Dear Web Master,

I have authored the attached paper / article of interest to music enthusiasts. I will be open to getting feedback from your web page viewers. This may be a healthy way initiating some creative discussions on music.

Regards, as always.

K.R.S. Murthy

Virtual Think Tank



An alternative approach to the

Foundations of Indian Classical Music

K.R.S. Murthy

Indian classical music has been conceived and modeled with the help of an Adhaara Shruthi, and 32 intermediate shruthis in the octave. This includes 6 shruthi-lets of each of the swaras Ri, Ga, Ma, Dha, Ni (that is 6X5 = 30) plus the Sa and Pa. The 6 shruthi-lets are based on the Shat-Shruthi Sangeetha tradition. However, it should be noted that the present day Indian classical music utilizes only three of the 6 shruthi-lets. A raga is reduced to a suite of loci of musical curves based on swaras (chosen shruthis ) in specified ascending and descending orders. Even though the real raga is based on multitudes of musical curve combinations, the curves of the raga is thus reduced to piece-wise linear approximations of the real / ideal musical curves.

Students of classical music are taught the saptha swara scale, in which the swaras of the raga are used as anchors to illustrate the outline of the raga. The ragas are also modeled to have prime anchors, called the Jeeva swaras or Vaadi swaras, and sub-prime anchors, called the Hrasva swaras or Samvaadi swaras. This modeling of the ragas dictates that majority of the musical curves, during the expounding and rendition of the raga, be centered around three important anchors - the Aadhara shruthi or the Shadja shruthi, the Vaadi and the Samvaadi swaras. However, the transgression from a swara to the next one in the scale during rendition and expounding of the raga should not be simply with the help of linear movement. Instead, the transgression should be performed employing a variety of musical curves. The only requirement is that the transgression should ensure that the locus of the musical curve does not dwell on Varjya swara, the swara to be avoided as defined for the raga. The transgression curves employed should ensure that the raga is clearly distinguishable from other ragas with similar loci. In fact, all the ragas are defined with distinction of characteristic transgression loci between its swaras. These transgressions are called Gamakas.

A raga is defined by the following distinct qualities:

The theoretical foundations of Indian classical music is very scientific in nature, even though most of the musicians do not understand / practice, and are unable to reinforce the scientific basics to their students. So the integrity of the musical knowledge, and its transmission to succeeding generations, has suffered from poorly realized and observed foundations. In addition, the tradition of classical music has failed to utilize many useful techniques available in the modern world. For example, two dimensional graphs used in many facets of modern world has not been attempted for documenting, and as teaching aids, of Indian classical music. An X-Y plot with time on the X axis, and frequency on the Y axis would be very helpful for students to visualize the ascending / descending orders, musical curves and comparison of ragas. Talas can also be very well displayed on graphs. Computers, music synthesizers, and electronic key boards with MIDI interface will be very handy in such endeavors.

Teachers of Indian classical music have been following the tradition of teaching the musical scale, and ragas based on discrete swaras. In effect, the teaching tradition is based on piece-wise linear approximation of the musical curves. The ragas are also taught with the Aadhara Shruthi used as the paramount anchor for the raga.

An alternate approach would be to introduce the students to a "tool kit" of musical curves with out any apparent Aadhara Shruthi. The curves would be taught as Shruthi-independent repertoire, to be used in various combinations to sing or play music. The tool kit is used to make the student functional. The theoretical foundations are taught after the student is taught the skills to reproduce musical curves, and also after gaining the ability to creatively expound with the foundations of the "tool kit".

To illustrate the approach, let us understand the way a child learns language. A child learns to speak by imitating sounds, words and expressions from other children and adults. We do not teach the child alphabets of a language first, and then words with meanings, and then sentences. It would be a strange world if we attempted such techniques at all. The child would be able to speak fluently, before it learns any alphabets. Script is used as a communication tool in school, work and throughout life. If we can imagine the words and phrases of a language to be similar to musical curves and their combinations in the world of music, my suggested approach becomes clear.