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Indian classical music: Some help please...

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Showing 1-14 of 14 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 13, 2012 8:04:13 PM PST
KenOC says:
I'm fond of Indian classical music and have several recordings, new and old, that I enjoy a lot. But my appreciation is very superficial. I want to learn more, but everything on the web seems either too vague or impenetrable, like this:

"Murki: This is a fast ornamentation around the principal note and consists of a number of swaras. It refers to a short, sharp figure of two or three notes so uttered that it occurs within a short span of time, wrapped around the central note. It can be described as quivering notes, including microtones. When a series of Murkis are performed in quick succession, they lead to the Zam-Zama, which is like a spiraling zigzag Tan."

Can anybody recommend a good site for learning, preferably with recorded examples? TIA!

Posted on Nov 13, 2012 11:21:10 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 13, 2012 11:26:37 PM PST
M. Norton says:

Kudos to you for making the effort! ICM can certainly seem (and be) impenetrable to those of us outside the tradition. I suspect that's due in part, maybe in large part, to its habitual means of transmission: Although conservatory-style training is becoming increasingly common in India, musical knowledge, as you might well know, has historically been passed down orally within gharanas (stylistic schools), which competed for prestige and patronage; as with any trade secret, there's long been good reason not to make such knowledge widely available. (And so there's not yet an IMSLP for Indian compositions.) Complicating things further is the fact that so much in Indian music is unstandardized, thanks, again, to the different gharanas: a sitar is not a sitar is not a sitar, and what we both call Jaijaivanti (or Jaijaiwanti, or Jai Jai Wanti...) might be two slightly different things.

That said, there are some helpful resources out there. Chandrakantha dot com, which focuses primarily on the music of the North, is a good place to start. It has articles about basic vocabulary, and also some lively forums. Once you have a short list of important terms, you might check out the Wikipedia articles devoted to those terms. Deepak Raja's blog (swaratala dot blogspot dot com) has interesting, clearly written articles of both musicological and historical interest. He also writes (wrote) liner notes for the India Archive Music label (defunct, I think, but readily available here on Amazon); the booklets are quite thorough, sometimes overwhelmingly so, but many of them give you a play-by-play of the performance (à la P.D.Q. Bach's New Horizons in Music Appreciation), which can be a great help. I'm very fond of the Bahauddin Dagar and Abdul Lateef Khan albums on that label, and the accompanying booklets will stuff you, in a kind of musical gavage, with information about two major genres, dhrupad and khayal. (The ALK notes might clear up the, ah, murkiness of murki). The Nimbus label's 4-disc Raga Guide is also an excellent resource. If you want to jump in with a video, look up "introduction to raaga Yaman" on YouTube for exactly that, presented by vocalist Nachiketa Sharma.

I'm afraid I can't be much help on the Carnatic front specifically, being just a tyro there myself, but medieval dot org has overviews of both northern and southern idioms (click "World Music Recordings"). "Carnatic music" on Wiki might be your best friend, here. I'm sure you've picked up on the stylistic differences between North and South from listening, but the formal and organizational ones are more difficult. "Melakarta," "ragam tanam pallavi," "kriti," "varnam"...and on and on.

Anyway, to end this ramble, I feel your pain! It's inevitably frustrating to look up one term and encounter three others you don't know, even one as sassy and charismatic as "zamzama." It will be that way for a long time. I've found it very much worth the effort, though, and I hope you will, too! Do let me know if any of this is helpful, or if you have any other specific questions.


In reply to an earlier post on Nov 13, 2012 11:27:21 PM PST
KenOC says:
M Norton, many thanks! My tomorrow (at least) is now spoken for!

Posted on Nov 14, 2012 11:02:21 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 14, 2012 1:33:43 PM PST
Larkenfield says:
To add to the above. I've listened to my share of Indian music over the years, though not lately, and while the technical side of the music can be daunting, I view the basic nature of the music as just as accessible as western music if one is willing to invest the time.

I found the following sites helpful and of personal interest on certain technical aspects of the music.

Introduction to Swaras in Indian (for kids but the women are beautiful!) -
Classical Music 1:

Indian Music Glossary:

Gentle Introduction to South Indian Classical (Karnatic) Music:

Excerpt: "Just to summarize, the essential differences between Indian classical music system and the Western music are (a) the Western keyboard is 'Equally tempered' whereas the Indian keyboard ideally should be 'Just tempered' (b) Only twelve keys per octave are used in the West, whereas to play Indian music one needs to produce several intermediate microtones, not represented by a conventional keyboard - This is the most major difference (c) Harmony, chords, polyphony etc are absent in Indian classical music (d) In Indian music, there is no need to standardize an octave to begin at 240 Hz."
My own view of the music is that the use of the Just tone scale rather than the Equal tempered is one of the music's great strengths - the consonant intervals are more pure - plus the apparent telepathic rapport among the musicians as the music continues to build and build is so often a wonder to behold.

