Introduction to Indian Music
Indian Music uses a set of syllables to create its Melodic dimension called ‘Sargam’. The 7 syllables/tones are as follows:
Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni, Sa (octave).
This chain of tones fulfils every necessity a musician will encounter within the world of Indian or ‘Single tonic’ Music. Using this system one can perform the music vocally, express the music theoretically, memorise and transcribe pieces, and identify a huge wealth of Scales and ‘Rags’ (scales with specific points of focus and sequential note choice).
However, to grasp the basic articulation itself is simple, especially for a musician with any experience. The Western equivalent of this system is the ‘Sol-fa’:
Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Ti, Do.
When rendered in its ‘pure (natural) form’ the Indian ‘Sargam’ is approximately the same as the major scale. Only with a trained ear or electronic tuner would you notice any variation in pitch. Hence why, for example, instruments like the Sitar and the Electric Guitar have been used in fusion.
The speciality of ‘Sargam’ is that the ‘tones’ can be altered to cover a multitude of other scales. It’s the same principle as ‘Sharps and Flats’ but the syllables Sa, Re, Ga, stay the same. In this way the method of Sargam teaches us to identify and access different intervals. This is very effective ear training and remains very simple in terms of theory as it wholly relies on the 7 ‘Sargam’ syllables alone. Being an oral tradition, the student has to absorb the nature of the sound. and reproduce it from their inner understanding of the music. The understanding and the technique of delivery is embedded in it medium, which is music. Even the most basic of exercises in Sargam will help musicians practicing at any level.
Traditional Recitals in Indian Music:
Most recitals of Indian Music are based on a song set to a ‘Raag’ (specialised Scale). The song is composed of several lines with melodic themes and lyrical content, much like a short story or direct invocation to a God.
Learning set pieces gives musicians their bearing as to the mood and framework of the piece. The intonation of each line highlights characteristics essential to the sound of the music and gives shape to how the instrumentalists play the line in unison or echo the singer.
The songs themselves can be simple in form and the level of difficulty can be varied depending on the level of detailed articulation the musician gives to each line.
Improvisation in Indian Music:
Improvisation is the life blood of Indian Music. Sections of Improvisation are often very extended and the ‘Raags’ themselves can take a long time to express in order to show their full form.
A traditional recital will begin with unmetered Improvisation and then build into a composition. Once the set piece is has been played improvisation will commence again and the recital may reach its emotional/technical height.
There are particular methods used to give weight and structure to Indian Improvisation. Once identified, the methods are a great asset to any musician practising improvisation, as they offer a sense a craft and emotional impact to ones playing.