Carnatic music
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Carnatic Music. Classical Music of South India. India. Population: Over 1 billion Area 1/3 of United States 15 major languages and alphabets Many regional dialects 5,000 year history. Influenced and Unique. Cut off from neighboring lands by ocean Deserts Impenetrable jungle

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Carnatic Music

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Carnatic music

Carnatic Music

Classical Music of South India



  • Population: Over 1 billion

  • Area 1/3 of United States

  • 15 major languages and alphabets

    • Many regional dialects

  • 5,000 year history

Influenced and unique

Influenced and Unique

  • Cut off from neighboring lands by ocean

  • Deserts

  • Impenetrable jungle

  • Major mountain ranges – highest in the world

Long history

LONG History

  • Stone Age Evidence Found

  • 2500 BCE: Indus Valley Civilization

    • Birth of high culture

  • 1700 – 500 BCE:The Aryans

    • Invaders from Central Asia

    • Brought literature: The Vedas

    • Prototypes of Gods

    • Believed to be source of Indian classical music

Kingdoms 500 bce 1400 ce

KINGDOMS 500 BCE – 1400 CE

  • Burgeoning of Hindiusm

  • Patronage of arts

  • NatyaSastra

  • Literature and sciences

  • Ramayana and Mahabarata written

  • Painting, sculpture, music (sound?)

Carnatic music

  • Saraswati: Hindu God

  • of music

  • (playing the veena)

The moghuls 1527 1867

The Moghuls 1527 - 1867

  • Muslim traders and warlords from Central Asia and Afghanistan

  • General Babur – 1527 Created powerful Moghul Dynasty which dominated until 1700s

  • Muslim

  • Lavish patrons of arts

  • Great cultural mixing – ragas, hybrid instruments

British colonization 1600s 1947

British Colonization 1600s-1947

  • Economic Exploitation and inherent racism

  • Also contributions:

    • Railways, communications infrastructure, universities (English)

    • Imported their own music- i.e. pianos and bands

  • Pax Britannica

Golden age of carnatic music

Golden Age of Carnatic Music

  • Flourished under British Rule (1700-1900)

  • 1920s- recording industry in India

  • 1930s movies with sound

  • Adapted European instruments into Carnatic music – i.e. violin, harmonium (portable reed organ) clarinet

Recent carnatic music history

Recent Carnatic Music History

  • “Golden Age” – Late-18th and early-19th century

  • Three saint-poet-composers dominate

    • Best-known is Tyagaraja (1767-1847)

    • Very accessible songs

  • Noted female composers

South india

South India

  • Encompasses states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu

  • Occupies 19.31% of area of India



  • Very diverse

  • Lies in peninsular Deccan Plateau

  • Bounded by Arabian Sea (West), Indian Ocean (South) and Bay of Bengal (East)

  • Two mountain ranges – Western Ghats and Eastern Ghats

  • Major rivers: Godavari, Krishna …



  • Very diverse culture

  • Most speak one of five Dravidian Languages –

  • A number of dynastic kingdoms ruled over parts of South India

  • Most recently colonized by the British

Carnatic music1

Carnatic Music

  • Roots in distant past

    • Courts, palaces, kingdoms, temples

  • Vivid imagery from sculpture, murals and miniature paintings

  • Actual sound and style?

Oral tradition

Oral Tradition

  • Cannot be frozen in time by transcription

  • Lives uniquely in each performance:

    • Particular day, particular hour, spontaneity of improvisation

  • Effect of recording technology?



  • Very similar to classical music is music for South India’s dance traditions

  • Particularly bharatanatyam

  • Nattavangam – chanted rhythmic syllables (with dance)

  • Lyrics often repeated many times

2 basic concepts raga and tala

2 Basic Concepts: Raga and Tala

Carnatic music


  • Melodic system/Musical personality

  • “That which colors the mind.”

  • No Western equivalent


  • A collection of notes, a scale, intonation, ornaments, resting tones. It has particular musical characteristics and phrases that give it a distinct recognizable identity.

More on raga

More on Raga

  • Each raga has its own rules

    • Ornamentation

    • Changing notes

  • Learn a raga GRADUALLY. Over many years.

  • “Like getting to know a close friend.”

