Why study Carnatic Music Theory

Why study Carnatic Music Theory?

Why should a Rasika or student know about the 'theory' of Carnatic music such as Raagams,Thaalams, classification, definitions etc.? Many Rasikas enjoy music without bothering even to find the Raagam. Others who have been listening to Carnatic music for many years are able to identify Raagams by remembering the typical phrases from popular songs and trying to match with what they hear. This often works for well established old Raagams, but they often find it difficult to distinguish between Raagams having similar groups of notes and differing in Gamakam (nuances) or newer Raagams differing in only one or two notes from older Raagams. Similarly a student with a basic musical sense is often able to repeat melodies sung by a teacher or others without knowing what notes are being sung. But when he later wants to sing some new Raagam he may have difficulty in avoiding shades of a closer Raagam. It is also easier for a teacher to explain mistakes of students on the basis of notes.

For a beginner learning instruments like Veena, knowledge of notes speeds up the learning process. At a more advanced level, a knowledge of the structure of a Raagam can help to sing a piece for which there is no recording but notation is available.

A Rasika can enjoy music whether he knows the theory or not, but most of the time a Carnatic music Rasika wants to find the Raagam of a song he hears! Or he would like to know, how one Raagam differs from another. He could be given examples of songs but an explanation based on notes and nuances would help a lot.

The program Rasika part of Rasika-Gaayaka-Sishya Carnatic Music Software package (works with Windows OS) was aimed at satisfying these needs. Books do not help as they have no audio. Even if an audio CD comes with a book it is quite difficult for the listener to correlate the two. A Computer helps to give a combined Text-Visual-Audio view.

The descriptions are based on my six decades of experience with Carnatic Music (as a student, amateur musician, teacher and above all Rasika), extensive reading including old books (like Sangeetha Ratnaakara, Chaturdandiprakaasika, Raagavibodham etc.) and analysing using computer techniques. The ideas may differ from the standard texts in books. Though I can justify my ideas, if you are appearing for some examination, stick to the definitions and descriptions in the books prescribed as part of your syllabus.

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