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Chapter 11: Reading Indian Music

 

We have discussed a basis of melody in Chapter 7 through the That. We recently learned about the basis of rhythm in Chapter 10. This chapter will attempt to unite these two elements together.

 

Traditionally, Indian music was always taught orally by master to student. The student had their instrument with them the whole time practicing whatever material the teacher has taught them. There was no concept of a notebook or taking notes or reading any textbook or guide. Of course, this gurukula system is starting to be phased out and replaced with traditional school or tutor like classes for these instruments in India. To aid in the education process, notation was created. There are many forms of notation, but the one presented here is the Bhatkhande notation. Figure 11.1 shows an example.

X

 

 

 

0

 

 

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

S

R

G

m

P

D

N

ha

re

kr

sna

ha

re

kr

sna

 

Figure 11.1

 

There are four important lines shown here. The first line with red numbers represents the tala signs. These signs were described in the previous chapter. The sam is marked with the X, the subsequent accents, or talis, are denoted by their number in order, and the khali, the deaccented mark, is represented by a 0, as shown on matra 5 above.

 

The second line is the matra numbers. They describe only the positions within the cycle described. The third line is the line with melody using the sargam. These are the notes that you actually play on the harmonium or any melodic instrument for that matter. Finally, the last line assumes that you are singing a song and gives the words to the song. This song is jaya radhe jaya krsna. Notice in matra 4, two interesting things happen. The matra is divided into two sections. This is because two different attacks of notes will take place evenly. You can view each section as 4A and 4B. The lyric shows the changes in notes from the word “radhe.” Its first syllable started on matra 2 and the second syllable started on matra 3. However, the second syllable went into matra 4 with some note changes. The “e” lyrics imply that you hold that vowel until the start of matra 5.

 

Given that you have not any real experience at playing harmonium or any musical instrument, it will be quite likely that keeping time will become difficult. The best bet is to read the sargam and then play it while singing the lyrics shown in equal time. Go really slow if you have to. There is no rush; slowly you will develop speed in singing while playing the respective notes.

 

In doing that, to avoid having your harmonium sound bland, keep the tala signs in mind. The example shown in Figure 11.1 was pretty easy, but keep in mind that matra 1 is the sam. The sam is always accented, as the sam is the first beat in a cycle. Also, in this particular cycle, matra 5 received a khali, denoted by a red 0 above it. A khali is deaccented; do not accent this matra. Let’s look at another example in a seven matra tala known as rupak tala.

X(0)

 

 

2

 

3

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

G

G

P

R

R

‘n

‘n

ki

i

r

tan

 

ka

ra

X(0)

 

 

2

 

3

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

S

G

m

G

R

R

S

S

ke

e

e

ti

ha

a

ra

a

X(0)

 

 

2

 

3

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

P

P

P

N

N

N

n

D

P

man

 

yeh

pa

a

van

 

X(0)

 

 

2

 

3

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

n

D

m

P

D

m

P

m

R

S

ho

o

ga

ya

a

a

a

 

 Figure 11.2

 

The lyrics are from a Hindi bhajan used in a Golden Avatar tape released in 1981 called “Prabhupada Krpa.” The lyrics read “kirtan karke tihara man yeh pavan ho gaya.” Read this out loud and try to play this piece note by note. Notice in line 2, matra 3, we start introducing half-beats.

 

Pay attention to the lyrics line. Matra 5 on line 1 has an “S” for a lyric. The “S” in the lyrics line indicates silence. Silence implies that no word is uttered from the mouth, although the harmonium will play something. In this case, matra 5 is playing Re on the keyboard, but nothing will be sung at that matra.

 

Study these two mini-songs. We will learn more songs throughout the guide, but be sure you know how to read music in this form. This will help us throughout, when we learn new songs and new ragas with new talas.

UPDATED: June 18, 2009