#28-Learning Carnatic Music

The birth of this post is the result of several mails I have been receiving,  to write a blog post on Music Practice. Here we go !!

When it comes to learning and practice, the modern trend is to learn a few sarali swaras, then alankaras and geethams to the extent of 4 numbers and then 2 swarajathis which are very popular like Raravenu in Bilahari Raga and Sambasivayenave in Khamas Raga. In a matter of 6 months the students are graduated to Varnams and Krithis.

But when I was a kid, along with my brother, we were taught several geethams and swarajathis/jathiswarams before moving on to varnam. It is not the number of songs.  Rather, it was the number of ragas you were introduced to during the beginner level. The singing of Arohana and Avarohana of each raga we have learned itself will take some 15-20 minutes with appropriate oscillation for the intended notes specific to that raga. My Guru would say that these are the jeeva swaras and these notes should or should not be oscillated to bring out the Swaroopa of Raga Devatha. My Guru saw that the tradition was passed on to us without any dilution. My Guru Sri.K.N.Vijayarajan who is 91 years now, belongs to the shisya parampara of Sri.Tiger Varadachari. Another Guru is Sri.S. Hariharan who is the disciple of Sri. M.Chandrasekharan, the great Violinsit. Learning Vocal music from both of them is a blessing. The learning still continues..

When to Start Learning Music ?

We started learning music formally when we were 7 years old. But music was always there in the family as my father used to play Concerts of Great Vidwans almost everyday. So even while playing or doing homework, music was there being played in the background. Even today, I tell the parents to create a musical atmosphere in their home when the kid is a toddler. The melody,sruthi, layam everything sinks in and just in a matter of 6 months they become so familiar with the bhajan or varisai you are playing at home everyday and they start to sing along in no matter of time. Yes.!!  Kids learn that fast by listening. By the time they are 7, they can be put on a formal training under a very good Guru. By this time, due to constant listening of music they would latch on to the exact sruthi effortlessly. So the best age to introduce your kid to Carnatic Music for formal training should be between 7 – 10. They can read and write by this time and tries to comprehend what is taught. So age factor is very important while introducing the student to Music.

Practice Sessions

We were asked to sing

  • Sarali and Jantai in 4 degree of speeds in swara as well as in akaaram to bring the flow in the voice.
  • Madhyasthayi, Mandra Sthayi and Tara Sthayi varisais were practiced in swaras and akaaram to increase the range and depth in our voice.
  • Alankaras were practiced in 3 degrees of speed and Geethams in 2 degrees before proceeding to varnams.

By this time we would have got a very firm grip on the laya/rhythm aspect too along with the nuances of each raga we learn. We were asked to sing varisais in almost all major melakartha ragas like Kalyani, Sankarabharanm, Todi, Kharaharapriya, Lathangi, Shanmukhapriya, Simmendramadhyamam, Pantuvarali,Ganamoorthi etc etc. Alankaras too in mela ragas along with other 5 note and 6 note ragas like Mohanam, Hamsadwani, Malayamarutham,Sriranjini, Amrithavarshini,Gambheeranatta etc..Several ragas….

When we reach Varnam, the Guru sees that atleast we know a Geetham , a Jathiswaram / Swarajathi in that particular raga which he is going to teach. For instance, the Guru before teaching Mohanam Varnam, made sure that we sang Alankaras in Mohanam followed by Mohanam Geetham Varaveena, followed by Jathiswaras (we had learned two jathiswaras), then a Thiruppugazh(Erumayileri) and then Varnam. By this time, Mohanam gets into our skin and we are so confident about Mohanam, the audava raga, the child of 28th Mela Harikamboji, its jeeva swaras, the notes to be oscillated etc etc. Then Varnam is taught in two speeds first and then Trisra Nadai. Like that numerous varnams preceeded by Geethams, Jathiswarams, Thiruppugazh or Tevaram or Divyanamas. Such was the training we had received. I am happy to say that I follow the same method when I teach my students now.

When I opened my old Music books today, I saw that our Guru has taught more than 15 varnams in the ragas we were familiar with during the beginner level, before proceeding to Krithis. In the beginners level, we have covered at least 35 ragas which included Melakartha Ragas, Audava Ragas, Shadava Ragas, Bhashanga Ragas, Audava Sampoorna, Shadava Sampoorna, Vakra Ragas etc. It was compulsory to sing these varnams in two degree of speeds. Over a period of time, myself and my siblings have learned numerous varnams in different talas.

When it comes to practice, there should be no compromise. During practice sessions, sruthi can be kept half a kattai higher to improve vocal range and the student must make sure that his/her voice should reach Mantra Panchamam and Tara Sthayi Panchamam. That would be the range of one’s voice. Vocal warm up can be be for 20 minutes where Sarali, Jantai and Tara Sthayi Varisais can be practiced in akaram. Only after that the Geetham, Varnam or Jathiswaram we are learning is taken up for practice. As the saying goes, Practice makes Perfect, every song has to be practiced atleast 120 times over a period of stipulated time before you take it on to any stage, be it vocal or instrumental. For intermediary /advanced students, listening to great Vidwans and notating the alapanai of great stalwarts can be an every day exercise to keep your brain sharp and improve the swara jnaana.

