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Chapter 15: The Concept of Lay


This chapter begins a unit full of more theoretical knowledge. The previous unit, with the exception of Chapter 6 and its tala science introduction, was more straightforward. You simply were given facts and very little knowledge of how to improvise on it. Now, we use these talas as application to some more scientific knowledge on talas.




Some singers are very adaptable at singing at various speeds. The human voice is perhaps the most difficult to sing with, but very easy to control. Instrumentalists could go at fast speeds although they will have to pay special attention on how the notes are produced and how fast will they be produced. Both the singer and the instrumentalist have something in common; they both rely on the speed of their performance.


The proper definition of the speed in music is called the tempo. In Indian music, it is called the lay. The lay is nothing more than how fast or slow the speed of the music is. Tempo or lay could be scientifically measured by determing how many beats has been completed in one minute. Remember from previous chapter, beat do not mean bols! Divide the number of beats by the number of minutes (or seconds) it took to play two cycles. This will be more accurate than simply doing one cycle. By considering only one cycle, there will be a natural error occurs when finishing the cycle. The more cycles done verses measured time, there will be less chances of natural error.


The “average” normal, medium paced speed will be 120 beats per minute. Western musicians, especially those using keyboards, will have to agree on a certain number for the tempo. Indian music, on the other hand, is more relative. It will not go by a number “120” or anything like that. Rather, it will go by the category of the lay.


There are three big categories of lay. The first one is the slow tempo lay which will be anywhere from 30 to 60 beats per minute. This lay is called the vilambit lay. This comes from the Hindi word vilamba which means “delay.” The more medium tempo is defined as madhya lay. This could be anywhere from 100 to 150 beats per minute. The fast tempo lay is called drut lay. The drut lay can be from 190 to 230 beats per minute. When discussing tempos, almost always will there be extremes possible. For instance, a tala slower than 30 beats per minute is known as ati vilambit lay. “Ati” in Hindi means “even more” or “very.” Usually the slowest ati vilambit lay would be 10 beats per minute. Anything slower than that would be considered ati ati vilambit lay. For all practical purposes, ati ati vilambit lay is so slow that it is not really discussed or even played in great detail.


Likewise, drut lay can be even faster than 230 beats per minute. The range beyond to 230 to probably 290 is considered ati drut lay. A rapid speed beyond that would be considered to be ati ati drut lay. It would be very difficult to play at that speed; therefore, we will not discuss ati ati drut lay.


Figure 15.1


Pay attention to the model shown on Figure 15.1. This is very similar to the diagram shown in Chapter 6, when we were discussing the cyclic property of talas. This diagram uses the tintal cycle, as well. However, notice we are not focusing on one circle. There are five concentric circles. Also, on the outside, the numbers in the inside circle is the tali/khali notation, while the outer numbers represent the matra number.


Let us imagine the at the sam line (X line), we have five runners who will run around their own track. For instance the runner in the violet will run in the violet circle. Once the race begins, it will be obvious that the red runner, who is closer to the center of the circle, will complete the circle first. Inversely, the runner who is running on the violet, or the farthest away from the center of the circle, will have the longest time to complete one round of the circle.


This diagram will allow us to understand one very important principle. The slower the tempo is, the longer it will take to complete one avartan, or cycle. Similarly, the faster the tempo is, the time needed to complete one avartan will be much quicker.


Keep this concept in mind. Understand the diagram comparing the lay. This will be used in classical compositions. Vocabulary in this chapter will be used repeatedly in this unit. Know them very well.

UPDATED: June 20, 2009