Indian musicians also seem to view their music as an expression of the great universal harmonies of life that have no beginning or end, and some say that Western music ends just about the time that a piece of Indian music is getting off the ground. I find the music 'cosmic' in nature, highly spiritual, organic to life and nature, while most Western music is what I would consider as more secular and related to human rather than cosmic values, with each having its place.

I also consider the Indian culture full of treasures starting with the Bhagavad Gita and other great philosophical and metaphysical writings, their spiritual teachers and cosmology that include the study of planetary influences and vedic astrology (all of which I've explored over the years and is related to their interest in sound)... and their music seems to contain the essence of all of it that some say extends as far back as 5000 years and passed on from one teacher to the next in a continuous line. Best wishes, Lark ♬

Posted on Nov 15, 2012 11:05:50 PM PST
KenOC says:
Thanks to all! Here's a list of sites recommended here and on another forum:

Chandra & David's Homepage

Deepak Raja's world of Hindustani Music

Indian Dhun: Glossary of Indian Musical Terms

Indian Music Glossary

Intricacies of Indian Classical Music

Introduction to Raaga Yaman

Introduction to Swaras In Indian Classical Music 1

The two YouTube videos at the end are a great start and immediately cleared up some of my confusion.

Posted on Nov 17, 2012 1:26:49 PM PST
M. Norton says:
Glad it's going well, Ken! And thanks, Lark, for the additional resources. One site I should have mentioned before is MusicIndiaOnline ( the mother lode of ICM streaming. The site doesn't attempt to be educational, but if you're looking for immersion, I don't know of a better virtual place.

Posted on Nov 17, 2012 3:53:51 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 17, 2012 6:52:20 PM PST
Larkenfield says:
I also like what Ravi Shankar has to say about
the nature of sound from the Eastern perspective.

On Appreciation of Indian Classical Music:

I consider the soul of the music to be
not ragas, though they establish the
parameters of the swaras (notes)
used in them, but the art of *improvisation*
seemingly carried out to the point of infinity.
Anyone who likes the spontaneity of
great improvisations might find it
fascinating to explore the music.
I believe this is why some of our
own great jazz musicians, such as
Coltrane and Paul Horn, were
drawn to it and it seemed to
unleash their creativity beyond
the limits of their music at the
time. With the use of microtones
Indian music is based on an
entirely different approach to
sound than that of the West,
though jazz trumpet Don Ellis
played a specially built instrument
that could play quarter tones. It's
also possible to play quarter tones
on other western instruments by
using special fingerings.

Ravi's daughter, Anoushka, is
a fantastic musician as well who
combines both Eastern and
Western music, first having been
classically trained in India.
Lark ♬

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 17, 2012 4:11:26 PM PST
KenOC says:
A great page Lark! Many thanks.

Posted on Nov 17, 2012 5:17:08 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 17, 2012 5:29:09 PM PST
WH says:
The links between the classical Indian tradition and the jazz improvisational tradition have been explored by a band known as Shakti, led by English jazz guitarist John McLaughlin (who made his name playing with Miles Davis, led the fusion group Mahavishnu Orchestra, and has worked within the Indian classical traditions for decades). McLaughlin first organized it in the mid 1970s. In the early 2000s, he revived it with new members and called it "Remember Shakti". It is unique not just in the way it combines Western jazz with Indian classical but also northern and southern Indian classical traditions. The best place to start is with the record: Remember Shakti: The Believer (Polygram, 2000). Especially a stand out in his band is tabla master Zakir Hussain as well as U. Shrinivas who plays an Indian version of the mandolin. There's a number of YouTube performances of the group. Here's one:
The entire live performance of "Saturday Night in Bombay" has also been posted:
(For this, I find the opening vocal piece uninteresting, but the instrumental part kicks off around the 10:00 mark)

Posted on Nov 17, 2012 5:32:30 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 17, 2012 5:33:01 PM PST
WH says:
Another cross-over example: One of the greatest blues guitarists working today is Derek Trucks. Early in his career he went to India to study Indian traditions. He regularly incorporates various Indian songs and improvisational styles into his blues works. Here's one example, "Sahib Teri Bandi". Here's a YouTube performance:

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 17, 2012 8:58:46 PM PST
mancheeros says:
You should find this product very helpful indeed...

The Raga Guide: Survey of 74 Hindustani Ragas

Posted on Dec 11, 2012 10:42:49 PM PST

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 11, 2012 10:56:18 PM PST
KenOC says:
Thanks Vaughan. See the "RIP Ravi Shankar" thread.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 12, 2012 5:29:29 AM PST
KenOC, thanks for this tread. I don't care much about reading about music. I'm just a listener. So, why the heck am I deeply thankful to you? Because it gave me the idea of creating and Indian Classical Music in Pandora Radio and I've been enjoying it a lot!
I have a love hatred relationship to Pandora. I'm an album and full work listener. They do track shuffle, which is not my cup of tea. On the other hand, it's a nice way to learn about new music. Well, nothing is perfect in this world.
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Discussion in:  Classical Music forum
Participants:  7
Total posts:  14
Initial post:  Nov 13, 2012
Latest post:  Dec 12, 2012

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