Raga continued

Raga Continued

  • Connected with human emotions

  • 9 traditional rasa – “flavors”

    • Love, anger, sadness, fear, disgust, wonder, heroism, laughter, religious devotion (peacefulness)

  • Can be very powerful- magical properties

    • Causing rain, auspiciousness, charm snakes

  • Can be associated with deities, seasons, time of day

Raga mala


  • Genre of miniature paintings of raga

  • Viewers of painting hear raga

  • Listeners of raga imagine painting

Carnatic music

  • 1650?

  • Scene?

Melakarta system

Melakarta System

  • All ragas relate to a melakarta – a basic parent scale

  • Each melakarta scale has seven notes:

    • Sa, ri, ga, ma, pa, da ni

    • Sa is tonal center. Never changes!

    • Pa is the perfect fifth. Never changes!

  • Five of the seven notes change to form 72 possible scales!

Hundreds of raga

Hundreds of raga

  • Hundreds of raga in use

  • Some are popular, some are rare

  • Some are “major” some are “minor”

  • Some are simple some are complicated

  • Some are very old some are recent inventions

  • Raga are heart and soul of India’s music

Carnatic music


  • Organization of time in music

  • Tala: regularly recurring metric cycle

  • Spectrum of time in Indian thought

    • Fraction of a second

    • Yugahs – goelogical time periods

Tala continued

Tala Continued

  • Theoretically there are hundreds of tala

  • Four dominate today

  • Most tala can be performed at a fast, medium or slow tempo

  • Differ from Western time signatures: accents occur in uneven groupings

3 functioning layers

3 Functioning Layers

  • Melodic Layer

  • Drone

  • Rhythm

    • Associated with particular instruments

Melodic layer

Melodic Layer

  • Two Parts:

  • Principal melodic soloist that dominates the ensemble

    • Usually voice. Can be violin, bamboo flute, veena..

  • Melodic Accompanist who aids the soloist

    • Plays with vocalist

    • Echoes and supports improvisations

    • Plays solo improvisations





  • Holds one or two notes throughout a piece

  • Specialized drone instruments

    • Tambura: four-stringed plucked instrument tuned to tonal center and fifth

      • Purposeful Buzzing timbre

    • Sruti Box: Played with bellows

    • Today electronic synthesizer



Carnatic music

  • Sruti Box

Rhythm percussion


  • Bedrock of the ensemble

  • Mridangam: principal percussion instrument

  • Ghatam: large clay pot

  • Kanjira: tambourine

  • Morsang: jaw’s harp



Drummer s art

Drummer’s Art

  • Improvisatory style

  • Based on hundreds of memorized rhythm patterns and drum strokes

  • Art centers on drum strokes

  • Sollukattu – spoken syllables

  • Drummer is crucial!

Gurukula system

Gurukula System

  • Apprenticeship with guru

  • Very rigorous training

Concert song forms

Concert Song Forms

  • Start: Varnam

  • Continues: Kriti

  • Main Item: Often a Kriti

  • End: More relaxed atmosphere

    • Devotional music



  • Made up of numerous sections

  • i.e.

    • Alapana

    • Tanam

    • Kriti “Sarasiruha”

    • Kalpanasvaras 1 & 2

    • Taniavartanam

    • Kriti (return and close)



  • First section of a performance

  • Free-flowing exposition and exploration of the raga of the kriti

  • Voice/instrument and drone background

  • Nonmetrical(no regular beat/tala)

  • Has general plan

    • Slow, low  high, fast  slow, low



  • Highly-rhythmic exposition of the raga

  • Improvised

  • No tala cycles but strong sense of beat

  • Like Alapana trace from low to high in graduated steps and back down again.



  • The major song form of the concert

  • May be short or very long

  • Very flexible structure

  • Sung or not, the words influence the performance

Kalpana svaras


  • Improvised section

  • At the end of or after a kriti

  • Singer sings names of notes!

  • Returns to phrase from kriti as home base (idam)

  • First short simple improvisations

  • Then longer and more complex

Tani avartanam


  • Improvised and precomposed rhythmic solo

  • By mridangam

  • Conclusion of the main item in a concert

  • Can be 10/15 minutes or more

  • Displays his skills and imagination

  • Ends on korvai – big pattern repeated three times

  • Leads back into kriti phrase

Carnatic music

  • Krishnamurthy video

  • Master

  • Box

  • With Tampura

  • Login