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Chapter 18: Murchana and Accompaniment

 

From the world of practice in the last five chapters, a nice break is needed in order to discuss more accompaniment theory. Everything discussed up to this point existed only in the perfect world. The sargam was studied using the following keyboard which was originally shown on Figure 6.3.

 

Figure 18.1

 

The actual keys have specific pitches. Pitch is a qualitative measure of how high or low it sounds. Quantitatively, pitch is a description of frequency which is measured in Hertz. In Western music, the pitches are represented by letters of the alphabet, from A to G.

 

The keyboard shown below corresponds to the actual pitches. This is true for most keyboarded instruments like piano and accordion.

Figure 18.2

 

The pitches or frequencies of all of the other notes are based on the fact that sound frequency of A equals to 440.0 Hertz. This is the Western system of tones. Maybe Indian musicians, unfortunately, equate C, D, E, F, G, A, and B as the Western version of S, R, G, m, P, D, and N respectively. This is not the case at all. If you want to compare S, R, G, etc. notation to Western music, Figure 18.3 is the correct comparison basis.

 

Figure 18.3

Do, re, mi, fa, so, la, and ti are the Western equivalents of the sa, re, ga and ma system. Both do re mi and sa re ga are examples of solfeges.

 

INTRODUCTION TO CHANGING KEYS

 

Notice on Figure 18.1 and 18.3 that the S and the middle do keys respectively correspond to the middle C key on Figure 18.2. Seeing this equivalence, lets make a table and see how the other notes fit in.

 

WESTERN TONE

WESTERN SARGAM

INDIAN SARGAM

C

Do

S

D

Re

R

E

Mi

G

F

Fa

m

G

So

P

A

La

D

B

Ti

N

Figure 18.4

 

This is true when your Sa = C. When you will be accompanying another singer, they might not always be singing using the Sa being equal to C. Just as people are different, so are their natural ranges and singing pitches. Someone could have their Sa being equal to the pitch of D. What will happen then? Figure 18.1 will have absolutely no use to you at all. What will you do?

 

There are twelve keys amongst scales. It would be difficult to write out every single raga with each of the twelve key changes. The simplest way to convert between keys is by understanding the concept of the whole step and half step. If you dont remember from Chapter 5, half step is the distance from a key and its next consecutive key. The whole step is the distance from a key and two keys after it. Using the suddha scale, we will examine the step differences.


Examining Differences Between Suddha Swars

NOTES

DISTANCE

S to R

Whole-Step

R to G

Whole-Step

G to m

Half-Step

m to P

Whole-Step

P to D

Whole-Step

D to N

Whole-Step

N to S

Half-Step

Figure 18.5

 

Notice from the G to m and N to S change, there was a half-step difference. Remember this and we will use this application to do our shift in Sa.

 

Before we move on, let us examine the Western system of tones. We only looked at the white keys. The black keys, which correspond to vikrta swars in Indian music, have special names. The nomenclature is a bit difficult, but # after a note, means a sharp, while a b after a note means its flat. Unlike Indian music where each vikrta swar has its own name, each vikrta swar in Western music has two names: a sharp name (#) and a flat name (b).

 

Figure 18.6

 

Given this keyboard on Figure 18.6, lets begin converting our suddha scale into D. Use the keyboard to help you out.

INDIAN SWAR

WESTERN TONE

DISTANCE TO NEXT NOTE

S

D

Whole-Step

R

E

Whole-Step

G

F#

Half-Step

m

G

Whole-Step

P

A

Whole-Step

D

B

Whole-Step

N

C#

Half-Step

Figure 18.7

Notice from the transition from Re to Ga. The distance defined was a whole-step, but the key change from E to F# demonstrated our point from Chapter 5. Two notes from E gave F#, thus E to F# is a whole step, despite the change in colors.

 

Play these keys on the harmonium. Notice how it sounds like the Bilawal Thāt just at a higher pitch. Pick other keys and try to play the Bilawal Thāt. Once you get confident, here is a difficult one to try:

 

Derive the scale of Bhairavi Thāt in the key of E:

 

Remember the Bhairavi Thāt from Chapter 7:

 

S r g m P d n S

 

If you need help identifying distances between each note, refer to Figures 18.1 and 18.6 to help you out. Make a table if you need it. Here is one created for you.

