Swaras in Carnatic Music
The Basic Swaras
There are seven basic notes in Carnatic music:
Dhaivatham (Da) and
Sa is the basic note and the rest of the notes are successively higher to the basic Sa. This gives an ascending scale of seven notes. Once the seventh note or the higher Sa is reached, the notes begin to descend in frequency from Sa to Ni to Da and so on by the same interval.
These seven notes or swaras are not specific to Carnatic Music but are also common to Hindustani, Western, and other systems of music.
In Carnatic music and Hindustani music, we call the seven swaras as Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Da, and Ni and in Western Music, the same seven swaras or notes are called doh, ray, me, fa, soh, lah, te respectively.
Converting the Seven Swaras to twelve Swaras (or sixteen swaras)
What is an octave?
An octave is doubling the pitch of a swara by a factor of 2.
Take a look at a keyboard. You will notice the C key. In Carnatic music, the C key is called one kattai or a pitch of one. In a keyboard, the C key is followed by D, E, F, G, A, and B keys. The B key is again followed by another C key. That is, the range between a lower C to the next high is one octave. The range that begins from the next C until the next higher B is reached is Octave 2 and so on.
In Western Music, the interval between two keys or frequencies between two keys (.e.g. D and E) are of fixed intervals.
However, in Carnatic music, the intervals between two keys are not absolute intervals but relative intervals or nominal intervals.
In the keyboard, there are black keys in between the white keys that represent pitches (e.g. C, D, etc.) These black keys represent half piches or frequencies between two swaras or notes (e.g. between C and D). In a keyboard, there are five white keys in between the seven black keys that represent the primary notes. The twele notes are formed when we add the seven primary notes to the five half-notes or in-between frequency notes.
The twelve divisions are common both to Carnatic music and Western music.
Carnatic Swaras and Western Notes -A Comparison
Carnatic Swara Name
Notes in the Western System
Sa or Shadja
Panchama or Pa
- Please note that the swaras Sa and Pa do not admit variations and are called fixed notes or achala swaras.
- The notes with Suddha in their names -- Suddha Rishabha and Suddha Madhyama - refer to the lowest pitch of the corresponding note - the Rishabha or Ri and Madhyama or Ma, respectively.
- These twelve swaras become sixteen swaras with the addition of four more swaras called Vivadi (or tainted) swaras. These additional swaras occupy the same nominal swarasthana or frequency position as some of the swaras from the group of twelve swaras. In other words, the sixteen swaras are formed basically by calling the same swara by two different names.. Depending on the a raga scale used, a swaram may be called by a different name (e.g. Shatsruti Rishaba is the new name given to Sadharana Gandhara; Suddha Gandhara is the new name given to Chatussruti Dhaivata; Shatsruthi Dhaivata is the new name for Kaisiki Nishada; and Suddha Nishada is the new name for Chatussruti Dhaivata).