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Melody In Carnatic Music -Part 5

Kiranavali, the granddaughter of the late legendary Gotuvadyam Narayana Iyengar, was born on 2nd Jan. 1973. Her father, N Narasimhan, is a musician of great merit, and has nurtured the musical talents of Kiranavali and her illustrious brothers, Chitravina N Ravikiran and K N Shashikiran. When hardly three years old, Kiranavali was able to identify more than 200 RÓgas and the 175 TÓlas, besides answering numerous technical questions pertaining to Carnatic music. If Indian Express called her "astounding in her precocity" (14 June 1975), the music critic of The Hindu wrote, "More fantastic is the manner in which Kiranavali, the three-year old sister of Ravikiran and Shashikiran is able to tell the RÓga even at the commencement of its outline."

Kiranavali's performing career began at the age of eleven. Both her solo recitals and the duets with her brother, Shashikiran, won the hearts of the knowledgeable and laymen alike. In her quest for excellence, Kiranavali pursued advanced vocal music training under the late Sangita Kalanidhi T Brinda, the highest authority on the works of many a great composer. Under her guidance, Kiranavali has matured into a sensitive musician with a deep commitment to highly refined musical values. At the young age of twenty-eight, she brings a degree of maturity and involvement to Carnatic music that is commensurate with her professional experience of over two decades.

Kiranavali also plays the Chitravina, true to her family tradition. She has performed solo, and has also accompanied Ravikiran. Her concerts have been featured by many leading organisations like the Madras Music Academy, Krishna Gana Sabha, Narada Gana Sabha and Shanmukhananda Fine Arts (Mumbai). The first artiste to be graded high for both Vocal and the Chitravina by AIR and Doordarshan, her music is regularly featured in broadcasts. To access her earlier articles click here.

Katapayadi Samkhya

First of all, I must apologise to the readers for the long gap between my previous article and this one. I recently relocated to the US, and since then have been tied up with a whole lot of professional commitments. My sincere thanks to Anita Thakur for not pressuring me unduly, and to all the readers for their feedback. The latter has definitely been a source of inspiration to keep this going. I hope to be more regular in future!

Let me quickly recap what we have covered so far. In my first article, I gave a brief account of the history of Indian music, how it came to be split as Hindustani and Carnatic music, and what the unique features of Carnatic music are. From the second part onwards, I went a little deeper into the subject and started off on one of the key features of Carnatic music, namely, the ragas. In that and the subsequent parts, I have covered the basic 7-swara and 12-swara schemes, and how the 12-swaras have 16 names in Carnatic music, how these 16 swaras give rise to the 72-melakartas.

In this article, I will slightly be going off on a tangent on a subject which I am sure readers will find very intriguing. It is indeed curious how the Indian mind has worked over the centuries. Our ancestors not only delved deep into the subject matter, but also made sure that they secured the interest of the next generation by giving them the necessary keys to unravel the mysteries and also remember the clues! One such example is the Katapayadi Samkhya.

This is a simple formula for finding out the mela number when given the mela name. To understand how this works, you need a basic knowledge of how the Indian alphabetical system works. Like most Indian texts, this formula is also given in Sanskrit, but knowledge of languages like Hindi, Telugu or Kannada would certainly be of great help. Historically, this scheme originated in Kerala, and then spread to the rest of south India.

At a bare level, the Katapayadi Samkhya consists of the following, using the Sanskrit consonants (I have tried to use an easy-to-understand scheme of transliteration here):

Kaadinavam - the 9 letters beginning from k, i.e., k, kh, g, gh .n, ch, chh, j, jh

Taadinavam - the 9 letters beginning from Ta, i.e., T, Th, D, Dh, N, t, th, d, dh

Paadipancham - the 5 letters beginning from p, i.e., p, ph, b, bh, m

Yaadyashtam - the 8 letters beginning from y, i.e., y, r, l, v, sh, Sh, s, h

By this method, we assign values for each letter of the alphabet. For example, k would have the value of 1, and j would be 8 (8th letter in Kaadinavam). Similarly, N would have a value of 5 (5th letter in Taadinavam) while ph would have a value of 2 (2nd in Paadipancham). If you notice, two consonants, namely ~n and n were omitted in the above formula. They are assigned values of 0.

This is then applied in the following manner to the 72-melas:

Let's take for example the 1st mela, kanakAngi. The first two syllables are ka and na. Using this formula, ka has a value of 1 and na, a value of 0. Inverting this would give you 01.

A few other illustrations:

  1. mAraranjani - Ma = 5; Ra = 2. Inverting 52 will give you 25.
  2. hanumattodi - Ha = 8; Nu = 0. Inverting 80 will give 08.
  3. nasikAbhUShaNi - Na = 0; Si = 7. Inverting 07 will give 70.

Isn't it an interesting way of finding out the mela number? A lot of thought has obviously gone into devising it. In fact, the present names of the 72-melas were given taking this formula into account.

Like most rules, there are a few exceptions in the uniform application to this formula too. The big inconsistency is in the usage of half-letters like in the name chakravAkam, where k is the half-letter. For a person who knows the mela number, he can easily fit it into the formula and say ch equals 6 and k equals 1, and thereby chakravAkam is the 16th mela. But in another example of a half-letter, ratnA.ngi, the same doesn't work. Here the letters that are actually taken into account are ra and na, ignoring the half-letter t altogether. Again, you can fit the answer into the formula only if you are aware that ratnA.ngi is the 2nd mela and not the 12th mela. Which is what your answer would be if you applied this formula consistently.

A couple of other examples where the half-letter is ignored is:

  1. jyotiswarUpiNI (j = 8; t = 6, i.e., 68, y is ignored)
  2. shyAmaLA.ngI (sha = 5; ma = 5, i.e., 55 - here the ya is again not taken into account),

Examples where the half-letter has been taken into account:

  1. divyamaNI (di = 8; v = 4)
  2. vishvambharI (vi = 4; sh = 5)
  3. simhendramadhyamam (si = 7; m = 5, i.e., 57)

In my next article, I will talk about what Ragas are, their different types and what differentiates them from the Melas. Meanwhile, I welcome questions and comments on this article either in the comments section below or by email.

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