 

INDIAN SWAR

WESTERN TONE

DISTANCE TO NEXT NOTE

S

E

Half-Step

r

F

Whole-Step

g

G

Whole-Step

m

A

Whole-Step

P

B

Half-Step

d

C

Whole-Step

n

D

Whole-Step

Figure 18.8

 

Look at the Western notes. They are all white keys. Using E as a start and playing white keys consecutively up to the high E, you get the Bhairavi Thāt! It is much easier to play that with white keys than it is to play with a mix of black and white keys. For harmoniums with scale changers, people will tend to transpose the positioning of Sa to the E key for the Bhairavi thāt based song. However, as shown in Chapter 1, scale changers tend to break more than non-scale changing ones. That risk is put on the buyer and the buyer, alone.

 

MURCHANA AND SUDHA RAGAS

 

When Indian musical theorists studied scales, experimentation of changing the Sa with respect to any of the other six notes of the sargam have been done before. The movement of the Sa upon any of the notes is known as the murchana. If one takes the Bilawal Thāt of all suddha notes, one can clearly see how six other scales are hidden. Pay attention to the table shown on Figure 18.9.


 

TRANSPOSE

SCALE TRANSPOSED

NAME OF NEW SCALE

S

S R G m P D N S

Bilawal

S moves to R

S R g m P D n S

Kafi

S moves to G

S r g m P d n S

Bhairavi

S moves to m

S R G M P D N S

Kalyana

S moves to P

S R G m P D n S

Khamaja

S moves to D

S R g m P d n S

Asavari

S moves to N

S r g m M d n S

Non-existant

Figure 18.9

 

Notice how we moved the Sa upon each of the other six notes of the sargam. By doing that, we created six other musical scales which introduced vikrta swars. The way these were introduced is through the exact same process we did when we found the Bhairavi Thāt for Sa being equal to E. In that, we noticed it is all white keys. This should now be no surprise that we expect the white key scale of E (given that Sa = C) will have the Bhairavi Thāt. This is not only true for Bhairavi Thāt. There are others which are white key scales. In fact, there are seven; given that Sa equals each of the seven white keys.

 

White Key Scales

WESTERN TONE

THAT

Sa = C

Bilawal

Sa = D

Kafi

Sa = E

Bhairavi

Sa = F

Kalyana

Sa = G

Khamaja

Sa = A

Asavari

Sa = B

Non-Existent

Figure 18.10

 

Of these white key scales, six of the seven are actually valid in Indian music. The last murchana (Sa moves to Ni or the corresponding Sa = B) has a chromatic form on suddha ma and Tivra Ma. This is not allowed in Indian music. Since it breaks the rules of the ragas, it is not counted.

 

This chapter was indeed incredibly theoretical. However, this chapter is what distinguishes a good harmonium player into a better harmonium player. You cannot always expect a singer to sing in the key of C all the time. There will be cases where you will get another white note as your Sa and have a raga that will also require black keys in the process. When accompanying, here are some simple steps, as you probably wont be able to whip out pen and paper to calculate what your keys are going to be.

 

 

1) Identify the raga or thāt

If you can identify what is being sung, then you are a quarter way there. Knowing what is being played will help you map out your half-steps, whole-steps, as well as the actual keys which will be played after you find the Sa.

 

2) Identify the Sa

Once you know what is being played, then find the Sa. If you are performing in public, then you should collaborate with the main musician and see what key everything is being played in. If you have a scale-changing harmonium, change your scale to that key. If you dont, then find that corresponding key on the harmonium in advance and keep that as your focal point. If your Sa will be changing from song to song, then keep that in mind as well. Dont worry, as this is Indian music; traditionally classical Indian music does not believe in changing Sa in the middle of a particular song. If the song started in Sa being equal to F, then the song will end in Sa being equal to F. Of course, raga change and grace-notes may be used here and there but remember to keep your Sa focused.

 

If you are playing for a crowd with no advanced planning, then while the singer is singing, softly pump some air in the harmonium and test some likely notes. Whichever sounds the most compatible is most likely the Sa. Once you feel confident that the note is your Sa, play Sa to confirm that your choice is correct.

 

3) Map out the rest of the notes slowly

This requires some thought as you will have to meditate on the raga being performed and the keys which will correspond to it. Remember to think of half-steps and whole-steps to decipher where your notes will fall. For example, Raga Malkauns has a five swar set of S, g, m, d, and n. The distance from S to g is three-half steps. The distance from S to ma is five half-steps. Keep thinking like this, but do so quickly, because it would be pretty embarrassing to have the song be over by the time you finally get the gist of the melody on the new Sa.

 

UPDATED: June 18, 2009