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Article: Chromatic (12-note) Scale: Indian vs. Western

By Haresh Bakshi
Sl.#/Note# Indian note symbol (HM) Indian note symbol (KM) Indian scale value (decimals) Indian scale value (Cents) Western scale value (decimals) Western scale value (Cents) Western scale value Diff. in Cents
1 S S 1.000000 0 1.000000 0 0
2 r R1 1.053498 90 1.059463 100 10+
3 R R2 1.125000 204 1.122462 200 4-
4 g G2 1.185185 294 1.189207 300 6+
5 G G3 1.248331 384 1.259921 400 16+
6 m M1 1.333333 498 1.334840 500 2+
7 M M2 1.423828 612 1.414214 600 12-
8 P P 1.500000 702 1.494307 700 2-
9 d D1 1.580247 792 1.587401 800 8+
10 D D2 1.687500 906 1.681793 900 6-
11 n N2 1.802501 1020 1.781797 1000 20-
12 N N3 1.898438 1110 1.887749 1100 10-
13 S' 2S 2.000000 1200 2.000000 1200 0

1. Every Electronic keyboard uses the Western scale. You will see from above that only the 'Sa' of the keyboard matches perfectly with our Indian scale (because we have tuned the Indian scale 'Sa' to match the corresponding Western note!). All the rest of the 11 notes on the keyboard are complete mismatch with the corresponding Indian notes. Now, our harmoniums are tuned according to the Western scale; so the harmoniums cannot be used to accompany a performance in Indian music! And, yet, we do that, in Hindustani music -- all the time. In Karnatic music, the harmonium is not used for accompaniement.

2. The Indian notes 'Ma' and "Pa', with only +/-2 cents difference from the corresponding Western notes (the Fourth and the Fifth), are within limits of tolerance. So, you can use the notes Sa-Pa (or Ma)-Sa on keyboard/harmonium to accompany a performance in Indian music. Here, of course, the keyboard/harmonium acts only as a drone, like some kind of "electronic" tanpura.

3. So, can you tune your harmonium in the Indian scale? The answer is: YES. However, there is a problem. Your harmonium, tuned in the Indian scale, will sound correct only if your 'Sa' is the key in which you have tuned it.

Let me explain: Suppose your 'Sa' is the key of C. So, you tune your harmonium, in the Indian scale, in the key of C. Now you can use the harmonium to accompany any performance in which the 'Sa' is the key of C. But, -- but -- if the 'Sa' is any key OTHER THAN THE KEY OF c, your harmonium is no good!




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