When we talk about notating a song, I remember that our Guru never gave the notation for any song, instead he asks us what will be the swara of this particular line or phrase of song. But each and every line of sangathi or plans are as fresh as we learned at that age, may be because of the bench mark of 100 times practice!!! He sings a phrase and asks us to decode it as swaras. Blessed to learn under such Gurus. Now the moment we listen to song, the mind automatically decodes it into swaras. I started learning Veena at the age of 15. Then it was intense learning of Veena along with Vocals for many years. Being a Vainika for the past 25 years, I would like to say that all instrumentalists should also learn vocal music to get into the sahitya bhava. And all Vocalists must try to learn atleast an instrument to improve on swara jnaana.

The student has to learn the krithis of Trinity, Purandaradasar, Narayana Theertha, Annamacharya, Oothukkad Venkatakavi, Papanasam Sivan and there are so many other great composers who were among us like Lalgudi Jayaraman. The compositions of my Veena Guru Sri. Ananthapadmanabhan Sir is a class apart. The student should be taught several musical forms like Varnams, Jathiswaras / Swarajathis, Keerthanas, Krithis, Divyanamas, Tevaram, Thiruppugazh, Thiruppavai, Padams, Javali , Tillana,Slokas and Ragamalikas to name a few.

Current Scenario

Coming to the current scenario, it is disheartening to see that without sufficient training in the fundamentals, students are graduating to the Varnam or Krithi level. Beginner level is over in 4 months. They shudder to think about notating. They just cannot sing with proper gamakas and mostly sing plain notes. They do not know the features of any particular raga they have learned. Talam is also compromised.

I remember a student of MA Music of a very reputed Music College in Kerala was arguing with me that Kalyani Raga has Suddha Madhyama and not Prathi Madhyama.  

I just clarified whether she is talking about Yamunakalyani. But no. She was talking about Kalyani only. When I tried to correct, she asked me ” who is your Guru” ?  She sang Sankarabharanam scale ( I use the term Scale because it was absolutely without any gamakas or oscillations that Sankarabharanam should have) and named it Kalyani !!! . 

That’s it !! I was almost in the verge of fainting and was shell shocked to know that she was a Music Teacher. She wanted MA Degree for procuring a Music Teacher’s post in a Government School so that her life is settled !!! Thought about the plight of those students who are learning under such Gurus. 

Benefits of Learning Music

When you advance in age, you understand that Music is tied with emotions. It lends beauty to life. It makes you feel happy, excited,releases mental and physical stress/tension. It even redirects the blood flow to leg muscles. That’s why we tap our foot unknowingly while listening to music. Specific physical ailments like Migrane, Menopause Issues, increasing appetite, BP Problems, Stomach pain, Chronic Stress, Insomnia and sleeping disorders, Lack of Energy, Arthritis, Joint Pain, Anger, Mental Peace and Relaxation, everything can be taken care, if Music becomes your Eternal Partner.

Music silences the Mind and removes clutter from the mind’s wardrobe. When the mind is in a calm state, bodily functions are also optimal. It pleases the mind and removes depression. Songs of devotion with the knowledge of Sahtiya unites the singer and listener spiritually. Music not only pleases the senses, but fosters devotion or bhakthi too. Specially, learning Carnatic Music itself is a blessing. It sharpens the power of concentration and improves memory or retention capacity of the brain. The advantages are innumerable.. One can go on listing these advantages.

A Humble Request

Its my earnest request and suggestion to School Managements to add Carnatic Music in their curriculum along with Science, Math and Social Studies. Rather than learning music for name,fame and money, we should understand that Music manages to touch us deep,  THE SOUL. It brings in a discipline and positivity into the mind of the learner/listener. It makes the student more alert and sharpens his/her concentration and memory power. It improves the mathematical skills along with listening skills.

When it comes to Creativity, it involves a whole lot of processes like education of Intellect and Senses, with particular reference to Repetition, Reproduction of what is learned, Concentration and Co-ordination of your Imagination along with Performance. Music employs all the tools of thinking process, feelings and emotions, imagination, logical and intuitive.

Let us consider learning Music as a tool for the Development of Mind and not Development of a particular Art Form, to begin with. Actually music education has to be interwoven along with other subjects. Music can activate the left as well as right brain at the same time. This simultaneous activation of both sides of the brain helps in retention and learning skills of the student.

Music makes a person Gentle and Disciplined, developing alongside the qualities of Perseverence and Patience !  The lyrics of the Krithis we learn in Carnatic Music carries great value and teaches us to be Compassionate, to live with morality (Tyagaraja Krithis), and urges us to surrender to the Supreme Power, thus destroying the ego. Compassion is happiness in its highest form. Compassion is ultimately not about helping others, it’s about helping yourself live a healthy, fulfilling, happy and contented life.Your life is of course connected to others, and a compassionate/successful person is more willing to help others. Music is something high that great sages and saints have practiced.It takes away the  six inner enemies like Kama,Krodha, Moha, Lobha, Mada and Maatsarya (passion, anger,avarice,delusion, elation and intolerance).

Without these soft skills, What is Education ???  

Education has to create Good Human Beings. When you talk about good human being, we understand that he/she sends out good vibrations, is always pleasing and pleasant, has well balanced rational thinking, has less ego, more compassionate, is ever contented and happy. All these traits and discipline will ultimately mould him to become a responsible citizen. When one subject Carnatic Music can teach all this, is it not time we started seriously thinking about taking Carnatic Music to school level ??

And if there are any serious seekers to introduce Carnatic Music into School Level, please do contact learnsangeetham@gmail.com. 

Start Learning Music.. Whatever be your age… Happy Learning..!!!

One thought on “#28-Learning Carnatic Music

  1. A very informative article covering the subtle intricacies of how to practise/imbibe music the right way. Also a very noble thought about introducing music as part of school curriculum.

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