The harmonium is a type of portable organ. It has a keyboard of over two and one-half octaves and works on a system of bellows. The keyboard is played with the right hand while the left hand is used to operate the bellows. This instruments is used much more in North India than in the South. In South India it is used more commonly in concerts of light music and with Bhajana groups (groups that sing devotional songs.)
The Sruti-peti or Sruti box is a small box which works on a system of bellows and is used to provide the drone in a concert or for practice. The tones normally heard are the Tonic and the Dominant.
A melodic instrument that does not fall under the three general categories of stringed, wind and bellowed instruments is the JaItarangam. JaItarangam literally means "water waves" (jal - water; tarangam - waves). This consists of a set of eighteen porcelain cups of varying sizes. The cups are arranged in a semi-circle before the performer, in decreasing order of size, starting with the largest cup to the performer's left and ending with the smallest to his right. Water is poured into the cups and the pitch is changed by adjusting the volume of water in the cup.
The bigger cups produce a deep, bass sound and the smaller ones produce high-pitched tones. Thus, the cups are arranged in an increasing order of pitch from left to right.
The cups are struck with two thin bamboo sticks. All compositions of medium and fast tempi can be played effectively on this instrument. It is a solo instrument which is usually accompanied by the mridangam. This is an old instrument which is referred to in ancient literature.
The mridangam is the classical drum of South Indian and is used as an accompaniment for vocal, instrumental and dance performances.
Its literal meaning, "Clay-body," indicates that it was originally made of clay. Later it was made of wood. The present day mridangam is made of a single block of wood. It is made either of Jackwood or redwood. In some cases the core of the coconut or palm tree is used also.
It is a barrel-shaped double-headed drum, the right head being smaller than the left. The two heads are made of layers of skin. The heads are stretched by leather straps which run along the sides of the body. The pitch is adjusted by moving small wooden cylindrical pieces of wood between the wooden shell and the leather straps.
The right head is made of three concentric layers of skin. The innermost layer is not visible. The outer is called the Meetu thol and the inner ring is called the Chapu tol. The inner ring is made of sheepskin and the outer skin of calf-hide. At the center of the right head is a permanent spot of black paste. This spot, called the Soru is a mixture of boiled rice, manganese and iron filings. This black spot is responsible for the special tone of the mridangam.
The left head, known as the Toppi is made of only two layers; the inner one is made of sheepskin and the outer one of buffalo hide.
Before playing, a thick paste made of semolina or cream of wheat (sooji) and water is applied to the center of this head. This is done to lower the pitch and produce a bass sound on the left head. This paste is scraped off after the performance. The right hand is tuned to the Tonic.
On the rims of the two heads there are spaces for the leather braces to pass through. A small, smooth stone and a small stick (wooden) are used to vary the pitch of the heads by upward or downward strokes on the rims.
The mridangam is played with both hands, palms and fingers. The size of the mridangam varies according to its pitch. The larger the mridangam, the lower the pitch and vice versa.
he Kanjira is one of the most ancient percussion instruments. It is a secondary accompaniment to the mridangam. It is similar to the Western tambourine and consists of a circular wooden frame about eight or nine inches in diameter and three to four inches in depth. A lizard skin is stretched over one side forming the playing head while the other side is left open. There are three or four slits in the frame which contain small metal discs which jingle when the kanjira is played. The kanjira is held in the left hand and played with the palm and fingers of the right hand. Water is sometimes sprinkled on the stretched skin to reduce its tension. Variations in sound are produced by putting pressure on the skin near the outer rim while playing. The kanjira is not tuned to any particular pitch. Unlike the mridangam and the ghatam, the same kanjira can be used for any pitch.
The ghatam, one of the most ancient percussion instruments of South India, is a mud pot with a narrow mouth. From the mouth, it slants outwards to form a ridge. Made mainly of clay baked with brass or copper filings with a small amount of iron filings, the size of the ghatam varies according to its pitch. The pitch can be slightly altered by the application of plasticine clay or water.
Playing position: The pot is usually placed on the lap of the performer, with the mouth facing the belly. The performer uses his fingers, palms and also his nails to produce different sounds. Occasionally the ghatam is turned around so that the mouth faces the audience and the performer plays on the neck of the instrument. The ghatam can be moved to different positions while being played. Occasionally, the performer will, to the amusement of the audience, toss the instrument up in the air and catch it.
The ghatam is capable of very fast tempi in rhythmic patterns. lt is usually a secondary percussion instrument played with the mridangam.
A percussion instrument, the Moorsing or moorchung as it is sometimes called, is identical to the Jew's Harp. It consists of a circular iron ring to which is attached a thin, elastic iron strip called the "Tongue." The "Tongue" is slightly curved at the free end and protrudes beyond the ring at the other end. It is held between the thumb and the forefinger of the left hand, the narrow portion being inserted into the mouth. The curved end of the "Tongue" is plucked with the forefinger.
The cavity of the mouth serves as a resonator. By opening his mouth wider or decreasing the cavity and by manipulating the tongue and controlling his breath, the player can produce a variety of sounds. The instrument can be tuned by the application of wax to the "Tongue."
