Music Of India The Hindustani and Karnatic Musical Traditions
Indian Classical Music The music of India can be divided into two unique traditions, the Karnatic (folk) and the Hindustani Vedic (religious). The Hindustani tradition which dominates the northern half of the Indian subcontinent largely developed in the courts of the major centers for Indian music such as Delhi, Lucknow, Benares, Calcutta, Varanasi and Farrukhabad. This tradition has been heavily influenced by Aryan peoples from the middle east and neighboring countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Indian Classical Music (cont.) The Karnatic tradition with its main musical center located in Chennai (previously named Madras) can be found in the southern part of the country. It is considered by many to be a more pure form of Indian music with less influence from the migrating peoples the north, however it has integrated many European musical concepts and instruments into its practice largely due to the British occupation of India for over 100 years.
Musical Elements These two distinct traditions do however share some similarities when comparing basic musical elements: Medium Both traditions commonly use small ensembles consisting of one or two melodic instruments and one or two percussion instruments.
Rhythm Both traditions share one of the most complex rhythmic systems in the world. The Indian word for rhythm is TALA. Melody Compositions are based on 72 types of scales, many of them similar. The Indian word for scale/melody is RAGA. The literal translation of the word Raga is "that which colors the mind." The raga is much more than a scale;it is both a technical collection of notes and can depict aesthetic qualities such as emotions, colors, deities, seasons, time of day, festival events, and can also convey magical properties.
Harmony Chord structure in the Western sense does not exist. The drone sound (audio) supplied by the string instrument called the tambura or the electronic equivalent called a sruti box provide background harmony. Texture The music is organized into 3 layers or functions: A. Melodic soloist/accompaniment B. Drum accompaniment C. Drone-static accompaniment
Selected Instruments & Their ClassificationsNorth/HindustaniPercussion - Rhythmic layer tabla - pair of drumsStrings - Melodic layer sitar (guitar-type) sarod (guitar-type)
Three Important Musical Elements: The Drone Since Indian music is modal music, based on the relations between a permanent fixed sound, the tonic, and successive notes, it is the independent relationship that each note has with the tonic that determines the meaning of the particular note. The tonic, therefore, needs to be repeated and constantly heard, as is done in a vocal or instrumental recital, where the tamboura provides the tonic note in the background. Thus, the sounding of a constant melodic pitch that provides the basis for the notes, the melody and the melodic improvisations, is important in Indian music. It provides for tonality by providing a basis for comparison and contrast for the different notes in the piece. Although the ear unconsciously analyzes the notes being sung or played into its constituent partials, even without accompaniment, it is the sustained accompaniment by the tonic that makes this analysis a conscious exercise and allows the singer to check the voice to avoid dissonance.
Raga Raga refers to a “scale” or collection of notes and is the discernable melodic form underlying all classical Indian music. These raga , which are based on the ancient Vedas ( religious chants), are highly ornamented by intricate glissandi or slides called Gamaka. This practice of sliding between notes in a Raga is what gives Indian music its unique sound. Many musicologists have described Indian music as being “micro tonal.” In fact, these scales that both Hindustani and Karnatic Ragas use are comprised of smaller intervals (22 steps to an octave) when compared to the12 step octave of a western scale. Since each note is, in terms of frequency, either higher or lower than another, movement from one note to the other in any melody involves either ascent or descent. The movement which results when one ascends from one note to the next is known as aroha, while a descending motion is known as avaroha. While we can conceive of other types of melodic movement, the aroha and avaroha are of great importance as they provide the basis for the raga form.
Raga(cont.) Every raga, in fact, consists of a fixed and unchangeable set of notes, presented in the form of an ascending or descending scale. At the simplest level, this defines the raga as a melodic form and tells us that there are specific notes, also called “pillar tones” forming a particular raga and the basic shape of the raga is determined by their inter se arrangement within the ascending or descending order.
Raga (cont.) The term Raga is also however much more than a technical collection of notes. Its literal translation which means “that which colors the mind”implies that the raga itself has some metaphysical and non-musical attributes as well. It is the intent of these ragas to invoke certain feelings and emotions from the listener. These emotions can range from amorous love and happiness to great sadness and melancholy.
Raga (cont.) A raga can also describe a certain part of the day such as with a morning raga or an evening raga or be intended to be performed only during certain seasons of the year such as the spring or summer. There are devotional ragas as well which are used to praise various deities in the Hindu pantheon of gods such as Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.
Tala In the matter of musical time, India has contributed a most sophisticated and scientifically developed system of rhythms. Tala, a term which is used to describe the meter or time cycle which a composition uses, is the root or basis of every form of Indian music: vocal, instrumental and dance. Tala is an organized metric cycle composed of traditionally determined rhythmic units and is performed through a series of conventional hand gestures such as claps, finger counts and waves. Adi tala which is subdivided (4+2+2) may also be counted with these hand gestures. There are hundreds of talas covering a vast range of time cycles, and each tala has its own characteristic structure or divisions. The different structures of talas give rise not only to a variety of cycles but also influence the patterns in singing and drumming to a great extent. There is an elaborate and systematic theory of tala which details all the important principles of rhythm.
The rhythmic complexity and variety which dominates Indian music has been an intriguing area of research and performance practice for scholars and musicians from the West. Some devices which are commonly used in relationship to the tala are : rhythmic diminution (rhythmic figures which decrease systematically in size through repetition), rhythmic augmentation (rhythmic figures which increase systematically in size through repetition), and tripartite repetitions. These repetitions which occur three-fold in succession usually end a section of music or melodic phrase and are called tihai and are common to both the Hindustani and Karnatic musical traditions. For both the performers and audience alike it is the relationship between these ever-changing rhythmic devices and the static time cycle that provide metric interest in a composition. Through manipulation of rhythmic groupings performers create a sense of tension and release much like the effect that consonant and dissonant intervals achieve in Western style harmony.
Another important device of the tala system is Solakattu. Solakattu is the practice of reciting syllables called “jati” which correspond with various drum strokes and are used as both a performance practice and a mnemonic device (special word to help a person remember something) for teaching rhythmic composition. During a performance these jatis may be recited to accompany dance movements, or act as percussive accompaniment for a singer or solo instrumentalist without having to use musical instruments.
Improvisation in Indian Music Improvisation (or creating music from ones own imagination during a performance) is the lifeblood of Indian classical music and is found in both the melodic and rhythmic counterparts. This free improvisation has a foundation in the basic raga and simple rhythmic patterns associated with each tala respectively. In the area of raga, we find improvisation which can take on two distinct forms:
I. Free Improvisation A. Melodic - Based on the scale or raga Purpose: 1.Introduces the raga to the audience 2.Demonstrates the performers ability 3.Acts as a “warm-up” for the musician B. Melodic & Rhythmic - Based on the Raga & and loosely organized simple rhythms Purpose: 1.Introduces rhythm 2.Gives the performer more variety during free improvisation
II. Theme and Variations : Occurs during the main composition A. Theme 1. A non-improvised composition 2. The main melody used is based on the raga and the tala (meter) B. Variation 1. A series of improvisations 2. Melody and tala established during the theme are varied and developed