Raga Identification

Article by Ms. Revathi S.

    Ms. Revathi S.Combination of notes of one Raga with the bhava /emotions of another Raga is a fashion in film Music. Not to debate on it; the aim of film music is to reach the public and leave a soothing effect on the brain and ears. But is this the right start for an aspirant to identify Ragas? This is indeed questionable! Take for instance, “En veetu thotaththil” from the movie “Gentleman”. The pallavi is beautifully set to “senchuruti” Ragam.The BGM music between Pallavi and Charanams is tuned to “Hamsadwani” Ragam .Though it would leave an impeccable effect on the listeners, its difficult for a naïve person to identify the Ragas without any Carnatic background.

    Raga identification is a challenge.

    1) Traditional method/ A Music student's approach

    ->Students of music have a pattern to which they stick. Getting inducted to the various Ragas thro' Guru being the first stage, music students have to increase their vocabulary of Ragas and their vocabulary of songs in each Raga.

    ->2 songs of the same Raga need not use similar swara patterns. For instance, Thyagaraja's "Namakusumamula" in Sri Raga uses "srmpns-snpmgrs".Whereas Dikshitar is known for his "pdnpmrgrs" sancharam in Sri Raga.Try to know as many songs as possible in one raga so that you get the complete raga boundary.

    ->Swara is the learning base for a Carnatic student. While listening to Alaapana or saahitya, try to convert them to equivalent swara and through the swaras, try your Raga identification.
    2) Lay man's approach

    Gaurav Pandey uses Hidden Markov Models (mathematical models) to identify ragas.
    But is identifying a Raga on your own not a "feather in the cap"?

    Greatest advantage for humans is the ability to find "correlations" and recalling "connections”. Everybody can say, on hearing a piece, this sounds like the one I heard sometime back. What is that you correlate is not known exactly; but you can match the tune and recall a similar tune from memory. As I discussed in the beginning of this write-up, it is a complicated approach for anybody to “start” to identify Raga from film songs straight away. Once a person develops interest to identify a Raga in a film song, his level of music understanding and appreciation for music would definitely be beyond a lay man. I can no longer call him so!

    ->Once you start enjoying Music in any form, you cannot hate any other form of Music. In my view, Carnatic music offers easier method to identify Ragas. So, start listening to Carnatic music, not just hear, but listen and observe the details. If one's interest is so demanding, he/she can get trained by a Guru. Age is no barrier for any form of learning. If all you need is just enjoy music and take the credit of identifying Raga associated with each piece, have an open ear to Carnatic music. Music mates can help you here. On hearing to a piece of music for the first time, get your friend to identify its Raga for you. Say, you hear “Vataapi ganapathim Bhaje” and your friend says it's “Hamsadwani”; just put this piece of information somewhere in brain. Now look for various other collections in “Hamsadwani”.You have a couple of songs in every Raga by different composers.Vinayaka ninnu, Gajavadana bEduve, Narayana EnnirO and many many more compositions are found in this Raga. Once you get the flow of Hamsadwani, I am sure when you hear to “Unnoda vAzhadha vAzhvenna vAzhvu” from “Amar Kalam” movie, your mind would pull in references from the various Carnatic pieces in that Raga you would have listened to earlier. Ragas are so influential and conjunctive. I remember my Grandma saying that she started watching the evening Tamil serial “Anandam” on Sun TV” coz the title song set to Hamsadwani sounded so beautiful to hear.

    If you feel hard core classical Music is too heavy, you could start with JayadEva Ashtapadis, Ambujam Krishnan compositions, Purandara Dasara padagalu, BhaarathiyAr songs. We have quite a number of such wonderful collections rendered by Unnikrishnan, Bombay S Jayashree, Sikkil Gurucharan, SP Ramh and many others. They are having a strong take in reaching Carnatic music to the masses.

    ->One need not get dejected if you wrongly identify a piece to be set to “Abhogi” while it is originally in “Sriranjini”.The beauty in Carnatic music is that 2 Ragas might sound so similar, but each is just unique as each one of us are. Such mistakes are bound to happen in the beginning, but they are just the stepping stones. You could probably hear to a piece thinking its Abhogi, but then your ears might identify that there is an additional note (nishada) which is making Abhogi sound different. This crave for learning and knowing more would eventually introduce you to “Sriranjini” (Adding a nishada to Abhogi would yield Sriranjini), if it's the first time you are hearing to Sriranjini. Listen, listen, keep listening, continue listening, that's the only way out.

    ->Knowing a music instrument is an advantage. Once you take your fingers to play, the positions of the swaras would easily get imprinted in your mind. Some people say, if they cannot identify a Ragam on the fly, they would alternatively take the notes onto an instrument, play the same, identify the scale (Arohana, Avarohana) and investigate more.

    ->When a song is being heard, without our knowledge, we tend to give importance to the lyrics and deviate from the Raga search. You would have a feeling that the Raga is quite familiar, yet you wouldn't be getting it in mind and mouth. The best way to handle such case is: Go away from the music source to a safe distance where you can just faintly hear the lyrics, but still can hear the tune quite well. Now voice-tune with it. You will, for sure end up in some other song of the same Raga whose Raga (name) you are familiar with.

    Carnatic Music is a beautiful blend of arts, science and mathematics. Appreciation for music may be instilled through Film Music but Carnatic music would get you to its details. The more you know about Music, your appreciation for it would grow stronger and richer. Don't get scared of Carnatic music; it's not beyond our understanding. Anything undiscovered would remain in heights; but once you reach out to it, you would know the extent to which Carnatic Music would help you in simplifying your understanding of Music and yes, you would say, “Aah!, play any tune. I will give you the name of the Raga”!

    Revathi S.

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