock, r describes the sound of a bull. The goats sound is described by ga, and the dove is shown by ma. Pa has the sound of a cuckoo. Dha has the sound of the horse and ni has the sound of the elephant.
Music has always used these seven swars. These seven swars are called the saptak or seven notes. It is also called a sargam. The sargam or saptak has been used by voice, but also in string instruments, and wind instruments. Recall from the previous chapter how we dealt with fundamental unit that repeats throughout the harmonium. That fundamental unit consists of seven keys that are white. These seven white keys represent the sargam in order. Keep in mind that the harmonium was designed to keep the natural notes on white keys. This is the reason why the white keys are called “natural keys.” Look at figure 6.1. This shows the natural keys in order.
Play these keys to the upward direction. Remember that after ni, a new saptak starts with sa. Then play in the downward direction to sa. Listen carefully between both notes.
Did you notice that between some notes, there are some hidden tones. Technically, between every two consecutive notes, there are infinite numbers of semitones. However, within the sargam, there are five semitones between the natural notes that are very distinct. These notes are between sa and re, re and ga, ma and pa, pa and dha, and dha and ni. The note between sa and re is called komal re. The note between re and ga is known as komal ga. The note between pa and dha is called komal dha, and the the note between dha and ni is called komal ni. The note between ma and pa, however, is called tivra ma. Komal means “flat” and tivra means “sharp.” The reason why ma is allowed to be sharpened is a very complicated reason which can be found in a details classical musical book.
These five altered notes are known as vikrta swars. These five vikrta swars are represented by the black keys. The seven white natural notes are known as suddha swars. The notes are in the following order:
Sa, komal re, re, komal ga, ga, ma, tivra ma, pa, komal dha, dha, komal ni, ni.
A faster way to write these notes is very simple. All suddha notes except ma are capitalized. For example, suddha ga is written with a capital G. In the case of suddha ma, that is written as an undercase m. Tivra ma is written with a capital M. Sa and pa are always capitalized.
The entire sargam is written as the following:
S r R g G m M P d D n N Play this in ascending and descending order. Look at Figure 6.2 to help you out.
This is assumed to be in the madhya-saptak. If we were to expand to the tar-saptak, we use an apostrophe after the note. Similarly, the mandra-saptak notes have an apostrophe before the note.
Here is a keyboarded diagram of all we have learned so far in this guide. This is containing the suddha swars, vikrta swars, the repeating keyboard sequence, the three ranges of saptaks and how to write the swars.
Let’s look at an example sargam.
Ascending: S r M P N S’ r’ S’
Descending: r’ N d P M P d M P r G r S ‘N S
This raga will be taught later on. However, do play this on the harmonium. Look at the keys on Figure 6.3 to help you. A very useful hint to play these notes is not to play the keys with the index fingers alone. Use the index, thumb, and middle fingers to help you play. Do get familiar on how to play the natural notes without looking. Try these exercises.
S R S
S R G R S
S R G m G R S
S R G m P m G R S
S R G m P D P m G R S
‘N S R G m P D P m G R ‘N S
‘N ‘D ‘ P ‘D ‘P ‘M ‘P
‘P ‘N S G R G S
Practice these exercises very frequently to get used to know the locations of the sargam. Remember to use the diagram of Figure 6.3!
Even though we learned notes, the notes without a proper link or order are without meaning. The next two chapters will deal with very important concepts of developing melodies.
Before moving onto the next chapter, I suggest you cut copy the keyboard on Figure 6.3 and cut the swars out. Take these little squares and place them on the appropriate keys on your harmonium’s keyboards. Think of these as training wheels. Once you practice enough and get the hang of it, you can take these off, as you will already know where notes are located.
UPDATED: June 18, 2009