Swara : The Concept

Any Music is fundamentally about sound and time. And the element of sound is expressed through the Swara, or the Musical note.

We all have used  the proverbial SA RE GA MA  as the initiation into music, and know that there are seven swara, generally known as Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha and Ni. However to really understand them fundamentally, and their relations with each other, and how these relations are used to create music, we need to begin at understanding the journey of sound as it progresses to become a swara.

In our urban homes, we are used to live constantly with some sorts of sounds around us, ranging from the traffic noise, the TV blaring at the neighbour’s, a drill machine whining away somewhere, children playing in the garden, and so on. In fact, we have forgotten what real silence is, and if at all we encounter it on one of our travels to remote places, it unnerves us.

All of these sounds together can be summed up simply as noise. The character of noise is its randomness, where the sounds are quite irregular, and unrelated to each other.

To become musically usable, this noise has to lose its randomness, become regular, pleasing to the ear, and acquire defined correlated pitches. The clip below should explain these steps with examples.

Noise to Swara

It will be worthwhile here to elaborate the Naada and the Swara stages here, as sometimes in the literary world, you may find the term Naada used in both spiritual as well as musical context.

A Naada is the stage of sound just before it attains swarahood. It is pleasing to the ear, and also has a definite pitch, but generally  is restricted to one particular pitch. It has the potential to become the swara, if its pitch can be varied, at will, and with a definite purpose of making music. It is this purpose of musical creation, which distinguishes the Swara from  the Naada.

When we say that two or more sounds are related to each other, we are generally referring to their pitch. So we now need to know what we mean by the pitch of the sound.

To understand the pitch and the other physical attributes of the Swara, we have to revisit our school physics, and we shall do that in the next post.

2 thoughts on “Swara : The Concept

  1. I find your site very informative and educative. Please keep up the good work.
    There are a couple of things which are not clear to me which I would request you to kindly explain.
    i. Does every raga have a chalan?
    ii. Since aroha, avaroha, vadi, samvadi and chalan are fixed, doesn’t the scope for experimentation by the artiste become restricted?
    iii. How does a vocalist choose which taal to sing in ? Does the same song sung in say ektaal and teen taal sound different?

    Looking forward to hearing from you.

    1. Hemant,

      As for Hindustani ( North Indian) music, every Raga has a chalan. Without the chalan, a raga would be reduced just to a scale. It is the chalan which imparts the raga its unique personality, and hence we have pairs (or even triplets) such as Marwa/Puriya /Sohoni or Bhoop and Deskar, or Todi and Multani, which have the same scale but are completely different in their expression because of the chalan. Even for the Ragas whcih have been borrowed from the south, we have added the element of chalan to some extent. As I have said earlier, a good musician finds his freedom of development and expansion even within the ( perceived) restrictions of the chalan and the vaadi/samvaadi. Thus, a beginner is hardly able to expand a raga beyond 10 -15 minutes, while a veteran can sing the same for an hour, without repetition or boring you. Further, the same rendering would present itself as new every time. The “newness” happens at the micro or subtle level, through the use of swara and their connections, and the use of Laya.

      A vocalist, over his years of training, has learnt numerous compositions or bandishes, set to different taals, and tempos. All he does is pick the ones suitable for the occasion and his mood. There are instances of the same bandish sung in different taals, but only for vilambit tempo, and not in the madhya or drut laya. But then there is actually no need for this, because you can always find another bandish for whatever taal and tempo you have in mind.

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