Below is a clip from the 2013-14 USIEF Conference in Chennai. Manasa Suresh, a fellow Fulbrighter and up and coming Carnatic vocalist from northern California, is singing an alap, or melodic introduction, on Raga Saraswati. An alap introduces a raga, typically outlining the raga in distinct portions: tonic to 5th, 5th to upper tonic, upper register, return down to tonic, below the tonic, then conclusion.
Raga Saraswati contains the 1 – 2 – #4 – 5 – 6 – 8 on the ascent and 8 – b7 – 6 – 5 – #4 – 2 – 1 on the descent. While Manasa sings her outline of the raga, my role is to support her, by mimicking as closely as possible her vocal lines. This is very characteristic of a Carnatic Alap, where the vocalist sings and the instrumentalist follows the vocal line, almost like a delay. It is quite challenging, but an incredible musical experience. Please enjoy!
This is the first look at improvising within a Carnatic context. We’re revisiting Raga Keeravani, the harmonic minor raga. These lines were sung by Sreyas Narayanun in one of our lessons during our performance of the composition Devi Neeye Thunai.
Raga Keeravani is a melakartha or parent raga found in Carnatic music, and is equivalent to the western harmonic minor scale. This lesson includes lines sung by Sreyas Narayanun that outline the raga keeravani. The melodic development of the raga is systematic, starting with melodies in the lower register, then moving to the middle register, reaching the higher register, then concluding back at the starting tonic pitch. This approach to developing the raga can easily be applied to western settings of improvisation, composition, and even as introductions to compositions. Sreyas’ melodies also include rhythmic groupings of four, five and six 16th notes, creating lines that break out of typical four note phrase structure. The end of the lesson includes exercises that encourage this tiered exploration of scales or modes and also examines ways to create new 16th note rhythmic phrases using cells of four, five and six 16th notes. A downloadable pdf of this lesson can be found at the bottom of the page. Continue reading
This lessons explores Raga Mohanam. Raga Mohanam is another pentatonic raga, sharing the same pitches as the major pentatonic scale. Pentatonics are used the world over in composition and improvisation so there is a wealth of melodic material from a Carnatic perspective that musicians can borrow and explore through this lesson. I’ve transcribed lines sung to me by distinguished Carnatic vocalist Sreyas Narayanun during one of our lessons. The lines can be played freely. Replay ones that really stand out. Also explore taking these melodic gestures and applying them to other pentatonic scales. There are some exercises at the end of the lesson which take inspiration from Sreyas’ lines and a downloadable pdf of the lesson at the bottom of the page. Enjoy!