The Carnatic Music

Posted by on Feb-6-2011

In my last post I have shared about the Hindustani Music so this week I thought I would share about the Carnatic Music. Carnatic music is one of the most ancient music systems in the world with its history dating back to the age old days of the Vedas. It is a system of music commonly associated with the southern part of the India. It is one of two main sub-genres of Indian classical music that evolved from ancient Hindu traditions. The main emphasis in Carnatic music is on vocal music. Most of the compositions are written to be sung and even when played on instruments, they are meant to be performed in gāyaki style.

Carnatic music is typically a melody-based system where the stress is laid on the successive combination of notes. The melodic elements of Carnatic music are very systematic in their development from the simple to more complex and then ultimately utterly sophisticated. The Carnatic music is usually performed by a small ensemble of musicians, consisting of a principal performer who is accompanied by a violin, mridangam, and a tambura, which acts as a drone throughout the performance. Other typical instruments used in performances may include the ghatam, kanjira, morsing, veena & flute.

Carnatic music rests on two main elements: raga, the modes or melodic formula, and tala, the rhythmic cycles. Sruti, Swara, Raga and Tala are the main elements of Carnatic Music. Apart from the main elements of Carnatic music there are also four main types of improvisation in Carnatic music which plays the pivotal role in contouring this genre of music. They are Raga Alapana, Niraval, Kalpanaswaram, Tanam, Ragam Tanam Pallavi and Thani Avarthanam.

In contrast to Hindustani music, Carnatic music is taught and learned through compositions, which encode many intricate musical details and also provide scope for free improvisation. Nearly every version of a Carnatic music composition is different and unique as it embodies elements of the composer’s vision, as well as the musician’s interpretation. A Carnatic composition really has two elements. There are many forms of compositions. Geethams and swarajatis are principally meant to serve as basic learning exercises.The most common and significant forms in Carnatic music are the varnam and the Kirtanam.

Kirtanam are varied in structure and style, but generally consist of three units, which is Pallavi, Anupallavi and Charana. There are other possible structures for a Kriti, which may in addition include swara passages named chittaswara, which consists only of notes and has no words. Others have a verse at the end of the charana, called the madhyamakala. It is sung immediately after the charana, but at double speed.

Varanam highlights everything important about a raga and not just the scale, but also which notes to stress, how to approach a certain note, classical and characteristic phrases, etc. Though there are a few different types of varnams, in essence, they all have a pallavi, an anupallavi, muktayi swaras, a charana, and chittaswaras. They are sung in multiple speeds, and very good for practice. In concerts, varnams are often sung at the beginning as they are fast and grab the audience`s attention.

The rich elements of Carnatic music coupled with the melodic improvisations offer Carnatic music an all encompassing effect whilst making this genre of music to reverberate the age old heritage of Indian music.

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