Harmony and Melody / Symphony

Before we get on with the khayal performance, I thought we should touch upon a few other topics. One such is the Melody and Symphony, and thereby generally the comparison between Hindustani and Western music.

We have seen earlier that harmony literally means agreement, which in case of music s the agreement of pitches. It is the sounds of different pitches placed at different points in time, which create music. Now this can be done in innumerable ways, but mainly can be categorized in two.

In the first, there would be only one sound or note at a given point of time. Thus, notes of various pitches, and varying duration will follow each other on the axis of time, creating a string. This string is the melody. A melody is said to be monophonic, meaning one note at a time. The melody would generally sound good, if the relationship between successive notes is harmonious, and hence soothing to the ear.

On the other hand, different notes, in harmony with each other, could also be placed at the same point of time. And such combinations could continue on the axis of time. These notes played on different sounding instruments would add colour due to the variety of tones. Such an arrangement is the symphony. Symphonic music is also said to be polyphonic, meaning many notes at a time. The symphony would sound good if the use of instruments is right, with the timbres and tones complimenting each other. If you look (hear!) carefully within the symphony, we can actually make out different melodies, created by some of the instruments, placed over each other. A good trained ear can easily decipher and follow a few melodies at a time.

Hindustani classical music is monophonic, and hence mostly presented solo. The Tabla accompaniment is giving only the base shadja, while the harmonium or the sarangi is mostly just repeating whatever the lead performer does. The tanpura in the background though is providing a full screen of quite a few notes, but is used only as a reference, and does not contribute to the melody.

While we say that Western music is polyphonic, it is not sans the melody. In fact you would notice that the most popular songs or even classical movements have a very strong melodic content. There would be no recall value without the melody, and no popularity without the recall value.

Today, we classify music into popular and art music. Technically, monophony would be restricted only to Indian classical or art music today. Most popular music, across the world, seems to be using the so called western music as its ingredient. So the Indian popular music would use the basic central line of the melody in the Indian way, supported by the screen of a western symphony using western instruments. In fact, the Hindi film music perhaps is the first and the best example of the fusion of these two streams of music.

There are questions raised about the effects of westernization of the other forms of music on the raga sangeet, particularly with reference to the correctness of notes etc. We will go on to take a brief look at the musical scales, tempering etc..

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