The Tavil is the main percussion instrument for the Nagaswaram. It is a doubleheaded barrel-shaped drum which is hollowed out of a solid block of wood. On both sides of the barrel are hoops fastened by interwoven leather straps. Also attached to the hoops are two skins stretched to form the two heads. The pitch is adjusted by tightening the skin with the help of a leather band which passes round the middle of the barrel over the braces.
The right head is played with the fingers of the right hand capped with hardened rice paste caps. Rings made of the same material as the caps are also worn on the knuckles of the right hand. The right head is stretched tight but is not tuned to any particular pitch.
The left head is played with a thick stick.
Playing position: In a concert situation, the Tavil is placed on the lap of the seated player, but when played outdoors, in processions, it's hung around the neck of the player by a strap and played while he stands or walks.
The Jalra is a set of two finger cymbals that is used for rhythmic accompaniment. It is held in two hands and slamed together by the player.
Raga is often described as a scale or a mode. This is an incomplete definition of the Raga. Though it is based on a scale, the concept of the Raga is more complex. Verses in the old treatises of music describe a Raga as that which gives pleasure to the mind of the listener. Every Raga has its own definite characteristics which makes it easy for a discerning listener to recognize. Based on a scale of five, six or seven notes, the Raga has special features such as melodic ornamentations (gamakas) and microtones (srutis.)
Importance is given to certain notes (Vadi and Samvadi.) The Vadi is the most important note used in the Raga and is usually one of the notes in the first tetrachord (first one-half of the scale), whereas the Samvadi is the second most important note and is in the second tetrachord (second one-half of the scale.) There are Ragas for different times of the day, occasions and seasons. In the North the "time theory" of certain Ragas being sung only at particular times of the day is still prevalent whereas the South has done away with this tradition. The South Indian Raga system is based on the Melakarta system and the number of Ragas that can be derived from this system is in excess of twenty thousand.
This system of seventy-two complete parent scales from which Ragas are derived was perfected by the scholar, Venkatamakhi. The Melakartas are scales using the same seven notes in both the ascending (Arohana) and descending (Avarohana) natural order. These are calculated by a systematic formula of permutations and combinations of the twelve basic notes.
The seventy-two Melakartas are divided into two halves. The first thirty-six scales have a perfect or natural fourth (Shuddha Madhyama) and the scales of the second half are repetitions of the first thirty-six with an augmented fourth (Prati Madhyame.) The Melakarta is also divided into twelve chakras or cycles of six scales each. The Tonic and the Dominant (Shadja and Panchama) are constant in all the seventy-two scales.
The thirty-six scales are calculated thusly: Within each Chakra or cycle the second and third degree (Rishabha and Gandhara) are kept constant and the sixth and seventh degree (Dhaivata and Nishada) keep changing resulting in six scales in each cycle. Since it is calculated with a formula, one can figure out the notes of a particular Melakarta if given its number in the scheme. Ragas are derived from these parent scales (Melakarta.) By eliminating one, two or three notes from the parent scales in either the ascending, descending or both ascending and descending, and by re-arranging the regular order of the notes in a zig-zag fashion similarly more than 20,000 Ragas are derived.
The Tala system (system of rhythmic cycles), though very complex, is calculated mathematically making it easy to understand. There are seven basic types of Talas. Each Tala is comprised of one or more of three Angas or components:
Laghu, a clap and finger counts, Drutam, a clap and a wave, and Anudrutam, a clap.
The seven Talas are:
Dhruva (one laghu one drutam and two laghus) Matya (one laghu, one drutam and one laghu) Rumaka (one drutam and one laghu) Jampa (one laghu, one anudrutam and one drutam) Triputa (one laghu and two drutams) Ata (two laghus and two drutams) Eka (one laghu)
The laghu can be of five Jatis (types):
Tisra (three) Chatusra (four) Kanda (five) Misra (seven) Sankirna (nine)
The type of laghu is denoted by a number after the symbol, e.g. 3 is Tisra Jati Laghu (three beats, one clap and two finger counts.) Thus by varying the type of Jati of the Laghu each type of Tala gives rise to five different Talas (e.g. Tisra Jati Dhruva, Chatusra Jati Dhruva, Kanda Jati Dhruva, Oisra Jati Dhruva and Sankirna Jati Dhruva.) Thus, by the sub-division of each of the seven Talas into five, we get 7 x 5 = 35 Talas.
Each beat of the Laghu can further be sub-divided into pulses or gatis:
Tisra gati (three pulses per beat) Chatusra gati (four pulses per beat) Kanda gati (five pulses per beat) Misra gati (seven pulses per beat) Sankirna gati (nine pulses per beat).
Thus, by multiplying the 35 Talas by the five variations (gatis), we get the 175 Talas. Besides the 175 Talas, there is also a system of 108 Talas which was used in the "olden days" but has almost become obsolete nowadays except for purposes of demonstrations.
