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How do you learn Carnatic music?

Initially basic exercises were taught in Karaharapriya raga. Then Purandara Dasa devised a system whereby the basics (Sarali varisai, Janta varisai, Melsthayi varisai, Dhatu Varisai, Alankaram) were learnt in Mayamalava Gaula raga. It is said that this raga is convenient for beginners to sing the notes and its sthaana (place) is next to each other and are distributed evenly i.e S R1, G2M1, PD1, N2S.

In the Veena, the Harmonium and the Keyboard, you can see these intervals and notes whereas in the flute or the violin, this is more difficult.

The Basic Exercises From Sarali form the foundation for Carnatic Music not only to learn the notes of Mayamalava Gaula raga but any Sampurna raga ( That Raga which has all the 7 notes in the correct order). It is important to get the grasp of notes in any raga and later learn the technical aspects like janta prayoga & Dhatu prayogas After mastery over Varisais, learner move to short songs Geetham.

Geethams are shorter songs where Swaras and Sahithya - notes and lyrics are taught to the student Popular Geethams include Sree Gananadha, Kundha Gowra, Varaveena etc. In Geethams, the vowel extension of the song is taught how to sing and play in the instrument.

The next step is the Svarajathi and Jathiswaram. Svarajathi's are fore-runners of the Krithis and have Charanams. Jathiswaras are mostly mathematical arrangement of swara patterns in particular ragas.

After mastery over the Swaras and students get the ability to sing swaras and associate to the lyrics, music tutors begin Varnams.

"Varnam" literally means color. Varnams have different sections like Pallavi, Anupallavi, Chitta-swaram, Charanam and Charana-Chitta-swaram etc. These Varnams are named as Thaana-Varnams. Another classification of Varnams is "Padha-Varnams" in which Charanam-Chittaswaras also have Sahithyam.

When we learn Varnams, We learn the Swaras first and then Sahithya. Varnam will overflow with technical beauty of a Raga and different Gamakas. When we play on Veena, the fingering follows the way the song is sung or how it has been composed. The students have to be very attentive in learning every nuances and follow the teacher very closely.

Just by looking in the book you can't learn in the beginning stage. As Carnatic music is learnt by oral tradition it is very important to imbibe every information from the teacher and reproduce the same.

More learning on Geethams/Varnams/Padha Varnams helps strengthening student's ability to learn Krithis or other advanced lessons at ease. There is a common Tendency that parents have towards any kind of learning - "Result-orientation". For a proper training in Carnatic music, Every student should dedicate time for practice everyday and persevere to learn according to the teacher's instruction.

Students should not feel hurried to "run" before they can "walk"!

In addition to music and songs there is a great lot of benefits in learning carnatic music. Devotion or Bhakthi is cultivated which is essential to attain salvation as described in Hindu scriptures as the main purpose of human existence. Relaxation that frees people from stress and worries. Anyone humming any music is seen to be in a very happy mood and also an outlet to pour your sorrow through lyrics, music and tune. Carnatic music develops concentration and multitasking. It also expands our memory by learning the lyrics and sangathis of songs to remember and reproduce when necessary. With all these put together one becomes disciplined in thoughts, emotions, activities and has respect for everything they do and be a good person to their society.

Write more soon….

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Carnatic Vocalist | Veena Player | Musician | Music Teacher

B.A. Music


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