Sunday, August 12, 2007

Swaras in Carnatic Music

Swaras in Carnatic Music

The Basic Swaras

There are seven basic notes in Carnatic music:
Shadjam (Sa),
Rishabam (Ri),
Gandharam (Ga),
Madhyamam (Ma),
Panchamam (Pa),
Dhaivatham (Da) and
Nishadam (Ni).
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

Suddha Rishabha
D flat

Chatussruti Rishabha

Sadharana Gandhara
E flat

Antara Gandhara

Suddha Madhyama

Prati Madhyma
F sharp

Panchama or Pa

Suddha Daivata
A flat

Chatussruti Dhaivata

Kaisiki Nishadha
B flat

Kakali Nishadia

  • 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).
Source: South Indian Music by Prof. P. Sambamurthy


Venkateswarlu said...

I thught thsi is an excellent site . The carnatic music in the background is invigourating

Ganesh said...

Thanks for the blog. I found the information really useful. Can you let me know what artist is playing the background music

Anonymous said...

Excellent information! Thank you so much! As a 15 year old learning Carnatic music in the US, it's great to know the parallels between Western and Carnatic music!

BLAXMITH said...

Thanks a ton for information on music.
But I guess there is a mis-understanding here of reffering a note to some fixed note of western classical.
In simple words,
when you say shuddha Sa in Carnatic or Hindustani classical it actually doesnt not denote a fix letter C in western classical...It rather suggests a root note (or tonic)
naming sa re/ri ga ma.... is equal to calling a scale with names as Root subtonic mediant &c&c...
no matter what is the frequency of a vocalist's normal scale range, s/he will call it the same,

on the other hand,c d.....g a b are actually reffering to a particular note (like kaali ek/ saafed ek &c&c).

I like the carnatic score in background.
great work mate. \m/
-Suraj D.S.,a classical,rock,western classical keyboardist


Sorry i promised to linka blog regarding clarification of nomencature,, however was busy all these months with few bands here I hope you understand the difference between "Sa" & "C":-

ofcourse this is nto an attempt to spam, I found this blog interesting but few error, so wanted to clear it. I hope it helps

This comment has been removed by the author.
Anoop Aravindakshan said...

I think Suddha Gandhara is the new name given to Chatussruti Rishabha not Chatussruti Dhaivata.

Rajendran Karunagath Raman said...

yes, what Anoop Aravindaksan said is correct. That is the position of Shuddha Gandhara is equal to Chathusruthi Rishabha.
May I correct one more mistake, by over sight, it happened in the said article ? In a keyboard there are 5 black keys in between the seven white keys.The white keys represent the primary notes and the black keys for half notes.By mistake it was written 5 white keys and 7 black keys.

Amey Bhavsar said...

Hey, could you provide me with audio files that sing the tune.