In addition to these there is another group of Talas that come under the heading of Chapu Talas. They are four in number:
1. Tisra chapu (three beats) 2. Kanda chapu (five beats) 3. Misra chapu (seven beats) 4. Sankirna chapu (nine beats)
These are syncopated rhythmic cycles and the most commonly used Talas of this group are Kanda Chapu and Misra Chapu.
Abhyasa Gana Music intended for practice
Adi A very popular, commonly-used Tala of eight beats, divided 4+2+2. Technical name: Chatusra Jati Triputa Tala.
Alankaras Solfa exercises based on the basic seven Talas.
Alapana The detailed exposition of a Raga
Anga Literally "limb;" it means section or part; ex. angas of a Tala: Laghu, Drutam and Anudrutam; angas of a Kriti: Pallavi, Anupallavi and Charanam.
Anudrutam One of the components (angas) used to reckon time. It consists of a single beat; the symbol used to represent it is.
Anupallavi The second section of a composition
Arohana Notes in an ascending order of pitch
Ata One of the seven Talas
Atharva One of the four Vedas
Avarohana Notes in descending order of pitch
Bhava Feeling or emotion. It is the very soul of expression in music and dance. Without bhava, a technically perfect performance leaves "much to be desired"
Brahma One of the Celestial Trinity (the others being Shiva and Vishnu) Brahma is regarded as the Creator of the Universe
Chakra Cycle. Here it refers to the 12 cycles of the Melkarta system
Charanam The third section of the Kriti, Varnam, etc.
Chitta Swara A passage of solfa syllables (swaras)
Devi Goddess Parvati (wife of Lord Shiva)
Dhruva One of the seven Talas
Drutam A component used to reckon time. It consists of a clap and a wave.
Eka One of the seven Talas
Ganesha Elephant-faced God who is considered to be the remover of all obstacles. He is the offspring of Goddess Parvati and Lord Shiva
Ghatam Percussion instrument
Gitam A type of composition
Gottuvadyam Musical instrument
Jalatarangam Musical instrument
Jampa One of the seven Talas
Jatiswaram A type of composition
Javali A type of composition
Kannada The language spoken in Mysore State, one of the four States of South India
Kanjeera Percussion instrument
Kerala One of the four states of South India
Krishna One of the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu, the preserver of the Universe
Kriti A type of musical composition
Laghu A component used to reckon time. It consists of one beat and finger counts. The symbol used is:
Lakshmi The goddess of Wealth and prosperity, consort of Lord Vishnu
Mahabharata An epic written between 500-200 B.C.
Malayalam The language spoken in Kerala
Mangalam The traditional end to a concert. The most commonly sung Mangalam is Bhavamana composed by Tyagaraja in the Raga Saurashtram
Matya One of the seven Talas
Malakarta The seventy two parent scales
Moorsing A percussion instrument
Mridangam The primary percussion instrument in South Indian Classical music
Mysore One of the four states in South India
Nagaswaram A woodwind instrument
Neraval A type of improvisation
Padam A type of musical composition
Pallavi The first section of a composition
Pancharatna Literally five gems; it stands for the Pancharatna kritis or the five kritis composed by Tyagaraja in the Ragas Natai, Gaula, Arabhi, Varali and Sri
Radha A devotee of Lord Krishna
Raga See under explanation of terms used in South Indian music
Rama An incarnation of Lord Vishnu
Ramayana An epic written between 400 and 200 B.C. on the life of Rama
Rig The first of the four Vedas
Rupaka One of the seven Talas
Sama The third of the four Vedas. The origin of music can be traced back to this Veda.
Samvadi The second most important note in a Raga
Sangati Melodic variations on any given line of a composition
Sanskrit The classical language of India
Sapta seven (sapta swara - seven basic notes; sapta tala - seven basic talas
Saraswati Goddess of Fine Arts and learning
Shiva One of the Celestial Trinity. He is considered to be the Destroyer
Solkattu Also called Konnakol, it is the vocalizing of rhythmic and drum syllables
Stotram Literally "praise"; they are invocations to the various Deities, usually in the Sanskrit language
Subramaniam Also called Kartikeya or Muruga, he is the son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati and the brother of Ganesha
Swara Note or solfa syllable. There are seven basic notes (sapta swaras.) They are:
Name Symbol in Notation Pronunciation
Shadja S Sa
Rishabha R Ri
Gandhara G Ga
Madhyama M Ma
Panchama P Pa
Dhaivata D Dha
Nishada N Ni
Swarajati A type of musical composition
Tala Rhythmic cycle
Tamil Language spoken by the people of Tamilnadu (originally Madras State)
Tamilnadu One of the four states of South India
Tavil A percussion instrument
Telugu The language spoken in Andhra Pradesh, one of the four States of South India
Tillana A type of musical composition
Tiruppukazh Devotional compositions
Vadi The most important note in a Raga
Vakra Crooked; vakra raga: a derived scale that has a zig-zag ascending or descending or both
Varja A Raga that is derived by omitting notes from the parent scale either in the ascending or descending or both
Varnam A type of musical composition
Veena A musical instrument
Vishnu One of the Celestial Trinity; He is considered to be the Preserver of the Universe
Vajur The second of the four Vedas