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"How to unlock the hidden musician within each of us?" - South Indian Music Learning Series (Vol.4)

Today, the influence of technology has permeated every corner of the globe. As a result, nearly every child now possesses a handheld device driven by software enabling them to execute specific tasks and capture their full attention.


A machine performs specific operations thanks to engineering principles. Yet, the most remarkable machine of all—the human mind—can carry out countless actions, all processed through the intricate web of the brain. These actions may or may not lead to the ultimate desired outcome: inner peace. Achieving this depends on the input, processes, and actions applied. The neurological processes unfolding within the mind of a music creator, be it a child or a seasoned musician, remain an enigma that can never be fully comprehended. This is why music is considered a mystery, a gift to humanity that predictably eludes the grasp of all but a few. Nevertheless, there are "algorithmic" steps that can guide a learner toward a state of "prodigiousness", at which point an average listener might exclaim, "Wow! There's a budding music prodigy". That is the best a teacher can do for one who has not been nurtured in a classical environment.


Indian music traverses tonal spaces with a purpose, crafting distinct emotional landscapes that differentiate one raga from another with remarkable precision. Mastery over gamakas, which manipulate tonal movements alongside intricate rhythms, elevates the listening experience to a realm of aesthetic satisfaction. While we may concede our inability to replicate the passionate rendition of devotion-soaked compositions dressed in the pleasing hues of ragas, step by step, we can cultivate a mental state to recognize and explore the concealed creative energies within for making music.


I am one of those musicians who have had the privilege of immersing themselves in the rich tapestry of both past and present music. The majority of the past era embodies values like dignity, integrity, honesty, and simplicity, as masters shared their hard-earned wisdom through unscripted and natural cultural immersion, following the revered Gurukula tradition.


In this tradition, disciples sought great maestros or were chosen by these masters based on their immense promise and passion for learning. While exceptions exist, historically, masters typically selected talented disciples who naturally embraced the master's unique approach to expressing the Karnatak tradition.


The profound connection between music and its cultural context is evident. However, when one experiences the music purely through auditory means, the beauty of the music reveals itself. Its characteristic rhythmic nuances and melodic intricacies have the power to evoke deep emotions in the listener, almost as if the soul of the music is conversing with the soul of the listener. In this realm, there are no cultural boundaries; it is pure music.


You may have wondered if my assertion of "Music for Everyone", which I floated in the '90s, was overly simplistic. How could one possibly teach a complex system like Karnatak music to those uninitiated in its intricacies? This is a natural question to ask. Culturally, individuals may imitate a master-musician's style, drawing upon their innate musicality without delving into the nuances. Performing a song in a particular musical style becomes a cultural trait. Those born into a traditional music-cultural environment might not be inclined to teach Karnatak music to those outside its boundaries. So, tradition-bound musicians might prefer to reserve their teachings for those who display a natural aptitude. When the teacher and the student are inclined towards the numbers, it is relatively easy to teach a rapid succession of songs, making students feel accomplished as they quickly take to the stage. However, the true essence of classical music will elude them if they do not embark on a serious and disciplined journey from an early stage. Music education can transform into a delightful journey of 'serious fun' when a dedicated teacher gradually imparts the intricate nuances of gamakas, guiding their students towards mastery. In this process, patience emerges as a vital virtue for both the teacher and the learner, as their shared passion for teaching and learning takes precedence above all else.


The profound link between Bhakti (spiritual devotion) and music is distinctly evident in the compositions of revered 'Vaaggeyakaaras' such as Tyagaraja, Mudduswami Dikshitar, and Shyama Sastri. These composers expressed their devotion to the divine not as an artistic display but as a reflection of their spiritually enriched lives. Their compositions hold a special place in the hearts of those who connect with the profoundness of their devotion.

Bhakti, in essence, remains a deeply personal and experiential facet of one's connection with the divine and cannot be taught. However, the scientific underpinnings of this art form, encompassing the intricate expressions embedded in these compositions, can be unveiled, and shared with those who are inspired to sing or play them.


Learners, at the rudimentary level, must undergo patient guidance and dedicated practice to unlock the intricacies of tonal movements. This journey gradually unveils the beauty and profoundness of Gamaka, along with the emotional richness that defines Indian classical music.


The following is an example of breaking down the barriers to understanding gamaka progressions, sensitising the students to sruti, laya and svarasthana from the beginner's level. To unveil the intricacies of gamaka movements, it's essential to grasp the interplay between svaras (musical notes) and svarasthanas (pitch positions). Designated svaras can transition between svarasthana positions in a manner that only makes sense if you can trace their path — where they start, where they end, and the points they touch along the way. In some instances, oscillations between two tonal positions serve as a bridge to leap to a distant note within the scale.


Grasping the intricacies of gamakas requires remarkable dedication, patience, and commitment. Even at the beginning level, students begin to realize that svaras are not just tones, and gamakas are not just oscillations. A svara may or may not start on the tone it represents but surely will end on the tone it intends. These may be confusing at the start, but when they experience, they understand. So teaching Gamaka, akin to other intricate facets of music, necessitates a gradual, step-by-step approach. It entails dissecting the concept into its elemental constituents and ushering students from a basic scalar and tonal understanding towards a deeper appreciation of the nuanced tonal shifts prevalent in diverse ragas and talas. This instructional method allows learners to gradually appreciate the holistic essence of Karnatak music and its emotive depth over time.



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