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Article: Indian Music For Newcomers

By Haresh Bakshi


Indian music was introduced to the West long time ago.  Today, Indian music is performed on the stage all over the world.  Apart from this, it has become an integral part of musical genres like World Music.  Along with Reggae, Latin music with all its diverse styles from various regions, and Celtic, Indian music has slowly but surely started enjoying possibilities that are as wide-ranging as any of the vast and varied musical cultures of the world. Indian Art Film Music, Indian Classical Music, Indian Folk Music, even Indian Pop music -- all form a part, however small, of World Music, or Worldbeat, or ethnopop or whatever you may call it., This music from the Third World has already made a lasting cultural impact.

What attracts us to Indian music?  Why should we listen to music from other countries of the world?  Is it "the West versus the Rest"?  What inspires us to try "Other people's music" ? Well, there are at least five reasons.  One, the World Music is most of the music in the world today.  Second, it is very enriching.  Third, it provides us the much-needed change.  Fourth, it can bring us in contact with other cultures of the world. Fifth, it brings with it, huge resources of raw, pulsating energy.  And more.

Indian music is the gateway to the ancient, enduring Indian culture.  It can lead you to Veda-s, Yoga, meditation,Bhagvad Gita, But, first of all and most of all, Indian music is an end in itself.  It is different, fresh, full of life, meditative in this moment, ecstatic in the next.

Indian music versus Western music:

This is a vast topic.  Let us deal with a few salient features which will bring out some of the obvious differences.  First, Indian music [IM] is based on melody; Western music [WM], on harmony.  This is not to say that WM has no melody.  (In my personal opinion, IM also has "some degree" of harmony).  Second, IM is linear, WM is columnar.  Third, IM uses natural harmonic scale; WM uses tempered scale.  IM has developed with human voice in the center.  It requires less than three octaves to express itself fully.  WM can have a large number of instruments playing simultaneously, within a range of eight octaves. IM is introspective, meditative, unlike WM. IM is monotonous, "dull and boring".  WM can be very brilliant and powerfully expressive.

Indian Classical Music: The Primer.

The notation: Every beginner in the Western music has to thoroughly learn the following concepts: the staff-- treble, base. and grand; the seven notes on the grand staff and leger lines and keyboard; sharps and flats; note duration, values and rests; measures and time signatures; tones and semi-tones; major and minor scales; key signatures; intervals-- small and big; inversions; triads; cadences; modes etc. etc. Much of this elementary material is related to reading and writing music.  This is very important, because all Western music is written out on the sheets of paper.

Indian notation system is very rudimentary at best. very easy to learn.  You can learn and start using it in thirty minutes.  It is not developed because Indian music is all improvisation.  How much improvisation can be written on paper?  The notation system is useful in that you can write down some basics, and notate the composition in a raga for future reference.  and you can share information .No Indian musician ever uses notation while performing -- and hardly, even otherwise.

Indian music can be learnt mainly by listening.  It is very helpful if you have some knowledgeable Indian musician to help you.  To learn seriously, you should have a Guru to teach you.  But for appreciation and listening pleasure, constant listening is sufficient.  You can get much help from books and the Internet.

The Notation System

Please note: (1)  The Indian musical scale not tempered scale used in the Western music. (2)  For convenience, we have assumed that the key-note C is the reference note.

The seven notes with accidentals, and their Indian equivalents:

The MIDDLE octave:

C  is called "Sa", and written as         S
Db is called "komal Re", and written as   r  
D  is called "Re", and written as         R
Eb is called "komal Ga", and written as   g
E  is called "Ga", and written as         G
F  is called "Ma", and written as         m
F#  is called "Teevra Ma", and written as         M
G  is called "Pa", and written as         P
Ab is called "komal Dha", and written as  d
A  is called "Dha", and written as        D
Bb is called "komal Ni", and written as   n
B  is called "Ni", and written as         N

The LOWER octave

Their note symbols are identical; but each of the symbols is preceeded by an apostophe sign. Thus, they are written as:
'N  'n  'D  'd  'P  'M  'm  'G  'g  'R  'r  'S

The HIGHER octave:

The note names ans their symbols are identical; but is followed by an apostophe sigh. Thus, they are written as:
S'  r'  R'  g'  G'  m'  M'  P'  d'  D'  n'  N'

(To be continued)



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